WordPress Charset SQL injection vulnerability (re-resend) Dec 10 2007 07:22PM
Abel Cheung (abelcheung gmail com)

Terribly sorry, gmail messed up the GPG signature. Hope this one can
get through.

=== WordPress Charset SQL Injection Vulnerability ===

Release date: 2007-12-10
Last modified: 2007-12-10
Source: Abel Cheung <abelcheung at gmail dot com>
Affected version: WordPress <= 2.3.1
Exploit type: Remote
Risk: Moderate
CVE: pending
Reference: http://www.abelcheung.org/advisory/20071210-wordpress-charset.txt

1. Summary
2. Detail
3. Proof of concept
4. Workaround

1. Summary

Quoting from http://wordpress.org/:
WordPress is a state-of-the-art semantic personal publishing platform
with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability.
What a mouthful. WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.

It is found that the search function provided within WordPress fails to
sanitize input based on different character sets. So if WordPress tries
to query MySQL database using certain specific character sets, WordPress
search function is exploitable using charset-based SQL injection.

Currently known character sets exploitable include Big5 and GBK.
All of them may use backslash ('\') as part of multibyte character.
WordPress with MySQL database created any other character sets fulfilling
such property may also be exploitable.

Executing this attack alone results in exposure of all database
content on web interface without need of authentication. However, if
combined with other exploits (such as cookie authentication vulnerability
in http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~sjm217/advisories/wordpress-cookie-auth.txt),
any remote user can obtain WordPress admin privilege, resulting in server

2. Detail

Most database query in WordPress uses escape() method to sanitize SQL
string, which is essentially filtering input via addslashes() function.
However addslashes() fails to consider character set used in SQL string,
and blindly inserts backslash before any single quote, regardless of
whether such backslashes will form another valid character or not.

In proof of concept used in this advisory, two bytes 0xB327 is
injected into search variable. After escaping string with escape(),
a backslash (0x5C) is inserted before single quote (0x27), thus becoming
0xB35C27. However 0xB35C is a valid Big5 multibyte character,
leaving the single quote behind, so SQL injection occurs. The same
multibyte character is also valid under GBK encoding.

Inside SQL statement used within proof of concept, MD5 hashes of all
users' passwords are selected from database, and presented as post
title. With suitable SQL statement, any database field can be dumped
in similar way.

Currently it is known that WordPress search function uses this
insufficient method to sanitize database query. Possibly other
database queries utilizing same method to filter user input can be
equally susceptible.

However, note that WordPress sites using such character sets is not
very common, since most default installation uses either latin1 or utf8
character set. Asian sites, in particular Chinese ones, are more likely

Although all WordPress versions before 2.3.1 are vulnerable, only
WordPress 2.2 or above allows changing database query character set
via WordPress configuration file (wp-config.php). For all versions
below 2.2, modifying MySQL configuration to use those character sets
is needed for exploit to be functional. The setting of WordPress HTML
character set (adjustable within WordPress admin page) is irrelevant.

Relevant code is listed below. In wp-includes/query.php:

// If a search pattern is specified, load the posts that match
if ( !empty($q['s']) ) {
foreach((array)$q['search_terms'] as $term) {
$term = addslashes_gpc($term);

addslashes_gpc() is defined in wp-includes/formatting.php:

function addslashes_gpc($gpc) {
return $wpdb->escape($gpc);

Finally, escape() method belongs to wp-includes/wp-db.php:

function escape($string) {
return addslashes( $string ); // Disable rest for now, causing problems

3. Proof of concept

a. After WordPress installation, modify wp-config.php to make sure
it uses certain character set for database connection (Big5 can also be used):
define('DB_CHARSET', 'GBK');

b. http://localhost/wordpress/index.php?exact=1&sentence=1&s=%b3%27)))/**/A

4. Workaround

Note: This vulnerability only exists for database queries performed
using certain character sets. For databases created in most other
character sets no remedy is needed.

a. It is recommended to convert WordPress database to use character sets not
vulnerable to such SQL exploit. One such charset is UTF-8, which does not
use backslash ('\') as part of character and it supports various languages.
b. Alternatively, edit WordPress theme to remove search capability.

Abel Cheung (GPG Key: 0xC67186FF)
Key fingerprint: 671C C7AE EFB5 110C D6D1 41EE 4152 E1F1 C671 86FF
* GNOME Hong Kong - http://www.gnome.hk/
* Opensource Application Knowledge Assoc. - http://oaka.org/
Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (GNU/Linux)


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