PHP.net compromised and used to attack visitors

Attackers injected malicious JavaScript code into the site, redirecting some visitors' browsers to Flash exploits

Visitors to the official website for the PHP programming language over the past couple of days might have had their computers infected with malware.

Hackers managed to inject malicious JavaScript code into a file on the php.net site called userprefs.js. The code made requests to a third-party website that scanned visitors' browsers for vulnerable plug-ins and executed exploits that, if successful, installed a piece of malware, said Daniel Peck, a research scientist at Barracuda Networks.

One of Barracuda's research tools detected and captured attack traffic from php.net late Tuesday evening, according to Peck.

The exploits served during the attack came in the form of malicious SWF files, so they most likely targeted vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player. However, Barracuda's researchers are still conducting their analysis and haven't identified yet exactly which vulnerabilities were targeted, Peck said.

It's also not clear what the program installed by the exploits does or if it's part of a known malware family. The only thing Peck could say about it is that it tries to connect to around three dozen different command-and-control servers around the world and successfully establishes communication with four of them.

The php.net site was blacklisted early Thursday by Google Safe Browsing, a service used by Google Search, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox to prevent users from visiting malicious websites. As a result, Chrome and Firefox users who tried to access php.net over the course of several hours Thursday were warned that the site contained malware.

The PHP Group, which maintains the php.net website and the PHP distribution packages, initially thought the warning was the result of a Google Safe Browsing detection error. "It appears Google has found a false positive and marked all of http://php.net as suspicious," Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP, said on Twitter.

But a more in-depth investigation revealed that the userprefs.js file had been modified repeatedly as a result of an intrusion, the PHP Group said in a message on php.net. "We are still investigating how someone caused that file to be changed, but in the meantime we have migrated www/static to new clean servers," the group said, adding that there's no evidence of the compromise extending to the PHP distribution files.

Barracuda Networks released a packet capture file that includes the exploits and malware distributed during the attack so that other researchers can also analyze them.

It's not clear if the attackers targeted php.net because of its large number of visitors or because most of those visitors are developers. The Amazon-owned website analytics company Alexa ranks php.net as the 228th-most-visited site in the world.

PHP developers can be valuable targets for attackers because their computers usually contain intellectual property like source code and other sensitive information, including log-in credentials for websites they maintain. Many developers are also likely to visit php.net from company-issued computers, and compromising those computers could allow attackers to access corporate networks.

The number of users affected by the attack was likely limited by the fact that the rogue code added to userprefs.js was periodically removed by an existing synchronization process that restored the file to its original state.

"Not much to say about the effect on end users who visited the site during that time because the windows where the changed file was actually being served were really small and our focus has been on establishing the integrity of the PHP source code we distribute," Lerdorf said via email. "But yes, if someone got redirected to a strange place when visiting php.net they should take normal anti-virus precautions."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags intrusionBarracuda NetworkssecurityThe PHP GroupExploits / vulnerabilitiesspywaremalware

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?