It was not long ago that I was sitting on a call with other members of the WordPress community in which we were talking abou brute-force. When asked why WordPress core didn’t offer more out of the box features to address the issue, the response was it’s just not a relavent issue.
As interesting a response as that was, the latest trends seem to contradict that statement head on. It goes to show us that with the technological improvements things like latency and other network considerations are becoming less of a barrier to entry for attackers.
Web Based Brute Force Attacks Are Here
As if we really needed any tangible evidence of such a prominent issue, the first large-scale issue of such attacks first presented itself in October of 2012 when WordPress.com disclosed that some 50,000 sites were compromised using a similar attack:
Per their incident handling process they identified a brute force like attack which made use of a list of compromised email / password combinations derived from a third-party application[s].
Now it appears that there is a more mature botnet actively attacking websites across all hosts. Two hosts have actively come out and expressed their concerns:
LiquidWeb – 20130411
This went out via email to its users and posted on their KB:
In an ongoing effort to make you aware of security and performance concerns, we wanted to inform you of an ongoing event.
There is a brute-force login attack targeted at websites with WordPress. Due to the nature of the attack, memory consumption on
targeted servers has increased. In some cases this has resulted in degradation of performance, and unresponsive servers. This is due to a high volume of http requests which can cause some servers to start swapping memory to disk, and possibly run out of memory. The most impacted servers tend to be those with limited memory resources, especially those with 1GB of RAM or less.
HostGator – 20130411
This was just released via their blog:
As I type these words, there is an on-going and highly-distributed, global attack on WordPress installations across virtually every web host in existence. This attack is well organized and again very, very distributed; we have seen over 90,000 IP addresses involved in this attack.
What Can You Do?
While we can’t validate these accounts, we can talk to how help protect yourself from this type of attack.
So the response to this can be handled multiple ways. If you managed your own servers you could try leveraging the DOSEvasive module,ModSecurity WAF, or you can also try the various WordPress plugins out there, your host might also provide you with some solutions. The downside is that most will sit on your server and leverage all your system resources, but when tuned correctly it should be able to adequately defend against most Brute Force attempts.
So where does this leave you?
Fortunately, what a coincidence, we just released our latest product – Sucuri CloudProxy. Of it’s various features, is the ability to detect and repel brute force attacks. What’s great about that is that it does it without impacting your traffic load or your servers performance. If you’re currently a client you can also read more details on the product by visiting our internal pages.
This does bring to mind concerns and awareness around the importance of strong, unique, passwords. It also places additional emphasis on the importance of some type of Two-Factor / Multi-Factor configuration into your respective dashboards. It’s good to also understand that while WordPress appears to be the target, all platforms are targets at some point.
While we haven’t confirmed this yet, we plan to compile some data and see what we can’t find. Hopefully we’ll have it out in the morning.