July 29, 2015 By Douglas Bonderud 2 min read

Another WordPress iteration is now publicly available. Version 4.2.3 was released on July 23 and contains a number of security fixes — including one to address a potentially devastating cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability, the WordPress blog explained.

XSS Vulnerability Aims for a Large Target

This isn’t the first time WordPress has addressed a potentially disastrous flaw, and it won’t be the last; determined attackers are constantly looking for ways to compromise this popular content management system (CMS). As noted by PC World, for example, more than 50,000 sites were compromised in 2014 thanks to a PHP backdoor in the MailPoet Newsletter plugin, while XSS affected a host of plugins earlier this year.

According to SC Magazine, the newest WordPress release, version 4.2.3, specifically addresses a XSS vulnerability that could be used to compromise an affected website. Doing so would require users with contributor or author credentials to use “specially crafted shortcodes to bypass kses protection by tricking it into thinking dangerous parts are part of valid HMTL.” The result? With the right privileges, malicious actors could run JavaScript code on the front end of a website and take total control.

Smaller Issues Plague the Platform

The new update also addresses 20 other nonsecurity issues along with a smaller-scale security flaw that gave users with subscriber permissions the ability to create posts using the Quick Draft feature. While there’s no chance of website failure or takeover here, the possibility of malicious posts slipping through the cracks could spell disaster for large, well-branded companies leveraging WordPress for any part of their marketing efforts.

Imagine the havoc if an unsolicited, unapproved and completely inappropriate blog post appeared on the domain of a major retailer or financial institution. While there would be no actual harm to networks or data, the impact on social capital or reputation could be devastating.

Continuing Cycle

As noted by Computerworld, part of the reason for the never-ending WordPress patch cycle goes beyond big vulnerabilities to target cybercriminals who may use WordPress sites as jumping-off points for other attacks. Once compromised, websites running this free CMS can be used to host malware or even carry out distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, removing the need for attackers to go after their primary target by force. Here, the sheer number of WordPress sites helps to obscure the nature and severity of an attack and explains why the company’s security teams are diligent in tracking down even minor bugs.

XSS is the current vulnerability of choice for WordPress attackers, but as evidenced by July’s 4.2.3 release and May’s 4.2.2 — both of which targeted XSS flaws — the CMS is making every effort to cross out this problem permanently.

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