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A Plugin’s Expired Domain Poses a Security Threat to Websites

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Do you keep all your website software (including all third-party themes, plugins and components) up-to-date? You should! We always recommend this to our clients and our readers. Applying updates quickly will make sure that you replace any vulnerable code as soon as the security patch is released. However, this isn’t the only reason to keep your website software as fresh as possible.

About a month ago, we shared research in which the domain of a WordPress theme had expired and wasparked by “domainers”. The resultwasunwanted ad images being displayed on sites that still used the unsupported theme. In that case study, the issue was that the original theme files used scripts hosted on its own domain. This caused the affected sites to redirect visitors to ad pages. This is the default behavior for javascript requests using that particular domain parking service.

Recently on our incident response team , we had a case in which a website was redirecting users to an external domain which was showing ad pop-ups, some of which were obviously malicious, for example, this Comcast tech support scam pop-up that tried to block a web browser and asked to call their number.


A Plugin’s Expired Domain Poses a Security Threat to Websites
Flexytalk Widget Plugin While investigating this issue we noticed JavaScript attempting to load from flexytalk[.]com . This in itself was no suspicious, the plugin wasnamed flexytalk-widget . After cleaning however, the malware persisted. We started digging deeper, and it turned out that the domain flexytalk[.]com had expired. Somebody that wasn’t the original domain owner, purchased and parked the domain. They proceeded to put it on a web server that pushed all sorts of ads onto visitors.

The version of the plugin we were analyzing was more than a year old and it had this iFrame in the FlexyTalk_Widget.php file.:

<iframe src=“http://panel.flexytalk[.]com/account/pluginlogin/‘.$usr.’/'.$pwd .'/1" width="100%" height="100%" style="min-height:850px; width:100%" frameborder=0 ></iframe>

The plugin stores and sends the password in plain text, but that’s not the main problem. The real problem comes in the fact that the via the iFrame, the parked domain can be used to inject payloads into unsuspecting websites, redirecting visitors and presenting them with pop-ups like the one above.

Behind the scenes, the plugin also makes requests to another flexytalk[.]com URL: $response= curl2("http://panel.flexytalk[.]com/plugin/FlexyID?usr=".$username ."&psw=".$password);
log_me($response);

Now that the domain name no longer belongs to the developer, the results of such requests are unpredictable. Best case, they’ll break some plugin functionality. Worst case, the new domain owner will steal the credentials (there are still many people who reuse their passwords across all systems) and, depending on the quality of the plugin code, may inject malware into web pages or compromise the server.

Hijacked Scripts The plugin also used a hosted script on flexytalk[.]net , which also expired more than a year ago and was re-registered by a different person who parked it on another domain parking service. $htmlCode="<script id='ftcontent' data-flexytalk=".$widget_id." ".$datadept. ">var script =
document.createElement('script');script.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https:' : 'http:') +
'//www.flexytalk[.]net/app/v3/js/flexytalk.js';document.getElementsByTagName('head')
[0].appendChild(script);

In this case, the domain parking service didn’t return a redirect code for JavaScript requests asin the previous case. This one returned a code that created ad pop-ups when you click anywhere on a web page (e.g. on a page that includes an older version of the Flexytalk widget.)


A Plugin’s Expired Domain Poses a Security Threat to Websites
Domainers in Action

This Flexitalk plugin wasseverely affected by the expiry of both domain names it used for its operation. Interesting that the .net and the .com domains were re-registered by different people around a year ago, and they independently decided to park the domains.

Domain Name: flexytalk[.]com
Registrant Name: wenjie chen
Creation Date: 2015-09-30T18:03:17Z
IP: 103.224.182.207
Domain Name: flexytalk[.]net
Registrant Name: Milen Radumilo
Creation date: 2015-07-09T18:03:41Z
IP: 185.53.178.8

These two people might not know each other, but they are in the same business. They register abandoned expired domains in bulks and then try to sell them for a much higher price than they paid for them. While they are waiting for buyers, they park their domains on servers where they generate revenue from ads when people occasionally visit the sites. It could be clicks on old links from existing sites, typos in URLs, or, as in our case, via software that relies on resources on those expired domains. As you might expect, expired domains with lots of live links to them (including links to images and JavaScript libraries) are among the most valuable types of loot.

If you doubt that the domains now belong to professional domainers, just check how many domains these two own:

Wenjie Chen (and the email address) is associated with ~4,884 domains Milen Radumilo is associated with ~100,000+ domains You can imagine how many expired domains have similar behavior: ads, pop-ups, redirects. For example the server with IP 185.53.178.8 (where flexytalk[.]net is parked now) is also used by about 75 thousand other parked websites. The name servers of this domain parking service ( PARKINGCREW[.]NET ) are used by over a million domains. Flexytalk Widget Gets New Name

What happened to the plugin? It turns out that even after the expiry of the domain names, the plugin is still being developed and updated. But they changed the name and here’s the explanation from their changelog :

3.1.8

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: All IM accounts change to xyz@chat.frescochat.com (instead of xyz@flexytalk[.]im)

The update points your script to our new FrescoChat servers

Due to operational problems, we’ve changed our name to FRESCOCHAT”

According to the plugin repository , this happened 16 months ago. They changed the plugin name and servers, but left the same flexytalk-widget plugin id, so that users of the old versions of the plugin could be notified about the new versions and could easily update the plugin. Three versions with th

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