My WordPress Website Was Hacked

Before you freak out, allow me to clarify. It was one of several honeypots we have running. The honeypots are spread across the most commonly employed hosting companies. From Virtual Private Servers (VPS) to shared environments, to managed environments. In most instances we pay and configure them like any other consumer would so that we aren’t given any special treatment.

Honey Pot Systems are decoy servers or systems set up to gather information regarding an attacker or intruder into your system… A Honey Pot system is set up to be easier prey for intruders than true production systems but with minor system modifications so that their activity can be logged or traced. The general thought is that once an intruder breaks into a system, they will come back for subsequent visits. During these subsequent visits, additional information can be gathered and additional attempts at file, security and system access on the Honey Pot can be monitored and saved. – SANS

Our goal is simple; we want to better understand the dynamic nature of website security and continue to analyze and interpret attackers’ intentions. Having live sites that we allow to get hacked also keeps us sharp in terms of how we respond to these intrusions and, if we’re being completely honest, helps us to better understand the emotions that a website owner, like yourself, might go through. Between you and I though, it really gets us excited.. almost as excited as a spider when they feel their web vibrating as their prey struggles to free itself.. but I digress..

Sucuri - My Website was Hacked - Defacement

Sucuri – My Website was Hacked – Defacement



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Thoughts on WordPress Security and Vulnerabilities

homer-simpsons2-155238_640

As avid readers of this blog know, we’ve discovered or written about multiple vulnerabilities within the WordPress ecosystem over the last couple of weeks specifically relating to popular plugins. MailPoet and Custom Contact Forms drove the bulk of the engagement, but those using WPTouch, TimThumb and vBulletin were also made aware of vulnerabilities.

If it seems like most of the problems occur with plugins, it’s because it’s the truth. In fact, it’s not just restricted to Plugins, but includes Themes and any number of other extensions or services that a website might make use of. This actually applies beyond the realm of WordPress and is something that all website owners should be mindful of.


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Website Security Analysis: A “simple” piece of malware

For regular readers of this blog, there is one constant that pops up over and over: malware gets more complex. When malware researchers, like myself, unlock new obfuscated code, it’s a signal to the black hats that they need to up their game. For me, figuring out their new hack attempts and then putting the findings online to help others is a day’s work, not to mention a big part of the fun. So, let’s get to the fun.

A colleague of mine, Ben Martin, sent me a piece of malicious code that had gone undetected for analysis. It’s important for us to understand how a piece of code goes undetected so that we can update our signatures and catch it the next time. After giving it a quick look, everything seemed to be clear. It certainly didn’t look like anything exceptional. Like I said before, the bad guys are always a step ahead, creating more and more sophisticated malware every day (even every hour), and we’re doing our best to make their “work” as hard as possible. This particular sample would just be properly detected and cleaned like the others. That would be the end of it except I felt like something was a little off.

Every malware researcher has some kind of sixth sense that alerts them when there’s something wrong in seemingly benign code. In this case, something just felt off and this led to me spending several hours with what turned out to be a very interesting analysis


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Backups – The Forgotten Website Security Pillar

I travel a lot (a lot might actually be an understatement these days), but the travel always revolves around a couple common threads – namely website security education and awareness. In these travels, regardless of whether I’m speaking with a WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or another community, there are always common questions like, “How important is it to proactively protect my environment,” or, “How can I fix my environment after it’s been hacked?” Of course, those are really important questions, and as the CEO of a company that meets those needs, I’m more than happy to answer those big questions. But as I’ve traveled the country and answered those questions, I’ve noticed a fundamental lack of understanding of a more basic security need: backups, specifically how backups fit into the security spectrum.

Sucuri - Security Pillars

It’s very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae that makes up your website’s security, but as with everything, having a great foundation will provide the security required when everything else fails.


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Responsible Disclosure – Sucuri Open Letter to MailPoet and Future Disclosures

Many don’t know who I am. My name is Tony Perez, I’m the CEO of Sucuri. I have the pleasure of calling this company my family and everyday I work for every person at this company. My partner is Daniel Cid. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in the website security domain, his influence extending far beyond the communities that make up some of the most popular CMS applications today.

Together we are building one of the fastest growing Website Security companies in the domain, we have one simple mission, to create a safer web. We are a technology company built by technologists with a special, quirky, idea that we can make a difference.

Many don’t realize that the bedrock of our business is Research, all facets of research. It’s how we stay ahead of the bad guys, or attackers. It’s a responsibility we have, not just to the general public, but one that we owe to our clients – in basic terms, it’s what they pay us for. It’s how we ensure our tools and technologies stay ahead of the rest and what makes us the ideal solution for every website owner, our commitment to the Website Security domain.

This has come to head recently from the huge debacle over the past few weeks in which we reported a very serious vulnerability in the WordPress MailPoet Plugin (WHYSIJA-NEWSLETTERS). In the coming days the attackers proceeded to identify, then begin to exploit the disclosed vulnerability.

Frankly put, the entire situation was very unfortunate.

Some Background on the Recent MailPoet Issue

Here is a more accurate timeline on the order of events:

  1. 2014, Jun 16: Notified MailPoet of the vulnerability, provided patching recommendations.
  2. 2014, Jun 16: MailPoet team replied and said they were working on a fix.
  3. 2014, Jun 18: Notified Sucuri that they had fixed the bug and would released a patch soon.
  4. 2014, Jul 01: The MailPoet team updated WP.org with the new release.
  5. 2014, Jul 07: MetaSploit Module released for the Vulnerability

The total order of events from took 15 days.

Upon release of the blog post the MailPoet team did contact us to express their discontent with our actions, and this was our response in the interest of transparency:

As far as disclosing the vulnerability, this is quite a common practice and the correct way to bring awareness to a security issue. A good example of a perfect security disclosure was done by the Automattic team with JetPack:

http://jetpack.me/2014/04/10/jetpack-security-update/

As soon as they released a patch, they notified all users and contacted multiple blogs to ask them to urge everyone to upgrade.

I imagine you are worried about brand impact, but every piece of software will have bugs and security issues at some point. It rarely has any brand impact and if you respond properly, it can have the opposite effect and be very good for you plugin and team reputation. The “We had an issue, we fixed and it won’t happen again” type of message that your users would prefer to hear from you than from some external blog.

As for us, we don’t do that for publicity. It is just part of our research and work that we do every day. Even before Sucuri started, we were auditing code and disclosing security issues. Our goal is to be ahead of the bad guys to protect our clients and help the web at a whole.

I leave it for you all, unedited.

Open Letter to MailPoet

As to be expected, the MailPoet team is pretty pissed off as it would be expected. So pissed in fact that they felt compelled to question our intent and whether we shared the same goals, so let’s talk about that for a minute.

Are we sure we are all aiming for an open, safe web in the WordPress community?

In an effort to provide some peace of mind and transparency in our thought process, please read this open letter to MailPoet:

Hi Mailpoet Team

First and foremost, I am sorry for the troubles you have been experiencing as of late.

Second, I did want to take a minute to clarify a few points to avoid speculation:

1 – Let’s start with reasonable time:

MailPoet Post: It’s common practice among software security circles to disclose bugs privately with software companies, then get a reward, credit and the possibility to write about it, given a reasonable amount of time to fix it.

You see, it’s all about a reasonable amount of time.

Responsible disclosure is about time to patch. That is what we provided. We disclosed only after your organization patched and made it publicly available.

Responsible disclosure has nothing to do with providing reasonable time after the patch to wait before disclosing publicly. Especially when you look at how the issue was highlighted, or lack there of in the change log.

Sucuri - MailPoet Security Disclosure

Nothing highlighted the seriousness of the issue, so we did. That’s what we feel is our responsibility. It’s buried and lacks any emphasis, it’s why so many in the security business subscribed to Full Disclosure (i.e., https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/01/debating_full_d.html)

This was a very serious vulnerability, one that deserved attention and we did so after it was patched, as is expected and is the norm.

2 – In regards to this:

MailPoet Post: effectively giving no time to users to upgrade their MailPoet version

It’s arguable that the only reason many updated their plugins when the patch was released was because of our public release and our ability to reach 100′s of thousands of WordPress Website owners. We were also able to make contact with hosts, managed host, and development shops.

3 – In regards to this:

MailPoet Post: before posting a detailed technical disclosure

We did not post a detailed technical post. We did not share a Proof of Concept which is actually very standard, we did reference elements that we felt had a greater impact than the ecosystem in which your plugin currently operates. Here is a snippet of the technical description you are alluding too:

Sucuri Post: Because of the nature of the vulnerability, specifically it’s severity, we will not be disclosing additional technical details. The basics of the vulnerability however is something all plugin developers should be mindful of: the vulnerability resides in the fact that the developers assumed that WordPress’s “admin_init” hooks were only called when an administrator user visited a page inside /wp-admin/.

As you know, we also did not disclose any Proof of Concepts. We directed all those requests to your team to handle at your discretion.

4 – I presume this is meant to be a direct attack at us:

MailPoet Post: Are we sure we are all aiming for an open, safe web in the WordPress community?

If I misinterpreted the intent here, please do let me know. You are right though, our ambitions are much larger than the WordPress community, we’re pursuing a safer web we as a whole regardless of platform.

Again, I personally apologize and empathize with the struggles you have endured over the past week or so. Your struggles were not our intent, and not our driving force. Before this incident we had no relationship and had no interest in the space you are in.

That being said, if it ever becomes an issue in the future, for you or any other developer, we will follow the same protocol that we used with MailPoet.

All the Best,

Tony and Daniel

One small note, you mentioned:


There’s a difference between warning users and disclosing a 0 day vulnerability to the entire world on the same day of the bugfix release.

Small point of clarification, Zero Day vulnerabilities are those that are released and have no patch. Your vulnerability was patched, hence not being a Zero Day anymore.

Creating a Safer Web

Yes, in case you’re wondering, this is but the tip of the iceberg for us.

We will be proactively researching security issues across the wide spectrum that is Website Security. From CMS applications like WordPress, Joomla, osCommerce, vBulletin, etc… to web servers like Apache, NGINX, Windows IIS, and more. As stated before, it’s what makes us who we are and the responsibility we have to our clients as well as the wider audience of the web as a whole.

The time to be more proactive in our research and overall contribution to the web is now, not tomorrow or the day after. We stand fast in our convictions and will continue to push forward. Remember our responsibility is not the developers and designers, but the millions of website owners, their websites and their businesses.

All the best,

Tony / Daniel

Simplifying the language of website security

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 3.40.59 PM
A couple of weeks ago, the Sucuri team was at HostingCon. We rubbed elbows with the people who bring your websites to the world and spoke at length with them about the importance of website security. However, the most interesting conversation we had over the whole week was with a small business owner on vacation with his family.

After a long day of conversations with the rest of the tech world, we needed to get a bite to eat and we decided to wait at the bar while the restaurant got our table ready. While there, we started talking to a man sitting next to us. As it turns out, he owns an auto body business in the Philadelphia area. Eventually, our new friend asked us what we were doing in Miami so we told him that we helped to run a firm focused on website security and, from our perspective, that’s when the conversation got really interesting.

That’s for big websites, right?

Our new friend knew about the data breaches at the big retailers like Target and then went on to tell us, “But I’m not worried, because I have a really simple website and just ask people to fill out a form so we can contact them later.”

Tony and I were floored when he told us that. But should we have been? When you live every day in the security space, it can be easy to forget that the rest of the world doesn’t live there with you.

We’ll always use this blog to break security news and to educate the community about the latest malware removal techniques we’re pioneering, but the more we learned about our new friend’s business, the more apparent it became that we also have an obligation to translate the language of website security so that website owner’s everywhere understand its importance. In that spirit, here’s our first primer in a once-in-a-while series for the everyday blogger, website enthusiast and small business owner on why security is important for their site.


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Ad Violations: Why Search Engines Won’t Display Your Site If it’s Infected With Malware

As your site’s webmaster, have you ever seen an e-mail from Google like this:

Hello,

We wanted to alert you that one of your sites violates our advertising policies. Therefore, we won’t be able to run any of your ads that link to that site, and any new ads pointing to that site will also be disapproved.

Here’s what you can do to fix your site and hopefully get your ad running again:

1. Make the necessary changes to your site that currently violates our policies:
Display URL: site.com
Policy issue: Malware
Details & instructions:

2. Resubmit your site to us, following the instructions in the link above….

If so, you know the potential downside risk this poses for your website. In their own words, Google says,

In some cases, you may be unaware that you have malware on your site. But to protect the safety and security of our users, we stop all ads pointing to sites where we find malware.

In essence, Google and Bing care about their searchers more than your business so, to protect their customers, they’ll shut your website out of Adwords and Bing Ads and will return your site less in organic searches.

Often overlooked in the search business is the role of the actual search engine in the ad placement process. These are businesses that specialize in creating algorithms to show relevant search results, assigning quality scores to your landing pages and placing your actual ads. A lot goes into the process, but in all cases, the key for the search engine is to show relevant search results (including ads) that keep people using their search engine. It is in this spirit that search engines like Google and Bing reserve the right to refuse your ads. This is especially true if they have any reason to believe that your site may be infected with malware–including viruses, worms, spyware, and Trojan Horses–or is being used in phishing schemes.

From the search engine’s perspective, this makes perfect sense. Searches are their lifeblood and there are other search engines a person could use to find websites. By showing your ads or returning your site organically in a search, they are tacitly telling the searcher, “We found these sites to be relevant to you.” If they start sending you to sites that are potentially harmful, then a searcher could, potentially, switch search engines.

However, knowing why search engines work as they do doesn’t make it easier to be a webmaster when a site is hacked. Luckily, our clean up and malware removal tools as well as our de-blacklisting service are just a click away.

Or, better yet, keep yourself from ever getting an email like the one above from Bing or Google. Instead, protect your site, and business, from potential problems stemming from malware, blacklisting or phishing and look into protecting your site with a website application firewall like our CloudProxy WAF .

WordPress OptimizePress Theme – File Upload Vulnerability

We’re a few days short on this, but it’s still worth releasing as the number of attacks against this vulnerability are increasing ten-fold.

The folks at OSIRT were the first to report this in late November, 2013. In our cases we’re seeing mostly defacement attacks, and although not devastating, they can be a big nuisance for an unsuspecting website owner.

Please be sure to read the official announcement by the OptimizePress team.

This is an important announcement for OptimizePress 1.0 users. (Please note this does NOT apply to OptimizePress 2.0 which is built with a completely new codebase)

Back in April 2013 we discovered a potential security flaw in part of the code for OptimizePress 1.0. Our developers quickly patched this issue and we released an update to the platform. We also announced this to our customers via email, although it appears now that many of our users may not have received this email. – OptimizePress Team (Read Full)

The Vulnerability

The target of the attack is the following file: lib/admin/media-upload.php. It can be used to upload any file to the wp-content/uploads/optpress/images_comingsoon directory. It doesn’t even change the extension.

Vulnerable versions of this file provide the upload functionality to anyone, while newer patched versions check for the admin permissions first. It is easy to tell one from the other.

The beginning of the vulnerable files:

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Understanding Google’s Blacklist – Cleaning Your Hacked Website and Removing From Blacklist

Today we found an interesting case where Google was blacklisting a client’s site but not sharing the reason why. The fact they were sharing very little info should not be new, but what we found as we dove a little deeper should be. The idea is to provide you webmasters with the required insight to understand what is going on, and how to troubleshoot things when your website is blacklisted.

Get Your Bearing

While investigating the website, we found that some Google shortened URLs were being loaded and redirecting to http://bls.pw/. Two of the goo.gl links were pointing to Wikipedia images, their icon to be specific, and one was redirecting to http://bls.pw/ shortener.

goo.gl/9yBTe - http://bits.wikimedia.org/favicon/wikipedia.ico
goo.gl/hNVXP - http://bits.wikimedia.org/favicon/wikipedia.ico?2x2
goo.gl/24vi1 - http://bls.pw/

A quick search for this last URL took us to /wp-content/themes/Site’sTheme/css/iefix.sct. As malware writers like to do, it was trying to trick us into believing it was good code. In this case, the Sizzle CSS Selector Engine code (Real code here) was the target:

Sucuri  Sizzle CSS Selector Engine Modified III

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Blackhat SEO and ASP Sites

It’s all too easy to scream and holler at PHP based websites and the various malware variants associate with the technology, but perhaps we’re a bit too biased.

Here is a quick post on ASP variant. Thought we’d give you Microsoft types some love too.

Today we found this nice BlackHat SEO attack:

Sucuri SiteCheck ASP Malware

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