Bug in NPM Empowers Hackers to Transmit Malware

  • By Patrick Ryan
  • Apr 28, 2022

Hackers are exploiting an NPM bug to send malware that appears to be harmless packages. The bug in question is referred to as a “logical flaw” by those in the digital security community. NPM is used as the default package management tool for JavaScript’s Node.js runtime environment.  

Why is the NPM Bug a Major Problem?

The bug in question empowers malevolent individuals to make it appear as though certain libraries are harmless when they are actually rogue libraries that can lead to installation and subsequent harm. In particular, inexperienced developers who don’t suspect libraries will pose a latent threat are especially likely to be fooled by the NPM bug.

Who Initially Disclosed the NPM Bug?

Digital security researchers working at Aqua, a cloud security firm, revealed the NPM bug. The bug was disclosed to the public on February 10. Aqua’s digital security gurus have named the bug “package planting” as it poses a serious supply chain threat.  

What Has NPM Done in Response to the Bug Disclosure?

NPM proactively remediated the bug in question in late April. However, up until this week, the bug posed a significant threat. It is possible that the bug compromised several systems, yet those victims might not know that their systems have been breached until problems pop up down the line.  

Why is the Digital Security Community Critical of NPM?

It must be noted that NPM allowed for the unrestrained addition of individuals as maintainers of the package without any sort of consent or notification. The details of this careless approach to authorization for maintaining packages were detailed in a recent report written by Yakir Kadkoda, a digital security professional with Aqua.

Kadkoda made it clear that NPM’s openness to permitting anyone to act as a package maintainer was a negligent oversight. In plain terms, NPM’s lack of foresight on this issue allowed adversaries to generate packages with malware and assign them to maintainers without notifying those parties.

Hackers took advantage of the flaw to expedite and facilitate the addition of legitimate owners tied to other NPM libraries that became popular. The digital miscreants then poisoned packages controlled by the hacking community. This honey pot strategy drew the attention of unsuspecting developers, who proceeded to download the poisoned package. In the end, the flawed supply chain created an unjustified rapport between developers and set the stage for damaging the reputations of package maintainers who were otherwise legitimate.

Are There any Other Flaws of Note in the NPM Platform?

Indeed, several additional weaknesses within the NPM platform are worth mentioning. Aqua’s digital security researchers also identified flaws tied to 2FA, short for two-factor authentication. These flaws allow for abuse that permits the illegitimate takeover of accounts for the publishing of harmful packages. In short, the vulnerability empowers NPM users to take over accounts without any sort of clearance or authorization to do so.

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