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Study Reveals Security Threat in npm Registry with Over 800 Packages Showing Discrepancies

The registry is home to over 1.3 million packages and is used by millions of developers worldwide. It is a vital resource for developers who rely on it to find and download packages for their projects. Unfortunately, recent research shows that over 800 packages in the registry have discrepancies from their registry entries. Out of these, 18 have been found to exploit a technique known as .

occurs when there is a mismatch between the manifest in the registry and the package.json file in the tarball. This means that a threat actor could supply a different manifest with hidden dependencies, which would be processed during package installation and could install malicious dependencies onto the developer's system.

One example of a package that is yatai-web-ui. This package sends an HTTP request to a server with information about the machine's IP address where the package was installed. This is just one example of how a package can contain hidden dependencies that could harm a developer's system.

The root of the problem is that the registry does not verify whether the manifest file (package.json) in the tarball matches the manifest data provided during the publishing process. This allows malicious actors to deceive developers into running harmful code.

Security researcher Andrey Polkovnichenko warns that this is a real threat, as developers may unknowingly download packages that appear harmless but contain malicious hidden dependencies. He advises organizations to implement procedures that verify the safety and trustworthiness of all packages used by their development teams. In the case of manifest confusion, it is crucial to analyze each package for hidden dependencies.

While some discrepancies between the manifest in the registry and the package.json file in the tarball are due to protocol specification differences or variations in the package file's scripts section, 18 packages have been specifically designed to exploit manifest confusion. This highlights the need for developers to be aware of the potential risks associated with manifest confusion and take necessary precautions to protect their systems.

In conclusion, developers must be cautious when using packages from the registry. Trusting packages based solely on their appearance on the website may be needed. Organizations must implement measures to verify the safety of all packages used in their projects. This includes analyzing each package for hidden dependencies and implementing procedures that verify the safety and trustworthiness of all packages used by their development teams. By taking these precautions, developers can help protect themselves from the potential risks of manifest confusion.

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