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Wordpress still the favorite blog platform target of hackers

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April 16, 2013

Since last week, many hosting providers are reporting a huge increase in attempts to hack into blogs and content management systems, with WordPress implementations again being hit the most with hackers' offensive. It's not the first time that Wordpress blogs have been the subject of hacking attempts and it probably won't be the last.

Thousands of Wordpress installations across the globe were hit by a brute force botnet attack, featuring several attempts to hack into blogs using a combination of popular usernames (eg, "admin", "myblog" and "user") and an array of unsafe passwords such as "god", "sex", "love" and "1 2 3 4 5".

Attacks of this type are commonplace-- it's the sharp rise in volume late last week to around three to four times the normal volume rather than anything technically devious that has set many alarm bells ringing all over the web.

Around 90,000 compromised servers have been attempting to break into WordPress websites by continually trying to guess the username and password to get into the WordPress admin dashboard.

To help mitigate such attacks, the senior system administration team at Sun Hosting, a large Canadian hosting provider, has rolled out wide security policies to help contain and limit such attacks. For the time being, the company has removed any public information detailing the new way they're blocking the attacks, as the hackers seem to be actively monitoring for changes, and altering their tactics.

Sun Hosting says: "If your site or blog has been targeted in similar attacks, the security precautions we've implemented may limit the access to your WordPress admin dashboard. We have chosen to proactively protect our customers from such attacks in order to avoid a potentially larger security issue on your account. Your admin password should consist of a minimum of 12 characters, with upper case and lower case letters, numbers as well as ponctuation marks."

The primary target appears to be WordPress installations but Joomla users also reportedly took some hammering as well. Early suggestions are that hackers are looking to harvest "low-hanging fruit" as quickly as possible in order to gain access to a bank of compromised sites for follow-up malfeasance, which could be anything from hosting malware to publishing phishing pages or running some sort of denial of service attack.

"It's 'doorknob rattling' but on an industrial and international scale," notes Paul Ducklin, Sophos's head of technology for Asia Pacific.

WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg said that the attack illustrates the need to use a distinct username and a hard-to-guess password, common-sense advice that applies to using web services in general, not just for blog administration.

If you still use "admin" as a username on your blog, change it, use a strong password, if you’re on turn on two-factor authentication, and of course make sure you're up-to-date on the latest version of WordPress. Do this and you'll be ahead of 95 percent of sites out there and probably never have an issue."

Most other advice isn't great — supposedly this botnet has over 90,000 IP addresses, so an IP limiting or login throttling plugin isn't going to be great. They could try from a different IP a second for 24 hours, as an example.

Olli Niemi, internet security and vulnerability expert at Stonesoft outlined the range of possible motives behind the attack. “A concern of this attack is that by compromising WordPress blogs attackers may be able to upload malicious content and embed this into the blog," Niemi said.

"When readers visit the blogs in question they would then be subject to attack, come under compromise and develop into botnets. The attacks against the Wordpress blogs seem to be distributed, with automated attacks coming from multiple sources,” he added.

Matt Middleton, U.K. and Ireland regional director of corporate security firm Cyber-Ark, said that hacking attempts on corporate blogs might be used as an access point to hack into other much more sensitive enterprise systems. Weak passwords need to be changed ASAP, he argues.

“Common usernames and weak passwords are extremely risky online, however, and the dangers are compounded if users re-use the same login credentials for other sites as well. Once hackers have cracked a username and password, it’s extremely common that they’ll attempt to use the same combination for additional sites in the attempt to fraudulently use accounts, or access information such as credit card details or corporate data," added Middleton.

Many denial of service (DoS) attacks against large U.S. banks in January were powered from compromised WordPress sites and blogs rather than malware-infected zombie PCs.

The upsurge in attempts to hack into WordPress sites last week could be a prelude to something similar that could happen soon, or a suggestion of things to come.

In other internet security news

Internet security researchers have published a more complete report of a recently patched SQL injection hole discovered on PayPal's popular payment platform.

The Vulnerability Laboratory Research Team received a $3,000 reward after discovering a remote SQL injection vulnerability in the official PayPal GP+ Web Application Service.

The critical security flaw, which could have been easily and remotely exploitable, allowed hackers to inject commands through the vulnerable internet application and into the backend databases, potentially tricking them into coughing up sensitive data in the process, and potentially causing financial losses.

Based in Poland, the security researchers reported the security vulnerability to PayPal in early January. Vulnerability Laboratory produced a full-fledged, proof-of-concept demonstration to illustrate its many concerns when it reported the security flaw to PayPal.

The payment-processing company was successful in patching the flaw in late January, but wasn't reported in the media until doday.

There's no evidence that the security flaw was ever abused, which is just as well since its potential impact was very critical, as an advisory by Vulnerability Laboratory explains: "The vulnerability is located in the analysis all review module with the bound vulnerable page ID parameter listing. When a PayPal customer is processing to request the link to, for example on page 7, the server will include the integer value not encoded or parsed in the URL path. Attackers can exchange the integer page with their own SQL statements to compromise the application DBMS and all PayPal accounts."

The second issue is that the server is bound to the main site authorization which allows after a SQL and DBMS compromise via injection to exploit the bound PayPal services.

Attackers can access all database tables and columns to compromise the GP+ database content and disclose personal and financial information, deface the website, phish the account or extract database password or username data.

The security vulnerability can be easily exploited without user interaction but with a lower privileged user account to visit the restricted webpage. Successful exploitation of the vulnerability results in web application context manipulation via DBMS injection, website defacement, hijack of database accounts via DBMS extract, information disclosure of database content, data lost or a full blown DBMS compromise.

Benjamin Kunz Mejri of Vulnerability Laboratory led the research into the security flaw. An advisory by the Polish researchers suggests that the vulnerability could be patched by a "secure parse of the page parameter request when processing to list via the GET method" combined with changes to prevent the display of errors.

It's still unclear if PayPal followed this approach or identified a different way to fix the flaw, however. PayPal issued a brief statement confirming that the flaw was "not impacting our website" at the time the vulnerability became public today.

In other internet security news

Check Point said this morning that it will soon integrate cyber-espionage defense to its enterprise firewall line and gateway security products with the addition of sandbox-style technology.

To be sure, "threat emulation" software blades for Check Point firewalls will be available sometime in May or June and will add to other threat prevention layers, such as anti-virus and anti-bot technology launched last year.

All of these technologies were developed by Check Point itself. The latest strains of malware are designed to switch off if they detect that they are running in a virtual machine, as a means to thwart security analysis. Tom Teller, a security strategist at Check Point said that the emulator technology it's developing is a lot more difficult to detect than a virtual machine.

The threat emulation software carries out both static and dynamic analysis to figure out if a file is changing registry settings, altering other files or attempting to connect with blacklisted servers, among other things, before deciding if it ought to be blocked and quarantined.

Prior to putting the technology into its security appliances, Check Point has set up a microsite where files can be uploaded for emulating and checking.

The latest generation of cyber-attacks feature custom malware and spear-phishing which is something that Check Point wants to put a serious dent in. Teller is optimistic that IT vendors such as Check Point are coming up with technology capable of detecting and mitigating advanced malware attacks.

Even if the initial infection occurs, it might be possible to isolate compromised systems, prevent an attacker accessing corporate resources or extracting sensitive information.

"If you can break one of the layers of an attack then the whole attack fails," Teller said. Check Point also owns the Zone Labs line of personal firewall and security suite products.

However, Gabi Reish, head of product sales, said the only safe assumption in corporate security was to assume that an end-point might be compromised and to design corporate defenses appropriately. The anti-bot blade incorporated in Check Point's gateways is designed to block malware-infected zombies from phoning home.

The forthcoming emulation and existing anti-bot and anti-virus blades fit in with the "razor-and-blade" model introduced by Check Point more than four years ago.

The Israeli firm's security appliances and gateways are the "razors", while the "blades" are the software that customers buy and use to deliver different types of network protection.

For example, the App Control Blade manages social media apps, while the Mobile Access Blade secures employees' smartphones and tablets.

Check Point is pushing this technology to SMEs with the launch of its new 1100 appliances. The equipment, designed for branch and remote offices with up to 100 users, offers 1.5 Gbps of maximum firewall throughput and 220 Mbps of max VPN throughput.

Check Point is also offering the Software Blade Architecture on low-end hardware for the first time. 1100 Appliances, launched at Check Point's user conference in Barcelona earlier this week, starts at $599.

Multi-layered protection options include: Firewall, VPN, IPS (intrusion prevention system), application control, mobile access, Data Loss Prevention, anti-bot, identity awareness, URL filtering, anti-spam and anti-virus.

All but standard components cost extra but customers benefit from flexibility while Check Point resellers gain a better opportunity to sell extra add-ons.

In other internet security news

Independent security firm AV-Test has released a report for Windows 8 for the first time, and it once again found Microsoft's own software products were among the weaker performers when it comes to internet security.

The German security company tested its usual batch of 25 antivirus software for consumers, plus eight aimed at corporate users, during January and February of this year. It published its results on April 6.

Microsoft Windows Defender –the rebranded version of Microsoft Security Essentials that comes bundled with Windows 8– scored just 2 out of 6 in AV-Test's Protection rankings. Worse, Microsoft's enterprise-oriented System Center Endpoint Protection scored a paltry 1.5.

According to AV-Test, Windows Defender managed to spot just 82 percent of zero-day malware attacks during January, and 81 percent during February, based on 125 various samples. The industry average was 95 percent.

Windows Defender did a little better at detecting "widespread and prevalent" malware, catching 98 percent of samples thrown at it in January and 99 percent in February.

On the enterprise side, System Center Endpoint Protection caught a consistent 98 percent of widespread malware samples across both months. That was another subpar showing, though, given that on average, the other enterprise products identified all the samples.

And Endpoint Protection's track record for zero-day malware was even worse than Windows Defender's, spotting just 80 percent of the samples in January and 83 percent in February.

Both of Microsoft's products ranked fairly well in other aspects AV-Test looked at. In particular, both scored 6 out of 6 for usability, with no false positives spotted and no legitimate actions being blocked erroneously. Both offered reasonably good performance as well, although Endpoint Protection proved a notch above Windows Defender.

Many customers might argue, however, that high usability and fast performance aren't good when the product isn't so hot at what it purports to do: stopping malware.

Nevertheless, others are likely to disagree with AV-Test's assessment of Redmond's security products – not least of which is Microsoft itself. AV-Test has butted heads with the software giant over its testing methodology in the past, which Microsoft says uses malware samples that "don't represent what our customers encounter."

Several other products significantly outperformed Microsoft's on the Protection portion of this round of AV-Test's evaluations. Leading the pack in the consumer sector were products from F-Secure, G Data, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, BullGuard, and Trend Micro, all of which earned perfect scores.

In the enterprise segment, Kaspersky and F-Secure topped the list. The full results of AV-Test's January-February testing can be found on the company's website.

In other internet security news

Believe it or not, Windows XP is still being used by over 40 percent of all personal computers, including desktops used in large Fortune 500 companies. And now, with just one year left to go until Microsoft cancels its free support for that aging Windows version, if you don’t currently have a migration plan in place, it’s well time to start thinking about it.

Exactly one year from today, on April 8, 2014, Microsoft will stop fixing defective OS code and will no longer release security patches for free anymore for an operating system that has been in use since 2001.

From that date on, you’ll either have to put up with hackers, viruses and malware writers or you’ll be forced to premium-level paid Microsoft support.

Market research firm Gartner says that Microsoft will charge you $200,000 if you have a Software Assurance contract and $500,000 without a SA agreement.

With just twelve months until next April’s deadline, if you haven’t already started moving off Windows XP then there’s little chance you'll finish in time.

Adrian Foxall, chief executive of application migration specialist Camwood says that he fully expects his company will still be working with customers on migrations up to a year after next April’s deadline has passed.

Microsoft officially estimates a “successful” migration would take 18 to 30 months. “The next two years will be very busy for us,” Foxall said. “We’ve made great steps with a lot of customers, but for everyone that’s there, there are at least ten that haven’t done anything yet."

"Even if all those who were unprepared started to plan ahead, physically, there simply wouldn’t be enough people to get through all of that,” he added.

Over the years, Camwood has migrated business applications for many customers. Camwood says that just 42 percent of Windows XP customers have not yet started moving. He also noted that while an impressive 15 percent of IT decision-makers didn’t know about the existence of next year’s deadline, of those who are aware, 23 per cent blamed their colleagues on the business side for blocking migrations.

Camwood’s data comes from its survey of 250 strategic types initially released in March but published in detail with a migration white paper.

Factors blocking upgrades include lack of budget (25 percent) and hardware issues (27 percent). That’s a real issue because it means organizations have decided to upgrade as part of a business-as-usual process of buying new PCs to run Windows 7 rather than realizing they have to actually rewrite Windows XP apps.

Business types aren't forking over budget in part because of the parlous state of the economy, to see if they’ll still be around in a year’s time and in the belief the issues of today matter more than something that could happen twelve months from now, Camwood added.

Additionally, it seems that some corporate IT departments are out of shape on planning and executing Windows upgrades as well.

Many adopters of Windows XP later avoided Windows Vista since that OS has and continues to have so many problems, meaning that for many of those companies, it has been thirteen years and several working generations since their IT departments have had to managed a mass Windows upgrade program.

Since then, we’ve had a surge in home computing and a growing expectation that devices should update themselves automatically.

Camwood’s solutions architect Ed Shepley says that he’s talked to some customers who are complacent and simply don’t understand the scope of the work that’s looming.

“People are used to a Mac or an iPad updating by itself. Computer users have got used to easy IT solutions and they don’t recognize the security issues that are facing them until it's too late,” he says.

If you need reliability when it comes to SMTP servers, get the best, get Port 587.

Get a powerful Linux Dual-Core dedicated server for less than $2.67 a day!

Share on Twitter.

Source: Sun Hosting.

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