Vanilla Forums Rushes to Patch Disclosed Vulnerabilities

The developers of Vanilla, a forum software with nearly one million downloads, rushed to release a security update on Thursday after a researcher made public details and exploits for two unpatched vulnerabilities.

Security researcher Dawid Golunski reported in late December 2016 that he had discovered a critical remote code execution vulnerability in PHPMailer, the world’s most popular email creation and transfer class for PHP. Given the widespread use of the library, many applications were exposed to attacks due to the flaw, including the Vanilla Forums software.

In the case of Vanilla Forums 2.3, the PHPMailer vulnerability can be combined with a host header injection weakness (CVE-2016-10073), allowing a remote, unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code and hijack the targeted website, the expert said.

According to the researcher, the host header injection vulnerability can be exploited by an unauthenticated attacker to intercept Vanilla password reset hashes and gain unauthorized access to the victim’s account.

The flaw exists due to the fact that the value of the user-supplied HTTP HOST header in a request is used to generate the sender’s email address. This security hole is similar to one found recently by Golunski in WordPress.

An attacker can exploit this vulnerability by sending a specially crafted password reset request with the HOST header set to a domain they control. The email received by the victim will appear to come from an address on the attacker’s domain, and the password reset link will also point to the attacker’s server, allowing them to intercept the password reset hash if the victim clicks on the link.

Golunski said he reported the vulnerabilities to Vanilla Forums developers in December 2016, and decided to make his findings public now after receiving no updates from the vendor. The researcher has also published a video showing the exploit in action:

A few hours after the expert published an advisory, Vanilla Forums announced the release of version 2.3.1, which patches these vulnerabilities and fixes some other minor issues. The company pointed out that the flaws only affected the free and open source version of the forum software. Its cloud service at was not affected by either of the vulnerabilities.

According to Vanilla Forums, fixing the host header injection vulnerability was a complex matter that needed time. Now that Golunski made his findings public, developers have decided to address the issue by “stripping its use,” which could cause problems for some configurations. The security hole has been classified as “medium” severity.

The company admitted making a mistake in not updating the PHPMailer library sooner, but also blamed Golunski for not following up to remind them of the vulnerability.

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for 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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