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Potentially Serious Vulnerability Found in Popular WYSIWYG Editor TinyMCE

A potentially serious cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability affecting the TinyMCE rich text editor can be exploited — depending on the implementation — for privilege escalation, obtaining information, or account takeover.

A potentially serious cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability affecting the TinyMCE rich text editor can be exploited — depending on the implementation — for privilege escalation, obtaining information, or account takeover.

Developed by Tiny Technologies, TinyMCE is advertised as the most advanced WYSIWYG HTML editor designed to simplify website content creation. According to Tiny, the editor has been downloaded 350 million times per year and it’s included in more than 100 million websites. TinyMCE is available for free as open source, but Tiny also provides paid plans that include premium plugins, support and deployment services.

Researchers at Bishop Fox discovered in April that TinyMCE is affected by an XSS vulnerability whose impact depends on the application using the editor. The issue, tracked as CVE-2020-12648, impacts version 5.2.1 and earlier, and it was patched in July with the release of versions 4.9.11 and 5.4.1.

Successful exploitation can allow an attacker to escalate privileges, obtain information, and even hijack the targeted user’s account.

TinyMCE XSS vulnerability

“Depending on the site in which tinyMCE is used, an attacker could exploit this as either stored or reflected (using a crafted link) XSS. I have seen both cases,” George Seketee, senior security consultant at Bishop Fox and one of the people credited for finding the flaw, told SecurityWeek.

He explained, “The exact details of exploitation vary with implementation, but generally an attacker needs to get tinyMCE to interpret the crafted string. This could be on initial page load, or by using some other portion of the site’s functionality. At a low level, if tinyMCE’s setContent() or insertContent() functions were called with a crafted payload, the XSS would trigger. TinyMCE indicated that the vulnerability was in their ‘core parser’, which may indicate there were other ways to trigger this vulnerability.”

Chris Davis, a Bishop Fox security consultant who has also been credited for reporting the vulnerability, added, “Due to the nature of XSS this will commonly result in privilege escalation and can be used to force arbitrary actions on a user’s behalf unbeknownst to the user.”

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Dylan Just, information security lead at Tiny, said that in addition to patching the flaw in TinyMCE versions 5.4.1 and 4.9.11, they have identified workarounds, which are described in the company’s own advisory.

“We encourage all users to upgrade to TinyMCE 5.4.1, as TinyMCE 4 will reach end-of-life in December 2020. Customers using the “/5” channel of our cloud-hosted TinyMCE will receive the update automatically,” Just told SecurityWeek.

“TinyMCE is a web-based rich text editor, and the issue relates to content not being correctly sanitized before being loaded into the editor. We have released fixes for TinyMCE 4 and 5, but we recommend that all users upgrade to the latest TinyMCE 5. Further to this, we recommend that users sanitize content server-side, and add a suitable Content Security Policy to their websites,” he explained.

Just says security is “extremely important” to the company and it has advised anyone who has discovered a vulnerability to report it via email at infosec(at)

Related: Unpatched Flaw in Discontinued Plugin Exposes WordPress Sites to Attacks

Related: Critical Flaw in SEO Plugin Exposed Many WordPress Sites to Attacks

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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