Supply Chain Attacks on The Rise As PHP Infiltrated With Backdoor Malware

Malware has plagued the supply chain during the pandemic, providing an easy route for hackers to infiltrate systems relying on third-party applications and services. A new attack has been reported this week – on Sunday last; the PHP project announced that hackers gained access to its primary Git server. They proceeded to upload two malicious commits, including a backdoor. Luckily, the commits were discovered before being sent to production.

PHP is a general-purpose scripting language especially suited to web development. It is extremely popular and a powerful tool for making dynamic and interactive Web pages. PHP can be embedded into HTML, which can make a PHP-driven attack particularly dangerous.

The attacks were pushed to the php-src (source) repository, meaning the hackers could pull off a supply chain attack if developers picked up the code, believing it to be legitimate.

Both pushes, which be viewed here, claimed to be ‘fixing a typo’ within the code. The pushes were made using the accounts of PHPs founders, Rasmus Lerdorf and Nikita Popov. This gave the push an air of credibility, as it appeared to come from trusted sources.

In a statement, Popov explained, “We don’t yet know how exactly this happened, but everything points towards a compromise of the server (rather than a compromise of an individual git account).”

Popov went on to explain that PHP would be moving its servers to GitHub, hoping for added security.

“While investigation is still underway, we have decided that maintaining our own git infrastructure is an unnecessary security risk, and that we will discontinue the server. Instead, the repositories on GitHub, which were previously only mirrors, will become canonical. This means that changes should be pushed directly to GitHub rather than to”

Popov also explained they would review their entire repository, searching for any corruption or traces of Malware.

Craig Young principal security researcher at Tripwire said regarding the attack, “Had it not been detected, the code could have ultimately poisoned the binary package repositories which countless organizations rely upon and trust. Open-source projects which are self-hosting their code repositories may be at increased risk of this type of supply chain attack and must have robust processes in place to detect and reject suspicious commits”

Malware Attacks On The Supply Chain


As business relies more on third-services, the digital supply chain has placed a target on its back for hackers with malware. While a business or industry may employ tight cybersecurity practices, a supply chain malware attack can mean targeting the weakest link and finding a foothold into a secured business. These sorts of attacks have been rife in the last 12 months, most notably the SolarWinds attack, which SaferNet covered previously.

Weaponizing code dependencies, like with PHP, is a relatively new attack vector. Last year, researchers spotted malicious packages targeting internal applications for Amazon, Lyft, Slack and Zillow (among others) inside the npm public code repository — all of which exfiltrated sensitive information. The packages weaponized a proof-of-concept (PoC) code dependency-confusion exploit that was recently devised by security researcher Alex Birsan to inject rogue code into developer projects.

In December, RubyGems, an open-source package repository and manager for the Ruby web programming language, took two of its software packages offline after they were found to be laced with malware.

And in January, three malicious software packages were published to npm, masquerading as legitimate by using brandjacking. Any applications corrupted by the code could steal tokens and other information from Discord users, researchers said.

Previous to the pandemic, one of the most infamous malware supply chain attacks occurred in 2017, which was attributed to Russia. The NotPetya malware compromised Ukrainian accounting software as part of an attack designed to target the country’s infrastructure, but the malware spread quickly to other countries. NotPetya wound up doing more than $10 billion in damage and disrupted operations for multinational corporations such as Maersk, FedEx, and Merck.

Supply chain attacks are attractive to hackers because when commonly used software is compromised, the attackers could potentially gain access to all the enterprises that use that software.



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