PHP Developers Share Update on Recent Breach

The developers of the PHP scripting language have shared an update on the recently disclosed breach in which attackers planted malicious code.

The malicious code, discovered in late March, was found in the php-src repository hosted on the server and it was apparently designed to allow an attacker to remotely execute arbitrary PHP code. PHP developers said the backdoor was discovered before it was pushed out to users via an update.

Initially, users were told that evidence pointed to a compromise of the server rather than a Git account hijacking.

However, in an update shared this week, Nikita Popov, an important PHP contributor, said they no longer believe the server was compromised.

Further investigation revealed that had allowed developers to push changes — in addition to SSH via Gitolite infrastructure and public key cryptography — using HTTPS and password-based authentication. The attacker apparently leveraged this HTTPS channel to push the malicious PHP commits.

“I’m not sure why password-based authentication was supported in the first place, as it is much less secure than pubkey authentication,” Popov said.

Logs showed that it took the attacker a relatively small number of attempts to guess a username, and then successfully authenticated.

“While we don’t have any specific evidence for this, a possible explanation is that the user database of has been leaked, although it is unclear why the attacker would need to guess usernames in that case,” Popov explained.

He added, “The system, which is used for authentication and various management tasks, was running very old code on a very old operating system / PHP version, so some kind of vulnerability would not be terribly surprising.”

In response to the incident, all passwords have been reset, the use of the server has been discontinued in favor of GitHub, and steps have been taken to make more secure.

Related: Two Malware-Laced Gems Found in RubyGems Repository

Related: Source Code From Major Firms Leaked via Unprotected DevOps Infrastructure

Related: Critical Vulnerability Patched in PHP Package Repository

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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