If you haven’t used WordPress to publish a blog, you surely have at least visited a WordPress-powered site to read a blog or other content. It’s so easy to use that it has become one of the most popular blogging and Web publishing platforms in the world.
Now, it’s under attack by hackers. And that could put you under attack.
“The attacker is brute-force attacking the WordPress administrative portals, using the username ‘admin’ and trying thousands of passwords,” said CloudFlare, a Web site optimization firm, in its blog. “It appears a botnet is being used to launch the attack and more than tens of thousands of unique IP addresses have been recorded attempting to hack WordPress installs.”
A Rare Target
According to CloudFlare, one of the concerns of an attack like this is that the attacker is using a relatively weak botnet of home PCs in order to build a much larger botnet of beefy servers in preparation for a future attack.
“These larger machines can cause much more damage in DDoS attacks because the servers have large network connections and are capable of generating significant amounts of traffic,” the company said. “This is a similar tactic that was used to build the so-called itsoknoproblembro/Brobot botnet which, in the fall of 2012, was behind the large attacks on U.S. financial institutions.”
Graham Cluley, a senior security analyst at Sophos, said WordPress was a target because it powers many millions of Web sites around the world.
“If the owners of those Web sites haven’t locked down their sites properly, they could be hijacked by cybercriminals for their own purposes. Sadly, many people do still choose poor username/password combinations,” Cluley said. “Botnets continue to be a major problem. But it’s rare for us to see an attack targeting WordPress sites in this way on this scale .”
Cluley’s colleague, Sophos security analyst Paul Ducklin, said since it would take too long to try every possible username and password on every known WordPress or Joomla server, this onslaught is using what is known as a dictionary attack. The strategy is to automate the password guessing, speed up the attack, and don’t spend too long on any individual site.
“Not being the low-hanging fruit isn’t a generic solution to this problem, as it’s a bit like outrunning your buddy when you are chased by a hungry lion: It saves you, but leaves someone else to take the hit,” Ducklin wrote in a blog post. “But that is no reason not to move your fruit to higher branches. Remember that if someone breaks into your server, that’s bad for you, but it is also bad for everyone else.”
Ducklin warned that not setting strong passwords gives the crooks a free ride for hosting malware, launching further attacks, publishing phishing pages, disseminating fake updates or bogus information, and much more.
“All with your imprimatur, and, in the end, with your services blacklisted by anyone who’s security conscious. Remember, password-guessing attacks of this sort happen all the time,” he said. “The attack volume in this case has been sufficient to attract global attention, which is a good thing, but it’s currently thought to be only about three times the usual level.
“In other words, even when ‘normal service’ is resumed, we’ll all still be firmly in the sights of the cybercriminals, so take this as a spur to action!”