Network-wide security flaw discovered in NPM package

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Software code downloaded almost three million times a week could enable hackers to remotely execute code on a victim’s system.

The code in question is the popular NPM package "pac-resolver." The flaw, which could allow hackers on a local network to execute arbitrary code within a Node.js process whenever it tries to make an HTTP request, was discovered by developer Tim Perry.

The package is used for PAC file support in Pac-Proxy-Agent, which is used in Proxy-Agent. This is the standard for HTTP proxy auto-detection and configuration in Node.js. The package is used extensively, from AWS's CDK toolkit to the Mailgun SDK to the Firebase CLI, and it racks up to three million downloads every week.

Perry found the bug while adding proxy support to HTTP Toolkit. The flaw affects software that depends on Pac-Resolver before v5.0.0 (even transitively) in a Node.js application.

The flaw affects any code using PAC files for proxy configuration or whatever proxy configuration is used by the target operating system that uses the WPAD protocol or a proxy configuration from an untrusted source.

“In any of those cases, an attacker (by configuring a malicious PAC URL, intercepting PAC file requests with a malicious file, or using WPAD [Web Proxy Auto-Discovery Protocol]) can remotely run arbitrary code on your computer any time you send an HTTP request using this proxy configuration,” Perry added.

The Pac-Proxy-Agent doesn't sandbox PAC scripts correctly, according to Perry. Internally, it uses two modules — Pac-Resolver and Degenerator — from the same author to build the PAC function. This means code running in one JavaScript virtual machine could access external data in the main node.js application, hence a remote code execution bug in the proxy configuration process.

“If you're in this situation, you need to update (to Pac-Resolver v5 and/or Proxy-Agent v5) right now,” said Perry.

When it comes to so-called supply chain bugs of this sort, “you can outsource the coding, but you can’t outsource the responsibility” wrote Paul Ducklin, principal research scientist at Sophos

“Some bugs are only found because someone decided to take a careful look, as Tim Perry did here,” he added.

The vulnerability, formally named CVE-2021-23406, has since been fixed in v5.0.0 of all those packages.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.