PHP 8 Released Nov 26

The latest update to PHP, the programming language which powers a lot of WordPress, was released on Nov 26, 2020. We can expect a

We can expect a lot of changes as WordPress and the plugin and theme developers incorporate the extensive code changes they’ll be required to make – and we’ll see a much more secure PHP. It has been predicted that a good number of plugins and themes will not be compatible, and that some developers will drop support of their creations rather than go through the work required to make them function.

Fortunately it’ll be a while before PHP8 hits at the user level, though WordPress 5.6 (currently scheduled for release December 8th +/- a few days) aims to be PHP8 compatible. But most web hosts will still need to test PHP8 versions on their equipment before rolling it out for general consumption, and plugin and theme developers will also need to do extensive testing and possibly rewrite a lot of code.

PHP is on a 2-year upgrade cycle; version 8 will be actively updated for the next two years and will then get one year of security upgrades after that.

more details on the WordFence blog

more details on PHP.net

False Positive Vulnerability Report on Events Manager

The popular calendar plugin Events Manager was reported as containing a Cross-Site Scripting vulnerability, which turned out to be a false positive (no such vulnerability). Several vulnerability reporting sites are still listing it as vulnerable, and if you have it installed you may have been notified.

However, it is not an actual problem and you can safely continue using version 5.9.8.1 or later.

A common .htaccess hack

We see this problem a fair bit, both on new hack repair client’s sites and being discussed on places like Facebook. So I figured I’d give a quick tutorial on how to identify and fix the problem.

The Symptom

When you look up your site on a search engine, you find your web address associated with a list of sites which are definitely not yours.

The Exploit

This is often caused by a hacker getting into your site and making changes to a special hidden file in the root level of your site named .htaccess

The .htaccess file can be used for a lot of things – blocking specific IP addresses or series of IP addresses, preventing directory listings, preventing hotlinking… and of course, redirecting traffic.

The hacker script inserts a few lines which redirect all traffic from the big search engines to other sites.

Immediate Solution

Log in to your web host’s cPanel or similar, and go to File Manager. (These steps can also be done via FTP if you have an account). Go to the root level of your WordPress installation. You should see your .htaccess file – if not, make sure that you have the ability to see hidden files (you may have to chat with your web host).

Open the .htaccess file and look for three lines similar to these:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} (google|yahoo|msn|aol|bing) [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} (google|yahoo|msn|aol|bing)
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ antiquate-cashers.php?$1 [L]


The first two lines basically say “If anyone comes to your site from any of these major search engines….”
and the third line says “Go to this page”.  The file name in that third line is automatically generated by the hack script, and like the one above typically has a nonsense name.

When you go look at that page, it’s going to be 100% hacker code.

Delete those three lines from your .htaccess file, or put a # at the beginning of each line, which indicates that it’s a comment, not to be acted upon. Save .htaccess.

Check the creation date on that nonsense-named file. Chances are that there are a bunch of files strewn about your site structure which were created on the same date and contain similar looking hacker code. Delete them all. Consider uploading fresh, clean copies of WordPress, all your plugins, and your themes, as it’ll ensure that you didn’t miss any in those parts of your site. That will take care of most of the offending files, but you’ll also have to look around in other parts of your wp-content folder such as Uploads.

If you don’t get them all AND remove the security hole they got through in order to hack you in the first place, then the problem will just come back later.

Long term solution

The long term solution of course is to sign up here and we’ll do our best to keep your site from getting hacked in the first place! We’re also available to do hack repairs on your site if you’re in need. Contact us any time.

An old, highly exploitable DoS attack makes a comeback

A six-year-old DoS vulnerability affecting WordPress and Drupal made an appearance on a list of top 10 network attacks by volume in Q2. This vulnerability is particularly severe because it affects every unpatched Drupal and WordPress installation and creates DoS scenarios in which bad actors can cause CPU and memory exhaustion on underlying hardware.

Despite the high volume of these attacks, they were hyper-focused on a few dozen networks primarily in Germany. Since DoS scenarios require sustained traffic to victim networks, this means there’s a strong likelihood that attackers were selecting their targets intentionally.

Source: https://www.helpnetsecurity.com/2020/09/25/malware-detections-q2-2020/

Critical Vulnerabilities Patched in XCloner Backup and Restore Plugin

The WordFence team found this set of vulnerabilities in mid August and initially reached out to the plugin’s team on August 17, 2020, providing full disclosure details on August 18, 2020. The plugin’s team quickly released an initial patch on August 19, 2020 to resolve the most severe problem, and they released an additional patch on September 8, 2020 to resolve the remaining issues.

This is considered a critical security issue that could lead to remote code execution on a vulnerable site’s server. If you haven’t already updated, we highly recommend updating to the fully patched version, 4.2.153, immediately.

No clients of ProtectYourWP.com are affected by this vulnerability.

Sucuri: Malware Disables Security Plugins to Avoid Detection

An alarm or monitoring system is a great tool that can be used to improve the security of a home or website, but what if an attacker can easily disable it?

Sucuri recently described an exploit in which hackers gain access to the site and then immediately disable any of a list of well known security plugins which are installed. If you security plugins are turned off, they’re not going to scan your site for malware and they’re not going to email you a warning.

“If a user tries to reactivate one of the disabled security plugins, it will momentarily appear to activate only for the malware to immediately disable it again. This behavior will prevail until the malware is fully removed from the compromised environment, making it more difficult to detect malicious behavior on the website.”

Ideally your sites are locked down well enough that the hackers can’t gain access in the first place. But keep an eye on your site and if you see any behavior similar to what’s described, contact us and we’ll clean it up.

https://blog.sucuri.net/2020/09/wordpress-malware-disables-security-to-avoid-detection.html

How to Keep Your Stuff Safe While You’re at College (or anywhere, really)

There’s a well written article by iFixIt.com aimed at college students, but really it’s applicable to everyone who ever does anything in public space. Granted, that’s not happening as much with Covid19 precautions, but these suggestions should be part of your regular routine anyway.

Of particular note is the section on USB chargers and thumb drives. Many are not aware of the potential dangers, and some good tips are given on how to protect yourself.

See the article at https://www.ifixit.com/News/43770/how-to-keep-your-stuff-safe-while-youre-at-college

Definition: Ransomware

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts a victim’s files. The attacker then demands a ransom from the victim to restore access to the data upon payment. 

Users are shown instructions for how to pay a fee to get the decryption key. The costs can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, typically payable to cybercriminals in hard to trace cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.

Why do we back up?

A perfect example from my security focused Twitter feed today:

well <explitive> my server colocation facility just burned down

“halon is great for when equipment is on fire, but not as useful when the whole entire west coast is on fire”

This of course is during the raging wildfires on the US west coast.

Frequent offsite backups are also a critical method of fighting Ransomware attacks.

FYI, we keep backup copies of all sites in several locations, using several different backup methods.