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Zero-day in popular WordPress plugin exploited in the wild to take over sites

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Hackers have exploited –and are currently continuing to exploit– a now-patched zero-day vulnerability in a popular WordPress plugin to install backdoors and take over sites.

The vulnerability affects WP GDPR Compliance, a WordPress plugin that helps site owners become GDPR compliant. The plugin is one of the most popular GDPR-themed plugins on the WordPress Plugins directory, with over 100,000 active installs.

Around three weeks ago, attackers seem to have discovered a vulnerability in this plugin and began using it to gain access to WordPress sites and install backdoor scripts.

Initial reports about hacked sites were made into another plugin’s support forum, but that plugin turned out to have been installed as a second-stage payload on some of the hacked sites.

After investigations led by the WordPress security team, the source of the hacks was eventually traced back to WP GDPR Compliance, which was the common plugin installed on all reported compromised sites.

The WordPress team removed the plugin from the official Plugins directory earlier this week after they identified several security issues within its code, which they believed were the cause of the reported hacks.

The plugin was reinstated two days ago, but only after its authors released version 1.4.3, which contained patches for the reported issues.

Attacks are still going on

But despite the fixes, attacks on sites still running versions 1.4.2 and older are still going on, according to security experts from Defiant, a company that runs the Wordfence firewall plugin for WordPress sites.

The company’s analysts say they’re continuing to detect attacks that try to exploit one of the reported WP GDPR Compliance security issues.

In particular, attackers are targeting a WP GDPR Compliance bug that allows them to make a call to one of the plugin’s internal functions and change settings for both the plugin, but also for the entire WordPress CMS.

The Wordfence team says they’ve seen two types of attacks using this bug. The first scenario goes like this:

  • Hackers use bug to open the site’s user registration system.
  • Hackers use bug to set the default role for new accounts to “administrator.”
  • Hackers register a new account, which automatically becomes an administrator. This new account is usually named “t2trollherten.”
  • Hackers set back default user role for new accounts to “subscriber.”
  • Hackers disable public user registration.
  • Hackers log into their new admin account.
  • They then proceed to install a backdoor on the site, as a file named wp-cache.php.

This backdoor script (GUI pictured below) contains a file manager, terminal emulator, and a PHP eval() function runner, and Wordfence says that “a script like this on a site can allow an attacker to deploy further payloads at will.”

wp-gdpr-plugin-backdoor.png

Image: Defiant

But experts also detected a second type of attack, which doesn’t rely on creating a new admin account, which might be spotted by the hacked site’s owners.

This second and supposedly more silent technique involves using the WP GDPR Compliance bug to add a new task to WP-Cron, WordPress’ built-in task scheduler.

The hackers’ cron job downloads and installs the 2MB Autocode plugin, which attackers later use to upload another backdoor script on the site –also named wp-cache.php, but different from the one detailed above.

But while hackers tried to make this second exploitation scenario more silent than the first, it was, in fact, this technique that led to the zero-day’s discovery.

This happened because, on some sites, the hackers’ exploitation routine failed to delete the 2MB Autocode plugin. Site owners saw a new plugin appeared on their sites and panicked.

It was, in fact, on this plugin’s WordPress support forum that site owners first complained about hacked sites, and triggered the investigation that led back to the WP GDPR Compliance plugin.

Attackers are stockpiling hacked sites

Right now, the attackers don’t appear to be doing anything malicious with the hacked sites, according to the Wordfence team.

Hackers are just stockpiling hacked sites, and Wordfence has not seen them trying to deploy anything malicious through the backdoor scripts, such as SEO spam, exploit kits, malware, or other kinds of badness.

Site owners using the WP GDPR Compliance plugin still have time to update or remove the plugin from their sites and clean any backdoors that have been left behind. They should do this before their site takes a hit in terms of search engine rankings, which usually happens after Google finds malware on their domains during its regular scans.

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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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