Salt Security Discovers Flaws within ChatGPT Plugins

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Salt Security published new threat research from Salt Labs, pinpointing significant security vulnerabilities present in ChatGPT plugins, underscoring a new threat for enterprises. These plugins grant AI chatbots such as ChatGPT access and privileges to execute tasks on behalf of users within third-party websites. For instance, tasks like pushing code to GitHub repositories or retrieving data from an organization’s Google Drives. These security vulnerabilities introduce a fresh avenue for attacks, potentially allowing malicious actors to:
  • Gain control of an organization’s account on third party websites
  • Allow access to Personal Identifiable Information (PII) and other sensitive user data stored within third party applications

ChatGPT plugins extend the model’s abilities, allowing the chatbot to interact with external services. The integration of these third-party plugins significantly enhances ChatGPT’s applicability across various domains, from software development and data management, to educational and business environments. When organizations leverage such plugins, it subsequently gives ChatGPT permission to send an organization’s sensitive data to a third party website, and allow access to private external accounts. Notably, in November 2023, ChatGPT introduced a new feature, GPTs, an alike concept to plugins. GPTs are custom versions of ChatGPT that any developer can publish, and contain an option called “Action” which connects it with the outside world. GPTs pose similar security risks as plugins.

The Salt Labs team uncovered three different types of vulnerabilities within ChatGPT plugins.

The first of which was noted within ChatGPT itself when users install new plugins. During this process, ChatGPT redirects a user to the plugin website to receive a code to be approved by that individual. When ChatGPT receives the approved code from a user, it automatically installs the plugin and can interact with that plugin on behalf of the user. Salt Labs researchers discovered that an attacker could exploit this function, to instead deliver users a code approval with a new malicious plugin, enabling an attacker to automatically install their credentials on a victim’s account. Any message that the user writes in ChatGPT may be forwarded to a plugin, meaning an attacker would have access to a host of proprietary information.

The second vulnerability was discovered within PluginLab (pluginlab.ai), a framework developers and companies use to develop plugins for ChatGPT. During the installation, Salt Labs researchers uncovered that PluginLab did not properly authenticate user accounts, which would have allowed a prospective attacker to insert another user ID and get a code that represents the victim, which leads to account takeover on the plugin. One of the affected plugins is “AskTheCode”, that integrates between ChatGPT and GitHub, meaning by utilizing the vulnerability, an attacker can gain access to a victim’s GitHub account.

The third and final vulnerability uncovered within several plugins was OAuth (Open Authorization) redirection manipulation. Similar to pluginlab.ai, it is an account takeover on the ChatGPT plugin itself. In this vulnerability, an attacker could send a link to the victim. Several plugins do not validate the URLs, which means that an attacker can insert a malicious URL and steal user credentials. Like the case with pluginlab.ai, an attacker would then have the credentials (code) of the victim, and can take over their account in the same way.

Upon discovering the vulnerabilities, Salt Labs’ researchers followed coordinated disclosure practices with OpenAI and third-party vendors, and all issues were remediated quickly, with no evidence that these flaws had been exploited in the wild.

“Generative AI tools like ChatGPT have rapidly captivated the attention of millions across the world, boasting the potential to drastically improve efficiencies within both business operations as well as daily human life,” said Yaniv Balmas, Vice President of Research, Salt Security. “As more organizations leverage this type of technology, attackers are too pivoting their efforts, finding ways to exploit these tools and subsequently gain access to sensitive data. Our recent vulnerability discoveries within ChatGPT illustrate the importance of protecting the plugins within such technology to ensure that attackers cannot access critical business assets and execute account takeovers.”

According to the Salt Security State of API Security Report, Q1 2023, there was a 400% increase in unique attackers targeting Salt customers. The Salt Security API Protection Platform enables companies to identify risks and vulnerabilities in APIs before they are exploited by attackers, including those listed in the OWASP API Security Top 10. The platform protects APIs across their full lifecycle – build, deploy and runtime phases – utilizing cloud-scale big data combined with AI and ML to baseline millions of users and APIs. By delivering context-based insights across the entire API lifecycle, Salt enables users to detect the reconnaissance activity of bad actors and block them before they can reach their objective.

The full report, including how Salt Labs conducted this research highlighting critical security flaws within ChatGPT plugins and steps for mitigation, is available here.

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Taylor Graham, marketing grad with an inner nature to be a perpetual researchist, currently all things IT. Personally and professionally, Taylor is one to know with her tenacity and encouraging spirit. When not working you can find her spending time with friends and family.