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Concerns raised about WordPress’ new ‘White Screen Of Death’ protection feature



Security researchers warn that a new feature that will ship with the next version of the WordPress CMS can be abused to disable security plugins and put WordPress sites and blogs at risk.

The feature, which has a very cool name in “WSOD (white-screen-of-death) Protection” and is considered the equivalent of a WordPress Safe Mode, is scheduled to make its debut with the release of WordPress 5.1, expected this spring.

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

As described by WordPress core developer Felix Arntz, the feature allows WordPress to recognize when a fatal PHP error occurs and what plugin or theme is causing it.

The WSOD Protection feature will pause the plugin or theme’s code and allow the site’s administrator to access the backend panel, where they can investigate and disable the culprit(s) causing the errors.

WordPress WSOD Protection

Image: Felix Arntz

The WordPress team began working on the WSOD Protection feature months ago. The feature is part of a grand master plan to help site owners update from using outdated PHP 5.x servers to using the newer 7.x branches.

The WSOD Protection feature was created at first to allow site owners to recover from site crashes after the PHP 7.x migration, but WordPress developers realized this could also be used to catch errors after updates to WordPress plugins or themes, which sometimes also crash sites in similar ways.

But as the feature took shape and neared completion, several security researchers have realized that it could also be abused.

In a blog post published earlier this week, bug hunter Slavco Mihajloski pointed out that attackers could use low-end and sometimes harmless exploits in WordPress plugins to trigger a fatal PHP error that will be caught by the WSOD protection feature.

Since the WSOD protection feature is designed to pause the faulty plugin’s execution, Mihajloski argues that attackers could abuse it to disable firewalls, two-factor authentication, brute-force protection, and other security-focused plugins installed on WordPress sites.

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Mihajloski’s worries were also shared by Matt Rusnak, QA Lead at WordFence. In a bug report discussing the feature, Rusnak also pointed out several other attack scenarios where the WSOD Protection feature would end up helping attackers.

  1. A plugin may be paused because another plugin used a lot of memory. When a site’s memory_limit is reached, the plugin that happened to be running at the time can be paused, even if it’s not using excessive memory. That might cause security issues, or may just be confusing for the admin, since the paused plugin(s) aren’t necessarily the cause of the issue.
  2. Local File Inclusion vulnerabilities in any plugin/theme will give the attacker the ability to pause many plugins at will. When any plugin/theme is vulnerable to “Local File Inclusion (LFI)”, an attacker often cannot use that to make changes to the site, but if plugins can be paused by WP 5.1 for redeclaring an existing class, an attacker can choose specific plugins to pause, even if those plugins are not vulnerable. I’ve included examples for Jetpack, WPS Hide Login, and Akismet, with a demo plugin with a simple LFI vulnerability. (There are over 1100 entries on Exploit DB at when searching “local file inclusion” without quotes — some are old or are not WP plugins, but it’s common enough to be a concern.)
  3. It might be possible that max_execution_time has the same issue as memory_limit. I haven’t made a test case yet. On a shared host that is running slowly, or any server under heavy load (including during intentional DoS or brute force attacks), many of the requests could cause timeouts, which could occur in random plugins’ code or the theme’s code.

The WordPress team answered to Rusnak’s feedback with plans to add a new option in the wp-config.php settings file that would allow site owners to disable WSOD Protection. The new option is named WP_DISABLE_FATAL_ERROR_HANDLER.

It is unclear if WSOD protection will ship enabled by default or not when WordPress 5.1 is released, but the feature remains dangerous still, regardless of the addition of the new wp-config.php option.

Security experts recommend that for the time being, site owners only enable it temporarily when updating the PHP server, the WordPress core, or its themes and plugins. Otherwise, keep it disabled.

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Cloud Data Security



Data security has become an immutable part of the technology stack for modern applications. Protecting application assets and data against cybercriminal activities, insider threats, and basic human negligence is no longer an afterthought. It must be addressed early and often, both in the application development cycle and the data analytics stack.

The requirements have grown well beyond the simplistic features provided by data platforms, and as a result a competitive industry has emerged to address the security layer. The capabilities of this layer must be more than thorough, they must also be usable and streamlined, adding a minimum of overhead to existing processes.

To measure the policy management burden, we designed a reproducible test that included a standardized, publicly available dataset and a number of access control policy management scenarios based on real world use cases we have observed for cloud data workloads. We tested two options: Apache Ranger with Apache Atlas and Immuta. This study contrasts the differences between a largely role-based access control model with object tagging (OT-RBAC) to a pure attribute-based access control (ABAC) model using these respective technologies.

This study captures the time and effort involved in managing the ever-evolving access control policies at a modern data-driven enterprise. With this study, we show the impacts of data access control policy management in terms of:

  • Dynamic versus static
  • Scalability
  • Evolvability

In our scenarios, Ranger alone took 76x more policy changes than Immuta to accomplish the same data security objectives, while Ranger with Apache Atlas took 63x more policy changes. For our advanced use cases, Immuta only required one policy change each, while Ranger was not able to fulfill the data security requirement at all.

This study exposed the limitations of extending legacy Hadoop security components into cloud use cases. Apache Ranger uses static policies in an OT-RBAC model for the Hadoop ecosystem with very limited support for attributes. The difference between it and Immuta’s attribute-based access control model (ABAC) became clear. By leveraging dynamic variables, nested attributes, and global row-level policies and row-level security, Immuta can be quickly implemented and updated in comparison with Ranger.

Using Ranger as a data security mechanism creates a high policy-management burden compared to Immuta, as organizations migrate and expand cloud data use—which is shown here to provide scalability, clarity, and evolvability in a complex enterprise’s data security and governance needs.

The chart in Figure 1 reveals the difference in cumulative policy changes required for each platform configuration.

Figure 1. Difference in Cumulative Policy Changes

The assessment and scoring rubric and methodology is detailed in the report. We leave the issue of fairness for the reader to determine. We strongly encourage you, as the reader, to discern for yourself what is of value. We hope this report is informative and helpful in uncovering some of the challenges and nuances of data governance platform selection. You are encouraged to compile your own representative use cases and workflows and review these platforms in a way that is applicable to your requirements.

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GigaOm Radar for Data Loss Prevention



Data is at the core of modern business: It is our intellectual property, the lifeblood of our interactions with our employees, partners, and customers, and a true business asset. But in a world of increasingly distributed workforces, a growing threat from cybercriminals and bad actors, and ever more stringent regulation, our data is at risk and the impact of losing it, or losing access to it, can be catastrophic.

With this in mind, ensuring a strong data management and security strategy must be high on the agenda of any modern enterprise. Security of our data has to be a primary concern. Ensuring we know how, why, and where our data is used is crucial, as is the need to be sure that data does not leave the organization without appropriate checks and balances.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. People and processes are key, as, of course, is technology in any data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

This has led to a reevaluation of both technology and approach to DLP; a recognition that we must evolve an approach that is holistic, intelligent, and able to apply context to our data usage. DLP must form part of a broader risk management strategy.

Within this report, we evaluate the leading vendors who are offering solutions that can form part of your DLP strategy—tools that understand data as well as evaluate insider risk to help mitigate the threat of data loss. This report aims to give enterprise decision-makers an overview of how these offerings can be a part of a wider data security approach.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Data Loss Prevention Platforms



Data is a crucial asset for modern businesses and has to be protected in the same way as any other corporate asset, with diligence and care. Loss of data can have catastrophic effects, from reputational damage to significant fines for breaking increasingly stringent regulations.

While the risk of data loss is not new, the landscape we operate in is evolving rapidly. Data can leave data centers in many ways, whether accidental or malicious. The routes for exfiltration also continue to grow, ranging from email, USB sticks, and laptops to ever-more-widely-adopted cloud applications, collaboration tools, and mobile devices. This is driving a resurgence in the enterprise’s need to ensure that no data leaves the organization without appropriate checks and balances in place.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. Policy, people, and technology are critical components in a data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

As with any information security strategy, technology plays a significant role. DLP technology has traditionally played a part in helping organizations to mitigate some of the risks of uncontrolled data exfiltration. However, both the technology and threat landscape have shifted significantly, which has led to a reevaluation of DLP tools and strategy.

The modern approach to the challenge needs to be holistic and intelligent, capable of applying context to data usage by building a broader understanding of what the data is, who is using it, and why. Systems in place must also be able to learn when user activity should be classified as unusual so they can better interpret signs of a potential breach.

This advanced approach is also driving new ways of defining the discipline of data loss prevention. Dealing with these risks cannot be viewed in isolation; rather, it must be part of a wider insider risk-management strategy.

Stopping the loss of data, accidental or otherwise, is no small task. This GigaOM Key Criteria Report details DLP solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products in this sector that excel. Together, these reports will give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.

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.

Solution 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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