Migrating From Joomla 1.5 Won’t Necessarily Clean Up a Hack

Fairly often we have people contacting us about doing an upgrade of software on a website, which they are hoping will resolve a hacking or other security issue. Unfortunately in most instances they don’t tell us that is why they want an upgrade done. In the worst case this could cause the upgrade to get messed up if the hack has made modifications to things that are affected by the upgrade. In many cases the upgrade isn’t going to fully resolve the issue and may not have any impact at all. For example, if a website was running Joomla 1.6, 1.7, or 2.5.0-2.5.2 and it got hacked due to the privilege escalation vulnerability in those versions, which allows someone registering a new account to escalate their account to “Administrator” level, upgrading would prevent new accounts with those privileges from being created but the existing accounts would still exist. Those accounts can be deleted, but you have to know they exist to do that. The upgrade also might overwrite other modifications the hacker(s) made to the website, but it might not.

For website still running Joomla 1.5 the website cannot be upgraded to a newer version. Instead a more complicated migration, which move content from the Joomla 1.5 installation to a new install of Joomla 2.5 or 3. Despite support for that version ending in September of 2012, the version is still widely used and we recently have been contacted about a lot of hacked website that are still running Joomla 1.5. Since the migration leaves a lot of the website behind it would reasonable to wonder if a migration will resolve the hack. A website we were just dealing is reminder that isn’t the case.

There are three major areas where parts of the hack could move over during the migration. First a common place for placing malicious files is in a website’s images folder, which is something that will move over to new website. Another common area where malicious code is placed is in theme files. While Joomla 1.5 themes are not directly compatible with newer versions of Joomla, some can be easily converted to the new version either by hand or with automated tools. The third area, which is where malicious code was in this situation, is the in the database. In this case the malicious HTML code had been added to the content of a number of articles, which was moved over during the migration.

The malicious HTML code (shown below) was relatively harmless; it just added a link to a spam page to the page and used JavaScript code to hide the link. While this won’t harm someone visiting the page, it can lead to Google placing a “This site may be hacked” label in their search results and the lowering the website’s ranking. It was also causing the AVG antivirus software to alert for Exploit Blackhat SEO (type 1703), which is likely to scare away some visitors.

Source Code of Hidden Spam Hack