Thanks to the release of http://seclists.org/fulldisclosure/2012/Dec/242 on Christmas Eve, I’ve spent my holiday working security for several sites.
This exploit allows an attacker to take advantage of the “open” nature of W3 Total Cache’s cache files to extract password hashes from the database cache. I agree with Jason on this – why did the author of W3TC keep these directories open? The plugin already modifies .htaccess, why couldn’t they simple add
for the cache directories and keep everything a bit tighter? This security “misconfiguration” was not documented by W3TC or WordPress (that I could find) and it could lead to a catastrophic security breach. Since the potential bug is caused solely by W3TC, I believe it’s their responsibility to add the necessary fix, and not leave it up to site admins.
After further investigation, the fix suggested by Jason does not work on my servers (don’t know why). Here is my fix, which does the trick and causes w3-total-fail to totally fail.
Navigate to your /wp-content/w3tc folder and add a new .htaccess. Inside it, add the following:
<Files *> order deny,allow deny from all </Files>
Restart your web server for good measure with
or the equivalent for your server. Jason’s tool will no longer work against your site, but go ahead and check it once again for good measure. The tool should still show “Attempting…” repetitively, but this time it will iterate through the directories at a much faster pace because it can’t access the contents. No more hashes will appear.
I’ve pondered upon the topic of W3 Total Cache’s security for quite some time, and I’m well aware of this and a few other possible issues with W3TC. I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for someone to have the same thought and attempt to exploit WordPress using this concept.
Anyways, WP-Admins should download this and check the security of their sites and patch their sites accordingly. Hopefully Frederick Townes will release a self-patching version of W3TC really soon, as many WordPress sites heavily rely on this plugin and I’m sure most admins aren’t even aware of this security threat. Merry Christmas!