Definition: Supply Chain Hack

Most people think of hacks as someone gaining access to their computer or their website directly and then adding malicious code or stealing personal information.  Many hacks do occur that way.

A scarier hack occurs when the attacker gains access to the source of a program you regularly use.  Say for instance they hacked into Microsoft and inserted their malicious code into MS Word.  You then download Word to your computer, trusting Microsoft. And when you start up the program the malicious code starts doing its damage.

This scenario is similar to what was discovered in late 2020 to a company named SolarWinds.  SolarWinds supplies software to a bunch of important governmental entities in the US.  Among the departments affected were U.S. Treasury, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Commerce Department.  It’s possible that as many as 18,000 SolarWinds customers have been affected. The extent of the damage is still unfolding at the time of this writing.

Another example of a supply chain hack occurred with several WordPress plugins in 2017.  The trusted longtime developer of the popular FastSecure Contact Form plugin was approached by another developer with a reasonably lucrative offer to buy the plugin, and the deal was made.  Several other plugins by other developers with a smaller installation base were also purchased by the same developer. That’s perfectly reasonable behavior on the part of the seller, and if the buyer was reputable that end would have been fine too. But he wasn’t. What happened next is that the malicious purchaser then released modified versions of those plugins containing spam backdoors, allowing him to use his victim’s sites to send boatloads of spam.

Supply chain hacks are very difficult to control by the end user of the software.  We place a lot of trust in our software sources, and though it doesn’t happen often it is always a possibility that what we download has been secretly compromised. The WordPress plugin repository team does an excellent job but with over 58,000 plugins, many being updated on a regular basis, there’s no way that they can check every new release.

Definition: Window of Vulnerability

A Window of Vulnerability in terms of the world of security research exists from the time that the security hole is discovered by someone – be it the software developer, a security researcher, or a malicious player – until the time in which a fix has been released.

During this time the ideal scenario is that the software vendor is made aware of the problem and feverishly works to fix it.

Software developers are typically very quiet about exploits for which there is no fix yet.

Definition: Zero Day

Zero Day exploits generally refer to a security hole in some software which someone has found and announced (or leaked, as the case may be) to the world, but the software developers don’t know about it yet or otherwise haven’t addressed the issue. They have literally had zero days to fix it before it becomes widely known.

The preferred course of action is that when a bug or exploit is discovered, the person or group who discovered it discreetly gets in touch with the developer, describes what they found and how it can be exploited, and gives the developer time to release a fix.

“Zero Day Exploits”, “Window of Vulnerability” and what they have to do with your site.

Zero Day exploits generally refer to a security hole in some software which someone, somewhere has found, but the software developers don’t know about it yet. They have literally had zero days to fix it.

A Window of Vulnerability in terms of the world of security research exists from the time that the security hole is discovered by someone – be it the software developer, a security researcher, or a malicious player – until the time in which a fix has been released. During this time the ideal scenario is that the software vendor is made aware of the problem and feverishly works to fix it. Software developers are typically very quiet about exploits for which there is no fix yet.

Note that this does not mean that nobody’s computer is vulnerable when the Window of Vulnerability closes and a fix is released. In fact, the period immediately after the Window of Vulnerability is probably one of the more dangerous times, as all the bad players can find out about the security hole and will attempt to use the exploit against those sites and systems which have not yet applied the fix.

Our goal at ProtectYourWP.com is, of course, to make that period of time between a fix being released and it being applied to your website as short as possible!

That’s why we check for updates to WordPress and its plugins and themes on a daily basis and apply the updates right away. The vast majority of hacked WordPress websites are those which have been lackadaisical about updates and left problems remain unpatched on their sites.