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75 Million WordPress Websites at Risk


Vulnerabilities are Coming from the CMS Plug-Ins

The content management systems are in the focus of the cyber criminals due to the availability of plug-ins, large attack surfaces themes and extensions. The news reports in the last few months revealed an increased number of vulnerabilities and attacks on the most popular content management systems.Being the most popular of these platforms, the websites running on WordPress received the largest number of attacks – on the average 24 % more than the rest of the websites running on other CMS platforms. The malware researchers state that this is normal, since more than 75 million sites are running on WordPress, compared to Drupal with just a bit over 1 million sites. The attacks however do not mean that WordPress is less secure, just that it is the most popular content management system.

All known platforms, including WordPress, Drupal and Joomla have been subject to various flaws, where most of them are coming from third-party plug-ins used for website customization and not from the code.

Thee developers of Automatic which is guarding the code base of WordPress are highly praised by the security experts. The independent researcher Ryan Dewhurst has recently released WPScan Vulnerability Database. It presents the vulnerabilities of WordPress he had collected over the years. Despite of these flaws, the tester has very positive opinion about the development team of Word Press and thinks that this team is making everything possible to develop secure software with no flaws in the code.

According to the IT expert Ryan Dewhurst, the severe vulnerabilities are coming from the plug-ins and the themes, which are written by third-party developers, who are lacking experience in the security field. The surface of the attacks is also quite large. The Automatic developers state that the WordPress community has more than 33 000 different plug-ins and others in the pipeline. Yet, it is not only WordPress that has a problem with the plug-ins. These flaws are general issue for the other CMS platforms as well.

50 000 websites hacked via MailPoet Newsletters plug-in for WordPress

The major CMS frameworks are characterized by an open-source and are extensible, so people decide to add modules, extensions and plug-ins. Naturally, this large number of plug-ins is very difficult to be controlled as they are written by many different people of various backgrounds. Due to all that, the vulnerability reports concerning the CMS frameworks are abundant in malicious hacks and proof-of-concepts. In the summer of 2014, more than 50 000 websites were hacked because of the vulnerability found in the MailPoet Newsletters plug-in for WordPress. In September 2014 more than 60 000 websites were affected by the scripting vulnerability found in Mollum – the content moderation module for Drupal. During the same month was also found a vulnerability in the Joomla’s extension VirtueMart that could give attackers full control of an affected site and database.

The CEO of High-Tech Bridge Ilia Kolochenko says that the difficulty comes with the fact that the plug-ins could not be avoided. This is so as the website owners will always look for specific customized features on their websites that the regular CMS cannot offer. Naturally, the main CMS platforms also struggle from new vulnerabilities, yet these are just a minority compared to the rest of the attacks and are fairly easy to exploit. The IT specialists and researchers say that the companies should not be so vigilant in updating their CMS frameworks. They should also work with plug-ins created by larger development companies.

Berta Bilbao

Berta is a dedicated malware researcher, dreaming for a more secure cyber space. Her fascination with IT security began a few years ago when a malware locked her out of her own computer.

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