Privilege Escalation Vulnerability in WordPress 4.7.0

The blog on Sucuri Security, they came across a serious privilege escalation (content injection) vulnerability compromising the REST API on WordPress blog application version 4.7.0.

This vulnerability allows an unauthenticated user to modify the content of any post or page within a WordPress site. A fix for this was silently included on version 4.7.2 along with other less severe issues.

Who’s at risk

This privilege escalation vulnerability affects the WordPress REST API that was recently added and enabled by default on WordPress 4.7.0. One of these REST endpoints allows access (via the API) to view, edit, delete and create posts. Within this particular endpoint, a subtle bug allows visitors to edit any post on the site. The REST API is enabled by default on all sites using WordPress 4.7.0 or 4.7.1. If your website is on these versions of WordPress then it is currently vulnerable to this bug.

Here’s how it works

Look up at ./wp-includes/rest-api/endpoints/class-wp-rest-posts-controller.php

Privilege Escalation Vulnerability in WordPress 4.7.0

There are a couple of things to notice here. The registered route is designed to populate the ID request parameter with digits. For example, if you are sending a request to /wp-test /wp/v2/posts/1234 – the ID parameter would be set to 1234.

This behavior alone could be a good way to prevent attackers from crafting malicious ID values, but when looking at how the REST API manages access, you quickly discover that it prioritizes $_GET and $_POST values over the ones generated by the route’s regular expression. This makes it possible for an attacker to send a request like: /wp-test /wp/v2/posts/1234?id=12345helloworld  – which would assign 12345helloworld to the ID parameter – which now contains more than just digits.

Investigating further, look at the various callbacks (in the screenshot above) and one of them kept attention: the update_item and its permission check method update_item_permissions_check.

Privilege Escalation Vulnerability in WordPress 4.7.0

In a nutshell, it passes the alphanumeric ID value directly to the get_post() function. This function validates the request by checking if the post actually exists and whether the user has permission to edit this post. This is a curious way of sanitizing the request. If we send an ID that doesn’t have a corresponding post, we can just pass through the permission check and be allowed to continue executing requests to the update_item method!

But what could cause get_post() to fail at finding a post (other than a non-existent ID)? It was found that the get_instance() static method in wp_posts was used to grab posts.

Privilege Escalation Vulnerability in WordPress 4.7.0

As you can see from the code, it would basically fail on any input that isn’t all made of numeric characters – so 123ABC would fail.

For an attacker or so called hacker, this means that WordPress (thinking it’s a user with enough privilege to edit this post) would run the update_item method.
Let’s check what this method does.

Privilege Escalation Vulnerability in WordPress 4.7.0

There is a very subtle, yet important detail in that last screenshot – WordPress casts the ID parameter to an integer before passing it to get_post!

This is an issue because of the way PHP does type comparisons and conversions. For example, one can see that the following snippet would return 123:

Privilege Escalation Vulnerability in WordPress 4.7.0

This leads to a very dangerous situation where an attacker could submit a request like /wp-test /wp/v2/posts/123?id=456ABC to change the post whose ID is 456!

Due to this type-juggling issue, it is then possible for an attacker to change the content of any post or page on a victim’s site. From there, they can add plugin-specific shortcodes to exploit vulnerabilities (that would otherwise be restricted to contributor roles), infect the site content with an SEO spam campaign, or inject ads, malware or adware etc. Based on the plugins installed and enabled on the site, even malicious PHP code could be executed very easily , hence this is serious vulnerability needs urgent attention.