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A botnet of over 20,000 WordPress sites is attacking other WordPress sites

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Crooks controlling a network of over 20,000 already-infected WordPress installations are using these sites to launch attacks on other WordPress sites, ZDNet has learned from WordPress security firm Defiant.

The company, which manages and publishes the Wordfence plugin, a firewall system for WordPress sites, says it detected over five million login attempts in the last month from already-infected sites against other, clean WordPress portals.

The attacks are what security experts call “dictionary attacks.” These are repeated login attempts during which hackers test a series of username and password combinations, hoping to score a hit and gain access to an account.

Defiant security researcher Mikey Veenstra says the company has managed to gain an insight into how this botnet operates. In a report published a few minutes ago and shared with ZDNet, the researcher said Defiant investigators discovered that at the top of this botnet stands hydra-like head of four command and control servers that instruct already-infected sites on which other sites to attack.


Image: Defiant

These servers send attack instructions through a network of over 14,000 proxy servers rented from the best-proxies[.]ru service, which then relay this information to malicious scripts placed on already-infected WordPress sites.

These scripts read a list of targets they receive from the command and control server, assemble a list of passwords based on a predefined list of password patterns and then try to use the newly generated password to log into another site’s admin account.

“If the brute force script was attempting to log on to example.com as the user alice, it will generate passwords like example, alice1, alice2018, and so on,” Veenstra explained the attack mechanism in his report. “While this tactic is unlikely to succeed on any one given site, it can be very effective when used at scale across a large number of targets.”

Under normal circumstances, because the attackers used a network of proxies to hide the location of their command and control servers, researchers wouldn’t be able to track this entire botnet’s activity.

Fortunately, Defiant says that the people behind this botnet made “some mistakes in their implementation of the brute force scripts” that allowed researchers to expose the botnet’s entire backend infrastructure.

Furthermore, the mistakes didn’t stop at the brute force scripts. Defiant says the botnet operators also made mistakes in implementing the authentication systems for their botnet’s administration panel. Defiant researchers say they were able to bypass the botnet control panel login system and take a peek inside the crooks’ operation.

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Image: Defiant

The company says it already shared the information it gathered from the botnet with law enforcement. Sadly, the botnet’s four command-and-control servers couldn’t be taken down, as they are hosted on the infrastructure of HostSailor, a company characterized a while back as a bulletproof hosting provider that doesn’t honor takedown requests. This means the botnet is still alive and kicking, continuing to attack more WordPress sites.

What to do?

Because the botnet’s automated login attempts aren’t directed at the WordPress login panel, but instead at the WordPress XML-RPC authentication mechanism, changing a site’s admin panel URL won’t help.

Instead, Defiant recommends that WordPress site owners use a WordPress security plugin that can block brute-force or dictionary attacks carried out against the XML-RPC service.

Fortunately, attacks on the XML-RPC authentication systems have been going on for a few years now, and any decent WordPress firewall should be able to block these attacks.

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Security

Work from Home Security

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Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company that invents toys and games, produces dozens of television and studio series that are distributed in 160 countries, and creates a variety of digital games played by more than 30 million children. What was once a small private company founded by childhood friends is now a public global supply chain with over 1,500 employees and 28 offices around the world.

Like most organizations in 2020, Spin Master had to adapt quickly to the new normal of remote work, shifting most of its production from cubicles in regional and head offices to hundreds of employees working from home and other remote locations.

This dramatic shift created potential security risks, as most employees were no longer behind the firewall on the corporate network. Without the implementation of hardened endpoint security, the door would be open for bad actors to infiltrate the organization, acquire intellectual property, and ransom customer information. Additionally, the potential downtime caused by a security breach could harm the global supply chain. With that in mind, Spin Master created a self-imposed 30-day deadline to extend its network protection capabilities to the edge.

Key Findings:

  • Think Long Term: The initial goal of establishing a stop-gap work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategy has since morphed into a permanent strategy, requiring long-term solutions.
  • Gather Skills: The real urgency posed by the global pandemic made forging partnerships with providers that could fill all the required skill sets a top priority.
  • Build Momentum: The compressed timeline left no room for delay or error. The Board of Directors threw its support behind the implementation team and gave it broad budget authority to ensure rapid action, while providing active guidance to align strategy with action.
  • Deliver Value: The team established two key requirements that the selected partner must deliver: implementation support and establishing an ongoing managed security operations center (SOC).
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Key Criteria for Evaluating Privileged Access Management

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Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables administrative access to critical IT systems while minimizing the chances of security compromises through monitoring, policy enforcement, and credential management.

A key operating principle of all PAM systems is the separation of user credentials for individual staff members from the system administration credentials they are permitted to use. PAM solutions store and manage all of the privileged credentials, providing system access without requiring users to remember, or even know, the privileged password. Of course, all staff have their own unique user ID and password that they use to complete everyday tasks such as accessing email and writing documents. Users who are permitted to handle system administration tasks that require privileged credentials log into the PAM solution, which provides and controls such access according to predefined security policies. These policies control who is allowed to use which privileged credentials when, where, and for what tasks. An organization’s policy may also require logging and recording of the actions undertaken with the privileged credentials.

Once implemented, PAM will improve your security posture in several ways. The first is by segregating day-to-day duties from duties that require elevated access, reducing the risk of accidental privileged actions. Secondly, automated password management reduces the possibility that credentials will be shared while also lowering the risk if credentials are accidentally exposed. Finally, extensive logging and activity recording in PAM solutions aids audits of critical system access for both preventative and forensic security.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure

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Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:

  • Ease of deployment
  • Outstanding ROI
  • Overall TCO improvement

Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.

Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:

    • Improving overall performance for backups
    • Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
    • Replacing components difficult to manage and support

In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.

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