Analysis of Attack Vector against WP Plugins

On WPScan Vulnerability Database maintained by Sucuri, we can find many new plugins and themes every month. Of course WP-ZEP is not God Almighty against these. Then you may wonder about:

I’m with you!!

So I picked up latest 50 vulnerabilities from WPScan DB, and dig into the each attack vector one by one to investigate which can be prevented or not by WP-ZEP.

UPDATE: The protection performance of latest version of IP Geo Block was reported at Analysis of Attack Vectors.


To find out the prevention ability of WP-ZEP, I only picked up the vulnerable plugins which I can download by free. Then I got code differences between before and after fixing issues to start reading the code deeply. In many cases, exploitation reports in something like Packet Storm gave me a lot of help, but in some cases I had to install these plugins into my PC to confirm the attack vectors.

Each vulnerability has its own attack vectors. Some of them are classified in a direct attack onto the plugin files, and some of them are classified in an indirect attack via WordPress core files. So at first I must make clarify the definition of “Attack Vector” itself. My definition here is:

Attack Vector = Type x Path


The “Path” can be categorized into severals patterns. Here are the short descriptions of abbreviation in the later part of this article.

Abbreviation of Path Description
AA Admin Area
AX Ajax / Post
PD Plugin Direct
FE Front End

Then I examined the prevention ability of IP Geo Block in 2.1.0 based on the type of validation method, that are:

  1. validate by Geolocation
  2. validate by WP-ZEP

For example, 2. is available on “Validation Settings” as follows:

Validation Settings in IP Geo Block in 2.1.0


Well then, let’s take a look at the results:

Source: © The WPScan Team
Vulnerability Version Type Path Geo ZEP
WP Business Intelligence Lite <= 1.6.1 SQLI PD+ OK OK
Ptengine <= 1.0.1 XSS FE NG NG
EZ Portfolio <= 1.0.1 XSS AX OK OK
WonderPlugin Audio Player <= 2.0 SQLI, XSS AX OK OK
Aspose Cloud eBook Generator <= 1.0 LFI PD- NG NG
WPshop - eCommerce <= AFU PD+ OK OK
WPBook <= 2.7 CSRF AA OK OK
WP-ViperGB <= 1.3.10 XSS, CSRF AA OK OK
WordPress Survey & Poll <= 1.1.7 SQLI AX OK OK
WP Media Cleaner <= 2.2.6 XSS AA OK OK
WP Easy Slideshow <= 1.0.3 CSRF AA OK OK
N-Media Website Contact Form <= 1.3.4 AFU AX* OK NG
Tune Library <= 1.5.4 SQLI FE NG NG
Redirection Page <= 1.2 CSRF, XSS AA OK OK
PHP Event Calendar <= 1.5 AFU PD- NG NG
My Wish List <= 1.4.1 XSS FE NG NG
Mobile Domain <= 1.5.2 CSRF, XSS AA OK OK
MailChimp Subscribe Form <= 1.1 RCE PD- NG NG
IP Blacklist Cloud <= 3.4 SQLI AA OK OK
IP Blacklist Cloud <= 3.42 LFI FE NG NG
InBoundio Marketing <= 2.0.3 RFU PD- NG NG
Image Metadata Cruncher <= 1.8 CSRF, XSS AA OK OK
CrossSlide jQuery <= 2.0.5 CSRF, XSS AA OK OK
Aspose PDF Exporter < 2.0 LFI PD- NG NG
Aspose Importer & Exporter <= 1.0 LFI PD- NG NG
Aspose DOC Exporter <= 1.0 LFI PD- NG NG
WP Ultimate CSV Importer <= 3.6.74 AB PD+ OK OK
WP Ultimate CSV Importer <= 3.7.1 DT PD+ OK OK
WP Mobile Edition <= 2.2.7 LFI PD- NG NG
WP All Import <= 3.2.3 RCE AX OK OK
WP All Import <= 3.2.4 CSRF, XSS AX OK OK
UpdraftPlus <= 1.9.50 PE AX OK NG
Ultimate Member <= 1.0.78 AFU PD+ OK OK
Ultimate Product Catalogue <= 3.1.1 AFU AX OK OK
Ultimate Product Catalogue <= 3.1.2 SQLI AX OK OK
Ultimate Product Catalogue <= 3.1.2 SQLI FE NG NG
TinyMCE Advanced <= 4.1 CSRF AX OK OK
Huge-IT Slider <= 2.6.8 SQLI AX OK OK
Simple Ads Manager <= 2.5.94 AFU, SQLI PD+ OK OK
Related Posts for WordPress <= 1.8.1 XSS FE NG NG
Ajax Search Lite <= 3.1 RCE AX OK OK
Blubrry PowerPress <= 6.0 XSS AA OK OK
PlusCaptcha <= 2.0.14 CSRF AA OK OK
Plugin Performance Profiler <= XSS AA NG NG
NEX-Forms <= 3.0 SQLI AX OK OK
MiwoFTP <= 1.0.4 LFI FE NG NG
MiwoFTP <= 1.0.5 CSRF, XSS AA OK OK
MainWP Child <= AB FE NG NG
Mashshare <= 2.3.0 AB AX OK OK
WordPress Leads <= 1.6.2 XSS AX* OK NG
The total amount of OK 33 30

Study of Attack Vectors

The results gave me something of great interest when I sort by “Path. The “PD” (Plugin Direct) and “FE” (Front End) are all in red. So I’d like to dive into these attack vectors.

Plugin Direct

Some plugin or theme authors tend to call their PHP files in wp-content/plugins/ and wp-content/themes/. The reason may be mainly for the performance.

But you know the WordPress programming model is basically event-driven, so such a direct call is not generally recommended from the WordPress security point of view.

[In almost every case there is no reason to allow code to be called directly] ( “by James Golovich”).

It’s a remarkable fact that a variety of vulnerabilities are there in this type of attack vector. And such a direct call should be blocked to prevent various vulnerability if it’s for the administrator.

Fortunately for me, some of these files include wp-load.php to get the WordPress context, which cases are indicated as “PD+”. It means that WP-ZEP have a chance to validate these. Moreover, almost all the above listed “PD+” are related to admin (besides this). So I decided to make WP-ZEP prevent these type of direct access.

But “PD-“ (without +) is still in red.

Front End

There was an vulnerability that allowed anyone to login as an administrator without any fences by following access:

In this type of vulnerability, the init action, which is always triggered by anybody who visits the public facing pages, is hooked to some functions to make significant jobs for the administrator.

In this case, all we should do is to filter out any malicious queries (i.e. “signature”) from the requests using whitelist or blacklist to prevent LFI, XSS, SQLI.


Before I finalized this investigation, the estimated amount of true positive against preventing zero-day exploitation by WP-ZEP in the real world was about 26% in version 2.0.8, but now 60% in 2.1.0.

Is it still low? – Yes it is.

So I’d like to make WP-ZEP have an ability to prevent the “Plugin Direct” (without *) vulnerability, which means the true positive becomes to 80% !! emoji