Researchers have discovered two major vulnerabilities in a popular open-source online course management system that would let an attacker take over teacher and site administrator accounts.
The Moodle system is used by major universities such as California Polytechnic Institute, Cornell University, UCLA, various school systems, and even the Girl Scouts of America.
Moodle, which competes against commercial e-learning portal tools such as Blackboard/WebCT, contains persistent cross-site scripting (XSS) and cross-site request forgery (CSRF) bugs, according to Adrian Pastor, one of the researchers who discovered the flaws during a penetration test. There are over 46,000 Moodle sites around the world.
The vulnerabilities affect Moodle versions below 1.8.0, according to Moodle, which plans to release details tomorrow on fixes to these and other security issues in the software.
Pastor, senior IT security consultant with ProCheckUp Ltd., says all it takes to exploit one of these vulnerabilities is tricking a teacher or administrative user into clicking on a link posted by a malicious student on his or her school or organizations Moodle site. Thats all too easy given that Moodle combines online classes with a social networking-type environment consisting of blogs, chats, and public profiles, according to the researchers. Moodle can support up to 200,000 students per site.
We're not aware of the vulnerabilities we discovered being exploited in the wild, and hope they won't ever be, says ProCheckUps Pastor, who along with his colleague Amir Azam on July 22 will publish details of the vulnerabilities they discovered, as well as proof-of-concept of exploits they wrote.
The CSRF exploit, meanwhile, sends a phony edit profile request when the victim clicks on the malicious link on the Moodle site. The attacker then hijacks the victims email address and can log in as the user and change the victims password to his own, thus hijacking the victims account as well.
Pastor says although he and Azam have not tested the exploits on Moodle admin accounts, its likely they will work on those accounts as well as the teacher accounts they penetration-tested. Hacking a teachers account is bad enough -- a student could change grades or steal an exam or someone elses assignment, for example -- but hacking the admin account would give an attacker complete control of the Moodle site, according to the researchers.
According to Moodles latest statistics, the e-learning portal platform supports over 2 million courses and over 22 million users.
Pastor, meanwhile, says the Moodle team, including Petr Skoda, was quick to respond to the vulnerabilities when ProCheckUp alerted them.
Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.