TYPO3 Blog

Thanks to Tymoteusz Motylewski from Macopedia for sharing this story with us.

Collaboration, community based learning and sharing genuinely boost motivation, are a main cause of progress and bring forth collective innovation that in turn testifies the ideals of open source software like TYPO3. Let’s take a look at a recent example in the PHP ecosystem that demonstrates just how beneficial this approach can be in the larger scheme of things.

Serious PHP vulnerability in Phar wrapper

Late this summer, a serious security issue that affected many PHP applications was widely reported in the press, e.g. The Hacker NewsSC Media and The Register. The vulnerability had the potential to disrupt web applications written in PHP for malicious purposes.

The programming language PHP comes with many built-in wrappers for various URL styled protocols for use within the filesystem functions. Phar is one of these package formats. It lets you bundle code files and has been enabled by default since PHP 5.3.0. The disclosed vulnerability made it possible to take advantage of the way that PHP handles these self-extracting Phar files (formerly known as "PHP archives"). For TYPO3 it meant that Phar files could be invoked by manipulated URLs in backend forms.

Secarma alerted the public to the PHP vulnerability

Sam Thomas is a skilled security researcher who works for Secarma, UK. He first got in touch with TYPO3 to report the security flaw in June 2018. He provided an appropriate level of detail on the vulnerability to allow us to identify and reproduce the issue. We’re grateful that he followed best practices of responsible disclosure und gave us reasonable time to deal with the matter before he publicly disclosed details.

In August 2018 he then presented the vulnerability at the leading information security event Black Hat USA 2018, where he demonstrated how to trigger the flaws to hack a site built with PHP using an author account and then take full control over the underlying web server. The exploit was a severe new attack technique that leveraged critical deserialization vulnerabilities in the popular programming language and left hundreds of thousands of web applications running any PHP driven software open to remote code execution attacks, including websites powered by popular content management systems like TYPO3, Contao and WordPress.

Just as important as discovering security flaws is reporting the findings so that users can protect themselves, both directly to those concerned in advance (responsible disclosure) and then, at a later point in time, to the public (full disclosure). The cybersecurity experts at Secarma provided both: direct information to TYPO3 and a public online report about the exploit later on.

While there are good reasons for publishing information about security vulnerabilities, it also gives potential attackers who were not otherwise aware of the problem the very information they need to exploit a security hole in a system and cause harm. How to proceed?

Step 1 - How TYPO3 dealt with the security issue

With the prospect of the exploit being publicly known, swift action was required by developers who build and use any PHP driven software. TYPO3 did just that. We were informed about the vulnerability in June 2018. By the middle of July TYPO3 had:

  1. fixed the security issue for the TYPO3 project

  2. published details in the official TYPO3 security advisory and

  3. released new stable versions of all current major TYPO3 LTS versions.

This was all done before the vulnerability was demonstrated publicly at the Black Hat USA 2018 and all users are recommended to update their TYPO3 projects to stay safe.

The vulnerability was solved by first denying the direct attack vector and then limiting the invocation of Phar files to those that are located in TYPO3 extensions (path typo3conf/ext/*) by using a custom PHP stream wrapper. The PharStreamWrapper intercepts invocations of the phar:// stream in PHP that only allows usage for defined locations in the file system.

For TYPO3 users this means: To stay on the safe side update your installation to any version above TYPO3 v7.6.30, v8.7.17 or v9.3.1 as recommended in the security advisory. Extended support is available for TYPO3 v6 LTS.

All’s good that ends good? Not quite. TYPO3 took this a huge step further.

Step 2 - TYPO3 supports PHP ecosystem in becoming more secure

Fellow open source players are welcome to use our security solution

Other open source technologies are faced with the same concern with regard to this vulnerability. To help other defenders improve their security we decided to publish our solution as a stand-alone package for the PHP community.

We have extracted the PharStreamWrapper from the TYPO3 core and prepared a Composer package which includes everything you need to secure any PHP driven project against the vulnerability, regardless of the technology you use, the framework your product it is written in and the libraries and modules you use.

The stand-alone “phar stream wrapper” package is available for free download on GitHub and Packagist:

Download the stand-alone PharStreamWrapper on GitHub
Download the stand-alone PharStreamWrapper on Packagist

To avoid licensing issues and incompatibilities the phar stream wrapper package has been published under the MIT License and anyone can use it. If you duplicate or modify the source code credits are not required (but much appreciated!). The package is compatible with PHP v7 and PHP v5.3. For more details read last Thursday’s Press Service Announcement on TYPO3.org.

Kudos to Martin Auswöger (member of the Contao Security Team) for reporting further details on the vulnerability and providing corresponding security fixes. And a special thank you also goes to Alex Pott for creating back ports of all sources to provide compatibility with PHP v5.3. Also, thanks to Inge Bateman for her attention to detail and valuable input in writing this article.

TYPO3 cares about security and shared solutions

The TYPO3 community holds a strong “inspire people to share” ethos, which helps us link to our values and goals. We believe in sharing knowledge, empowering one another and building awesome products together - be it within the TYPO3 project or with other open source ones. TYPO3 is part of the bigger PHP community and like all communities, it’s a constant game of give and take.
Rallying with fellow open source players is important to us. Together we have the unique opportunity to combine resources to grow the size of the market and open source CMS adoption. Across the globe, tens of thousands of developers and businesses already collaborate to build and improve shared open source technologies.

Conclusion

In the context of open source, the idea of secrecy and hoarding makes me uncomfortable. If you’re serious about open source and producing high-end value, it probably makes you uncomfortable too.

In June, we were informed of a potential PHP security issue through responsible disclosure, With the prospect of the exploit being publicly known, swift action was required. Within weeks, TYPO3 had a solution in place to keep the project safe: the PharStreamWrapper. Sam Thomas then demonstrated the vulnerability at the annual Black Hat security event in August (full disclosure).

TYPO3 decided to take this a big step further and prepared a separate Composer package: The security solution was extracted from the TYPO3 core and is now available as a stand-alone package for other open source developers to download (for free) and to use for keeping any PHP driven project safe.

Together we are stronger!

Download the stand-alone PharStreamWrapper on GitHub

A special thank you goes to Oliver Hader, member of both the TYPO3 Core Team and the TYPO3 GmbH, who went the extra mile to develop both the TYPO3 solution for the security issue as well as the stand-alone phar stream wrapper package for fellow open source players.

Tymoteusz Motylewski

About the Author

Tymoteusz Motylewski

CTO at Macopedia.com, Poznan, Poland
Tymoteusz is co-founder and CTO of Macopedia, an agile web agency that provides highly performant TYPO3 CMS solutions and omnichannel e-commerce for enterprises across the globe.
With over 10 years experience in the software industry, Tymoteusz has a deep understanding of technology and what it takes to bring about successful product development and powerful enterprise software solutions. Among his skills, he is well respected by clients and colleagues alike for his ability to build strong teams and align product and tech through practical agile techniques - enabling the delivery of quality digital solutions and supporting clients in their digital transformation process and growth.
He’s an open source enthusiast and is actively involved in the TYPO3 Core Team. Driven by the urge for innovation, he engages in community projects and advances digital products like Progressive Web Applications (PWA) for TYPO3 and Magento.

More posts by Tymoteusz Motylewski

Comments

  • David Bruchmann

    David Bruchmann

    October 23rd, 2018

    I remember having had a problem with the TYPO3-stream-wrapper (at an early stage) and back then I thought it might be superfluous. This article is great as it explains the need and the work Oliver Hader and the team did. Being able to now implement the solution even in non-TYPO3-projects - I'm excited about the information and offered solutions.

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