The first part of an hacker’s job would be to gather some information about her target, server, technology and software that runs on the desired target. With Worpress all is needed is viewing the html source to see the “<meta>” tag that describes what version of WordPress is currently running and how vulnerable it is. Attackers scan/google this automatically along with other parameters to see what blogs they likely want to hack.
I have always saw the updates in the Worpress dashboard and always stupidly ignored it, thinking, who would want to hack my blog?! I should have known that a PR of 7 is very appealing to the spammers. But even if you don’t have any PR or have very low traffic it doesn’t mean that you’re safe from being hacked and it’s been reported that very new and unpopular blogs has been hacked as well.
The attackers have managed to use an old exploit in my blog, a very old one, and polluted my blog with thousands of spamming pages, all hidden in some obscure folders. One of the first things I’ve noticed was some strange traffic is going into my blog, mostly from unrelated blogs which showed no indication of linking to me. Only when looking inside their HTML source I saw its hidden links to me. I’ve realized that I’m part of a zombie network of hacked blogs and splogs all for the sake of generating spam money. I’ve informed some websites that they were probably hacked as well, and I still found new websites that have hidden links to my blog and probably been controlled as part of this spammer network. This is an indication that the attackers work is far from perfect and probably not fully automatic, as they still don’t know I’m out of it, and still link to me.
Servers these days have become (relatively) very secure, securing it has become mostly a plug and play, you plug your firewall, you plug your security software suit and your almost done. (I don’t wanna disregard any IT and their hard work, but you get the point). Attacks vectors needed to be changed into exploiting the developer’s code and the end user, as these are the most error prone areas these days. As such, it became the developers responsibility to not only write a compiling code but also write a secure code. As for the users, they still shouldn’t be expected much and allowed to be very dumb. Its not sure yet if developers can be expected to always produce a safe code, WordPress is created by highly talented developers and still all of it’s security flaws were due to insecure coding. I’ve heard this being compared with an old development problem, which is, producing optimized code, that problem was never completely solved. Currently developers don’t have sufficient tools and resource to overcome these problems. One can only hope that in the same way that viruses has lost their strength over the years this will be the same for these kind of attacks. We can only wonder what will be the next generation of attackers, maybe the end users will become the only reasonable target.
The first lesson here is to always upgrade your blog. Although this can be tiring process, with updates coming all the time, it is must be done. The WordPress update process itself is very easy and fast and I really encourage you to do it the minute a new version is available. You might want to be assisted by this auto upgrade plug-in.
What is described here is mostly about the WordPress blog platform but this is far from being the only massively used and attacked open-source web application.
Finally I would like to try and coin a new phrase. The same way we were introduced by the developer who can also be a designer named – Devinger. I think it time to introduce the Safeloper. The Safeloper is a developer that has the tools and knowledge to produce secure programs. 😉
I guess we should always expect to be hacked and always backup.
How to find out if you’ve been hacked:
As opposed to old school Internet hacking, where the attacker main goal was to make a name for herself and that the attack would be known and published. In this new kind of hacking the attackers main goal is to make money through spam, and as such their last intention is that the owner of the hacked website will have any clue that she’s been compromised. You might get weird increase or decrease in traffic and the google PR might drop a bit, but, you won’t see anything completely different unless you’ll look for it.
Simple as that, view source and search for spam words like cars, montage, pharmaceutical, etc’.
look at traffic to your blog – If you see some strangely unrelated blogs linking to you there is a good chance you’ve been hacked and used as a splog. Go to the suspect blog and view its source for hidden spam links to you.
Look at the google search traffic to your blog – The latest exploit, also known as the anyresult.net hack, is a way to steal google result of your blog. Clean all cookies, search yourself in google, if a link to your blog is redirecting to another web-site then you’ve been hacked. Clean your cookie again and do this a few times to be sure.
Make Sure Your WordPress is Not Hacked – some more info.
What to do if you’ve been hacked
I would suggest to backup everything from your blog including all the file folders and database and then do a fresh install of the new WordPress (Currently 2.5.1). To backup the folders use an FTP client, the DB backup is generally done from the website’s control panel or from the WP admin. Only after the fresh install, start adding all the customized stuff like themes and plug-ins checking each and every one as you add it, you should even check the images. When it comes to the plug-ins your better off re-downloading it.
Change your blog password and all of the blog registered users passwords, make sure all the users are valid and not some hacker created. It’s better not to use WP for user registration as this is a source for a lot of the previous exploits.
How to prevent your blog from future hacks
Always install updates – It’s fast and easy
Remove the Generator Meta tag – WP shows its version number inside the HTML. If existed it’ll help the hacker to know how vulnerable you are.
Put empty index.html files inside the WP pligins folder and any other folder that don’t have an index file. it won’t stop anyone, but, will give the attacker a harder time understanding the structure of your blog and what plug-ins you have installed.
Monitor your files for changes or use some kind of script firewalls
Install only trusted plug-ins
Did your WordPress site get hacked? – More info about the structure of the Wrdpress attacks and how to prevent them, written by one of the WordPress people.
Patching the WordPress AnyResults.Net Hack – Describes how to fix the latest WordPress exploit, which is found on WP 2.5 or earlier, it was fixed on WP 2.5.1 but, updated blogs aren’t automatically fixed if it were already exploited. This exploit redirect search engine results of your website to anyresult.net. More, more and more.
File change notifications for your WordPress blog on Linux – A good explanation on how to monitor files changes on your blog. This way you’ll know when a hacker have managed to change or add files. The problem with it, is that it’s recommended not to monitor the cache folder, because it’s constantly being written by WordPress. Hackers are also aware that this folder is difficult to monitor and it’s where they put their malicious files.
Firewallscript WordPress Firewall – Commercial (85$) firewall that runs on the php script level without the need of installing it on the server itself, and hence good for shared hosting. It’ll monitor files for changes and more.
Munin A PHP application firewall – The same as above just free and open-source.
WordPress exploit: we been hit by hidden spam link injection – More information on how to deal with hidden spam link injection
Won’t publish posts anymore – A less common hack that prevent you from publishing into your own blog.
How to Protect Your WordPress Site
9 easy ways to secure your WordPress blog
10 Ways to Secure your WordPress Install
Almost Perfect htaccess File for WordPress Blogs
When Patches are the Problem – Apparently automatic security updates isn’t a perfect solution either.
Security through visibility: The secrets of open source security – WordPress is open source, is it really make it less secure?