• The Ultimate WordPress Plugin Security Testing Cheat Sheet

        Oct 20 2017, 8:40 PM

        by larsonr eever 2

        The security documentation provided by WordPress and found online for plugin security is sparse, outdated or unclear. This cheat sheet is intended for Penetration Testers who audit WordPress plugins or developers who wish to audit their own WordPress plugins. This cheat sheet can be effectively used to test various WordPress plugins.

        Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

        Check if the following global PHP variables are echo'd to pages, or stored in the database and echo'd at a later time without first being sanitised or output encoded.

        • $_GET
        • $_POST
        • $_REQUEST
        • $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI']
        • $_SERVER['PHP_SELF']
        • $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']
        • $_COOKIE

        (Note: the list of sources above is not extensive nor complete)

        Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Tips

        Unsafe API functions

        The following functions can cause XSS if not secured:

        • add_query_arg()
        • remove_query_arg()

        See References Below:


        When doing dynamic testing for XSS the following setting in the wp-config.php file may reduce false positive results as it prevents administrative and editor users from being able to embed/execute JavaScript/HTML, which by default they are permitted to do.

        define( 'DISALLOW_UNFILTERED_HTML', true );

        SQL Injection

        Unsafe API methods (require sanitising/escaping):

        • $wpdb->query()
        • $wpdb->get_var()
        • $wpdb->get_row()
        • $wpdb->get_col()
        • $wpdb->get_results()
        • $wpdb->replace()

        Safe API methods (according to WordPress):

        • $wpdb->insert()
        • $wpdb->update()
        • $wpdb->delete()

        Safe code, prepared statement:

        <?php $sql = $wpdb->prepare( 'query' , value_parameter[, value_parameter ... ] ); ?>

        Note: Before WordPress 3.5 $wpdb->prepare could be used insecurely as you could just pass the query without using placeholders, like in the following example:

        $wpdb->query( $wpdb->prepare( "INSERT INTO table (user, pass) VALUES ('$user', '$pass')" ) );

        SQL Injection Tips

        Unsafe escaping ('securing') API methods:

        • esc_sql() function does not adequately protect against SQL Injection - see refs below
        • escape() same as above
        • esc_like() same as above
        • like_escape() same as above

        Displaying/hiding SQL errors:

        <?php $wpdb->show_errors(); ?> <?php $wpdb->hide_errors(); ?> <?php $wpdb->print_error(); ?>

        File Inclusion

        • include()
        • require()
        • include_once()
        • require_once()

        PHP Object Injection

        • unserialize()

        Command Execution

        • system()
        • exec()
        • passthru()
        • shell_exec()

        PHP Code Execution

        • eval()
        • assert()
        • preg_replace() dangerous "e" flag deprecated since PHP >= 5.5.0 and removed in PHP >= 7.0.0.


        • is_admin() does not check if the user is authenticated as administrator, only checks if page displayed is in the admin section, can lead to auth bypass if misused.
        • is_user_admin() same as above
        • current_user_can() used for checking authorisation. This is what should be used to check authorisation.

        Open Redirect

        • wp_redirect() function can be used to redirect to user supplied URLs. If user input is not sanitised or validated this could lead to Open Redirect vulnerabilities.

        Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

        • wp_nonce_field() adds CSRF token to forms
        • wp_nonce_url() adds CSRF token to URL
        • wp_verify_nonce() checks the CSRF token validity server side
        • check_admin_referer() checks the CSRF token validity server side and came from admin screen


        • CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYHOST if set to 0 then does not check name in host certificate
        • CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYPEER if set to FALSE then does not check if the certificate (inc chain), is trusted
        • Check if HTTP is used to communicate with backend servers or APIs. A grep for "http://" should be sufficient.

        Further reading/references:


        • Tip How to
        • Security Risks
        • DigiCert Code Signing
        • Error messages
        • Vulnerabilities & Exploits
        • Best Practice
        • Products
        • Malware Scan
        • Vulnerability Assessment
        • Symantec Website Security
        • DigiCert Complete Website Security
        • DigiCert SSL TLS Certificates
        • Managed PKI for SSL