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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

Key Criteria for Evaluating Security Information and Event Management Solutions (SIEM)

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Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions consolidate multiple security data streams under a single roof. Initially, SIEM supported early detection of cyberattacks and data breaches by collecting and correlating security event logs. Over time, it evolved into sophisticated systems capable of ingesting huge volumes of data from disparate sources, analyzing data in real time, and gathering additional context from threat intelligence feeds and new sources of security-related data. Next-generation SIEM solutions deliver tight integrations with other security products, advanced analytics, and semi-autonomous incident response.

SIEM solutions can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud, or a mix of the two. Deployment models must be weighed with regard to the environments the SIEM solution will protect. With more and more digital infrastructure and services becoming mission critical to every enterprise, SIEMs must handle higher volumes of data. Vendors and customers are increasingly focused on cloud-based solutions, whether SaaS or cloud-hosted models, for their scalability and flexibility.

The latest developments for SIEM solutions include machine learning capabilities for incident detection, advanced analytics features that include user behavior analytics (UBA), and integrations with other security solutions, such as security orchestration automation and response (SOAR) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems. Even though additional capabilities within the SIEM environment are a natural progression, customers are finding it even more difficult to deploy, customize, and operate SIEM solutions.

Other improvements include better user experience and lower time-to-value for new deployments. To achieve this, vendors are working on:

  • Streamlining data onboarding
  • Preloading customizable content—use cases, rulesets, and playbooks
  • Standardizing data formats and labels
  • Mapping incident alerts to common frameworks, such as the MITRE ATT&CK framework

Vendors and service providers are also expanding their offerings beyond managed SIEM solutions to à la carte services, such as content development services and threat hunting-as-a-service.

There is no one-size-fits-all SIEM solution. Each organization will have to evaluate its own requirements and resource constraints to find the right solution. Organizations will weigh factors such as deployment models or integrations with existing applications and security solutions. However, the main decision factor for most customers will revolve around usability, affordability, and return on investment. Fortunately, a wide range of solutions available in the market can almost guarantee a good fit for every customer.

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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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating Secure Service Access

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Since the inception of large-scale computing, enterprises, organizations, and service providers have protected their digital assets by securing the perimeter of their on-premises data centers. With the advent of cloud computing, the perimeter has dissolved, but—in most cases—the legacy approach to security hasn not. Many corporations still manage the expanded enterprise and remote workforce as an extension of the old headquarters office/branch model serviced by LANs and WANs.

Bolting new security products onto their aging networks increased costs and complexity exponentially, while at the same time severely limiting their ability to meet regulatory compliance mandates, scale elastically, or secure the threat surface of the new any place/any user/any device perimeter.

The result? Patchwork security ill-suited to the demands of the post-COVID distributed enterprise.

Converging networking and security, secure service access (SSA) represents a significant shift in the way organizations consume network security, enabling them to replace multiple security vendors with a single, integrated platform offering full interoperability and end-to-end redundancy. Encompassing secure access service edge (SASE), zero-trust network access (ZTNA), and extended detection and response (XDR), SSA shifts the focus of security consumption from being either data center or edge-centric to being ubiquitous, with an emphasis on securing services irrespective of user identity or resources accessed.

This GigaOm Key Criteria report outlines critical criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting an SSA solution. The corresponding GigaOm Radar Report provides an overview of notable SSA vendors and their offerings available today. Together, these reports are designed to help educate decision-makers, making them aware of various approaches and vendors that are meeting the challenges of the distributed enterprise in the post-pandemic era.

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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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating Edge Platforms

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Edge platforms leverage distributed infrastructure to deliver content, computing, and security closer to end devices, offloading networks and improving performance. We define edge platforms as the solutions capable of providing end users with millisecond access to processing power, media files, storage, secure connectivity, and related “cloud-like” services.

The key benefit of edge platforms is bringing websites, applications, media, security, and a multitude of virtual infrastructures and services closer to end devices compared to public or private cloud locations.

The need for content proximity started to become more evident in the early 2000s as the web evolved from a read-only service to a read-write experience, and users worldwide began both consuming and creating content. Today, this is even more important, as live and on-demand video streaming at very high resolutions cannot be sustained from a single central location. Content delivery networks (CDNs) helped host these types of media at the edge, and the associated network optimization methods allowed them to provide these new demanding services.

As we moved into the early 2010s, we experienced the rapid cloudification of traditional infrastructure. Roughly speaking, cloud computing takes a server from a user’s office, puts it in a faraway data center, and allows it to be used across the internet. Cloud providers manage the underlying hardware and provide it as a service, allowing users to provision their own virtual infrastructure. There are many operational benefits, but at least one unavoidable downside: the increase in latency. This is especially true in this dawning age of distributed enterprises for which there is not just a single office to optimize. Instead, “the office” is now anywhere and everywhere employees happen to be.

Even so, this centralized, cloud-based compute methodology works very well for most enterprise applications, as long as there is no critical sensitivity to delay. But what about use cases that cannot tolerate latency? Think industrial monitoring and control, real-time machine learning, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and gaming. If a cloud data center is a few hundred or even thousands of miles away, the physical limitations of sending an optical or electrical pulse through a cable mean there are no options to lower the latency. The answer to this is leveraging a distributed infrastructure model, which has traditionally been used by content delivery networks.

As CDNs have brought the internet’s content closer to everyone, CDN providers have positioned themselves in the unique space of owning much of the infrastructure required to bring computing and security closer to users and end devices. With servers close to the topological edge of the network, CDN providers can offer processing power and other “cloud-like” services to end devices with only a few milliseconds latency.

While CDN operators are in the right place at the right time to develop edge platforms, we’ve observed a total of four types of vendors that have been building out relevant—and potentially competing—edge infrastructure. These include traditional CDNs, hyperscale cloud providers, telecommunications companies, and new dedicated edge platform operators, purpose-built for this emerging requirement.

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.

Continue Reading

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