Malicious libraries and plugins

How closely do you inspect what 3rd party plugins and libraries you use with software and development? We kind of tend to take for granted that once we vet a library or plugin and add that into our usage, then it’s likely to never be a threat in the future. However, over the last few years attackers have started increasing abuse of this trust. A type of watering hole attack that reaches a larger amount of people than a typical focused attack.

There’s 3 main ways this has happened:

  • Attackers buy the plugin/library from the original author or assume control of one that is abondened
  • Development system or other system in chain is compromised by attacker
  • Attackers create releases that mimic popular and established libraries/plugins in name and function

This has affected a wide range of software, from web applications to web browsers to text editors/IDE’s. Let’s take a brief look at a few instances.

WordPress Display-Widgets plugin. This plugin was sold by the original developer, and at that time had several hundred thousand active installations. The new developers then added code to it that downloaded and installed a plugin that added spam the site.

The Node.js package repository was found to have malicious packages that looked like real packages, differing slightly in the name in an attempt to fool anyone trying to find specific packages. The malicious packages generally tried to send sensitive environment data back to a server.

Python also experienced something very similar. Package uploaded in an attempt to fool anyone not paying close enough attention. Not relying on just misspelling the name, but with names that look legitimate, such as “bzip” for the real package “bzip2file”.

Those are just a few examples, Chrome and Firefox have both had similar issues multiple times as well. So how do we protect against this? Partly some of this has to be on the software that allows the plugins to run. There are some bad policies and practices here, such as WordPress letting anyone claim “abandoned” plugins.

Some things you can do yourself are to install any libraries/plugins (for python, ruby etc) with your systems package manager. If you use pip, gem or the like, make sure you are using the correct plugins, avoid misspellings or “close enough” names. Check the reputations of plugins via Twitter or search for reviews and info on plugins, by name, in your search engine. If you find any  anomalies report them on social media and forums associated with your language. Try not to use plugins that have been abandoned and recovered by another developer with no reputation.