In today’s digital landscape, ensuring the security of your WordPress website is paramount. Hackers are constantly seeking vulnerabilities to exploit, potentially causing significant damage to your online presence and reputation. Conducting a vulnerability assessment is an essential step in identifying weak points that could be targeted by malicious actors. According to our source, due to its popularity and widespread use, WordPress is a common target for hackers. There are close to 90,000 attacks per minute. And WordPress websites are particularly vulnerable when they are not updated regularly enough ( 61% of attacked websites are outdated). In this blog post, we will explore the most common attack types employed by hackers and shed light on the key findings of a comprehensive website security assessment. We also suggest consulting with the experts to carry out a website security assessment.
Unmasking Common Attack Types
Exploitation of custom Code
When writing custom WordPress code, it is crucial to be aware of the potential security vulnerabilities that can arise if not implemented carefully. One significant vulnerability is the risk of injection attacks, such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS). SQL injection occurs when user-supplied data is not properly validated or sanitized before being used in database queries. Attackers can exploit this vulnerability by inserting malicious SQL commands, potentially gaining unauthorized access to the database or manipulating data. Similarly, XSS vulnerabilities occur when user input is not correctly sanitized or validated, allowing attackers to inject and execute malicious scripts on users’ browsers.
Another common vulnerability stems from incorrect file permissions and insecure file handling. If file permissions are set improperly or file handling functions are not used securely, it can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive files or directories on the server. Attackers can exploit this vulnerability to view, modify, or delete critical files, potentially compromising the entire WordPress installation or exposing sensitive information.
Moreover, custom code may lack proper input validation and data sanitization, making it susceptible to attacks like cross-site request forgery (CSRF) and remote file inclusion (RFI). CSRF attacks occur when a malicious website tricks authenticated users into performing unintended actions on another site where they have privileges. RFI vulnerabilities allow attackers to include remote files, potentially executing arbitrary code on the server and gaining control over the WordPress installation.
- Brute Force Attack
If xmlrpc.php in a WordPress site is enabled it can introduce a significant vulnerability, making the application prone to brute force attacks. XML-RPC is a protocol that allows external applications to interact with a WordPress site. By default, WordPress enables xmlrpc.php for backward compatibility reasons. However, malicious actors can exploit this feature by launching brute force attacks on the site’s login credentials. Attackers can utilize automated tools or botnets to launch a barrage of login attempts, systematically trying different username and password combinations until they gain unauthorized access. The ability of brute force attacks to bypass typical login rate limiting and account lockout mechanisms exposes the site to increased risk, potentially leading to compromised user accounts and significant strain on server resources.
Other types of brute forcing are :
Direct login brute force
Where attackers can directly target the login page of a WordPress site by automating login attempts using different username and password combinations. They may use scripts or tools that iterate through various combinations until they find valid credentials.
Attackers may try to guess the password of a specific user account by using common passwords, known personal information, or dictionary-based attacks. This method relies on the likelihood of users selecting weak or easily guessable passwords.
- Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Cross-Site Scripting attacks occur when hackers inject malicious scripts into web pages viewed by unsuspecting users. These scripts can exploit vulnerabilities in user input fields, leading to the execution of unauthorized code, theft of sensitive information, or even hijacking of user sessions. Cross site scripting “injection attack” is not a common finding when doing WordPress tests, usually only found if a plugin or theme is affected or client introduces custom code into the WordPress site.
- DDoS Attack (Distributed Denial-of-Service)
A DDoS attack overwhelms your website’s server by flooding it with an enormous volume of traffic. This barrage of requests makes your website inaccessible to legitimate users, leading to service disruption and potential financial loss. Hackers employ botnets and other resources to orchestrate these attacks.
Key Findings from Website Security Assessments
While conducting a vulnerability assessment, several critical weaknesses are commonly uncovered. Addressing these findings is crucial to fortifying your WordPress website against potential exploits.
- Outdated Plugins
Utilizing out-of-date plugins on your website may make it susceptible to a variety of security threats. These outdated tools provide an attractive attack surface for cybercriminals who frequently take advantage of such weak points to gain unauthorized entry or infuse detrimental code into your system. These actions by cybercriminals can compromise the safety of your user’s data and the credibility of your site.
The crux of the matter is not only ensuring regular plugin updates, but also ensuring that these updates are to the latest versions. The importance of this is twofold. First, updates typically come with improved security features, making it more challenging for hackers to exploit. Second, updates often fix known vulnerabilities that may have existed in previous versions, thereby closing off entry points for hackers that were previously available.
In the dynamic landscape of cyber threats, website integrity and security is an ongoing, proactive task. Regular and timely updates of your website plugins should be an integral part of your website management strategy. By doing so, you patch potential security flaws, shield your website from a significant portion of possible attacks, and thereby provide a secure, trustworthy digital environment for your users.
- No SSL Certificates (HTTP instead of HTTPS)
SSL certificates provide a secure connection between your website and its visitors, encrypting data transmission and ensuring user privacy. Not having an SSL certificate (HTTP instead of HTTPS) exposes your website to eavesdropping, data interception, and potential attacks. It is imperative to implement SSL certificates to protect your users and maintain their trust.
- Low-Quality Web Hosting
Choosing a reputable and secure web hosting provider is fundamental to website security. Low-quality hosting services may lack proper security measures, making your website an easier target for hackers. Opting for a reliable hosting provider that prioritizes security will help safeguard your website and its data.
- Outdated Themes
Just like plugins, outdated themes may also harbour security flaws that can be manipulated by cybercriminals. It is crucial to keep your WordPress theme up-to-date, not just for the aesthetic or functional enhancements, but more importantly, for the security updates it brings. Regularly updating your theme to the most recent version helps you leverage these security fixes, thereby diminishing the possibility of unauthorized intrusion or the injection of malicious code into your site.
- Running Old PHP Versions
Using outmoded PHP versions can leave your website open to security breaches. These antiquated versions may harbour known vulnerabilities that present an attractive target for hackers looking for opportunities to gain illicit access or execute malevolent code. By adopting the latest PHP versions, you’re taking an essential step towards securing your website. This not only helps to rectify any existing vulnerabilities but also equips your site with the most recent enhancements in cybersecurity, thus providing an upgraded level of protection against potential digital threats.
- Username Enumeration
Username enumeration is a technique where an attacker identifies authentic usernames on your WordPress site. In cybersecurity terms, this essentially means providing the attacker with half the puzzle, easing their efforts to launch more effective brute force attacks. Since they already possess a list of potential usernames to attempt, their task is now reduced to merely figuring out the associated passwords.
This potential security breach is a serious concern because if an attacker can access an account, they could have the ability to alter site content, manipulate user data, or even take complete control of your site, depending on the privileges associated with the compromised username. Therefore, this can pose significant risks not just to the website’s integrity but also to its reputation and user trust.
- Information Disclosure
Information disclosure occurs when sensitive data, such as server configurations or database credentials, is unintentionally exposed. Ensuring proper security configurations and restricting access to sensitive information minimizes the risk of such disclosures.
- Out-of-Date WordPress Version, Plugins, and Themes
Running an outdated WordPress core, plugins, or themes increases the likelihood of security breaches. Developers continuously release updates to address vulnerabilities and improve security. Regularly updating all components of your WordPress website is vital to maintain a robust security posture.
The WP-Cron feature in WordPress enables scheduled tasks and background processing. However, misconfiguration or abuse of WP-Cron can result in resource exhaustion or unwanted script execution. Properly configuring and monitoring WP-Cron usage ensures its effective and secure operation.
- Directory Listing Enabled
Allowing directory listing can inadvertently expose sensitive files and directories to the public. Disabling directory listing prevents unauthorized access to sensitive information and mitigates the risk of data breaches.
Enlist the Experts to do an Assessment!
When it comes to safeguarding your WordPress website, it is essential to enlist the expertise of a trusted cybersecurity partner to conduct a comprehensive website security assessment. This approach offers numerous advantages, including speed and cost-effectiveness. A professional assessment can be swiftly carried out, efficiently identifying potential vulnerabilities and weak points in your website’s security. By investing in a website security assessment, you are proactively taking steps to mitigate the risks of a cyber-attack or breach. The costs associated with a security assessment are minimal compared to the potential pain and financial implications of a successful cyber-attack, which can lead to reputational damage, loss of customer trust, legal complications, and significant financial losses. Entrusting CommSec to conduct a website security assessment is a smart and economical decision that helps safeguard your business’s digital assets and ensures the continued trust of your customers.
To Wrap Up
Securing your WordPress website requires proactive measures to identify and address vulnerabilities. Understanding the common attack types, such as SQL injection, brute force attacks, malware, cross-site scripting, and DDoS attacks, empowers you to take preventive actions. Conducting a website security assessment unveils critical findings, including outdated plugins, lack of SSL certificates, low-quality web hosting, outdated themes, running old PHP versions, username enumeration, information disclosure, outdated WordPress core, plugins, and themes, WP-Cron misconfigurations, directory listing enabled, outdated Apache versions, and insecure TLS and SSL configurations. By addressing these vulnerabilities and staying vigilant, you can protect your WordPress website from malicious exploits and safeguard your online presence.
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