Joomla has been one of the most popular CMS for a long time. It powers a huge number of sites. That’s great! The flip side of this fact is Joomla has been very popular for a long time and there are still very many sites that use older versions of Joomla as well as older version of Joomla components. For example, the 1.5.x branch of Joomla (2008-2010) still has a noticeable share in live Joomla sites.
Old versions may work well for your site but they have multiple well known security holes, so they are the low hanging fruit for hackers. Let me show this using a real world example.
Hacking websites using FTP access has been one of the most popular attack vectors during the last few year. I can still see many massive site infections done via FTP.
In most cases, the first step of such attacks is stealing FTP credentials from local computers of webmasters. Back in 2009, I described how PC malware stole passwords saved in popular FTP clients such as FileZilla, CuteFTP, SmartFTP and many more. This is still a prevailing vector. More exotic password theft methods include keyloggers, FTP traffic sniffing, and stealing user databases of hosting providers who prefer convenience over security and store actual client passwords in plain text or slightly encrypted (instead of storing only hashes of passwords).
If you ask regular webmasters how hackers can break into their server via FTP, many of them will answer that hackers could guess the password (hence the need to have hard-to-guess passwords). Of course, it is hard to guess whatever password at the first attempt, so one might expect to see multiple such attempts (so-called brute force attacks) before a password is cracked and hackers get access to a server. However in real life, I haven’t come across such FTP brute force attacks. Until this month…
Earlier this week, Sucuri wrote about auto generated iframes in hacked WordPress blogs. The malicious PHP code fetched the iframe URLs from a remote server (hxxp://82 .200 .204 .151/config.inc.php) on-the-fly every time someone loaded infected web pages. This trick helped regularly update the malicious URLs without having to change the code on each hacked site individually. All the URLs had the same format http://<domain-of-a-hacked -site.com>/news/faults-ending.php. For example, hxxp://brewerstire .com/news/faults-ending.php .
This reminded me of another ongoing attack that also rotates iframe URLs in a similar way. However it has some distinguishing features that make it worth it to describe it separately.
Competition in search marketing can be tough. Regardless of number of businesses/products/services relevant to a specific keyword there is only one top position and unless it’s your site at the top you miss out on the hefty share of the search traffic generated by that keyword. The lower the result is displayed the less attention it gets.
Even if you are in “business” of black hat SEO and can use whatever dirty tricks you like, you still can’t guarantee the top position for the most popular keywords since there are already many established reputable sites and other black hats competing for the same keywords. But if you can’t always get the top position, you can still try to make your results look more attractive than the rest and increase their click through rate, right? Right! And this post will be about one of such tricks
Foks, a frequent contributer to my investigations, recently pointed me at an interesting black hat SEO campaign where thousands of hacked WordPress blogs and Joomla sites were used to create doorways promoting online stores selling various “slimming pills” and fake luxury goods.
During the last few years I saw many attacks where cyber criminals created large spammy sites in subdirectories of hacked legitimate sites. It’s an easy way to create millions of doorway pages on thousands of established domains with good reputation for free (owners of hacked sites pay for hosting, bandwidth and domains) — typical parasitic behavior. Webmasters normally only visit pages they created themselves and rarely check what happens in subdirectories so they may not notice spammy sections for months. Sometimes such sections may be significantly larger than legitimate sections of hacked websites and attract much more search traffic.
The back end of such rogue sections is usually some doorway generating script along with rewrite rules in .htaccess or a simple blogging engine like FlatPress that doesn’t require a database. The only requirement of such solutions is PHP so they will work on most websites.
However this time spammers chose WordPress as a back end for their doorways. After all, if they hack a WordPress blog, the server is guranteed to be compatible with WordPress and all they need to do to install a new instance is get MySQL password from existing wp-config.php and chose a different table prefix for their WordPress database.
Here’s how the attack works »»
Most WordPress bloggers know the “Always keep your WordPress blog up-to-date” mantra. To make upgrades painless, WordPress developers introduced the “Automatic Update” features in version 2.7. A blog admin only needs to visit the “Update WordPress” page (Tools -> Update) and click on the “Update Automatically” button. That’s it! Easy!
Sometimes I see how webmasters misinterpret the importance of upgrades for WordPress security. They expect that if they upgrade a hacked blog, it will immediately become clean and secure. Unfortunately it doesn’t work this way. Upgrades can only clean core WordPress files, leaving backdoors, infected themes, plugins and database records intact. That’s why it is important to clean up your site before the upgrade.
Moreover, a few days ago I came across a new massive infection (more than 1,000 currently known infected blogs) that hijacks the “Automatic Update” feature and makes it the event that triggers blog re-infection.