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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

Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.

But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.

The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.

From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”

This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.

Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”

A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:

  • Create: Help to set and implement policy
  • Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
  • Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
  • Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application

The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.

Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”

In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.

Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.

DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise

While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.

The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.

At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”

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Security

High Performance Application Security Testing

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research. It is hosted by an expert in Application and API testing, and GigaOm analyst, Jake Dolezal. His presentation will focus on the results of high performance testing we completed against two security mechanisms: ModSecurity on NGINX and NGINX App Protect. Additionally, we tested the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) as a fully managed security offering.

While performance is important, it is only one criterion for a Web Application Firewall selection. The results of the report are revealing about these platforms. The methodology will be shown with clarity and transparency on how you might replicate these tests to mimic your own workloads and requirements.

Register now to join GigaOm and sponsor NGINX for this free expert webinar.

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