How the Tumblr worm spread so quickly

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Tumblr wormAlthough Tumblr is now cleaning-up pages which were affected by today’s worm, SophosLabs was able to briefly explore how the infection spread.

It appears that the worm took advantage of Tumblr’s reblogging feature, meaning that anyone who was logged into Tumblr would automatically reblog the infectious post if they visited one of the offending pages.

Each affected post had some malicious code embedded inside them:

Code from a malicious Tumblr post

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The Base 64 string was actually encoded JavaScript, hidden inside an iFrame that was invisible to the naked eye, that dragged content from a url. Once decoded, the intention of the code becomes more clear.

Code used by Tumblr worm

This code explains why some users saw a pop-up message, seemingly coming from Tumblr:

Pop-up message

If you were not logged into Tumblr when your browser visited the url, it would simply redirect you to the standard login page. However, if your computer was logged into Tumblr, it would result in the GNAA content being reblogged on your own Tumblr.

Reblogged post on Tumblr

(By the way, Sophos is now protecting customers by blocking access to the url)

It shouldn’t have been possible for someone to post such malicious JavaScript into a Tumblr post – our assumption is that the attackers managed to skirt around Tumblr’s defences by disguising their code through Base 64 encoding and embedding it in a data URI.

See also: Tumblr worm hitting websites, posting identical message from GNAA

Thanks to SophosLabs expert Fraser Howard for his assistance with this article.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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