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Category Archives: Bad Security
When it comes to keeping websites secure one of the basic things that needs to be done is to keep the software running the website up to date. This prevents the website from being exploited through a known vulnerability in old versions of the software that has been fixed in a subsequent release. We know that many websites are not doing this, which is troubling, but what is more troubling is that the major institutions are not even doing this with their websites. Last week we looked at major security software provider not doing it and if you go back in this blog, you can find other examples. Today let’s look at example of a major financial institution in the same boat. ING US, which in the process of rebranding as Voya Financial, reports having $511 billion of assets under management and administration and serving approximately 13 million customers. They use Drupal for main portion of the ING US website. Using our Drupal Version Check web browser extension, available for Firefox and Chrome, you can check if it is up to date:
You can see that they are not. With a little further checking we were able to determine they are using Drupal 6.19. That means they haven’t updated the software in over three years and they have failed to apply
five six security updates (6.21, 6.23, 6.27, 6.28, 6.29, and 6.30). It is important to note that account access portions of their website are separate from the main website, so they are not directly impacted by this lax security. Though it does raise the question of how well they secure the other portions of their website if they are not doing something this basic. Also, if someone could exploit one of the vulnerabilities in the version of Drupal on the main website they could change the links directing people to the account access portion of the website to another location and use that to gather login credentials.
It isn’t just the ING US website that has an out of date version of Drupal in use. The website for their new name, Voya Financial, also is using an outdated Drupal version:
With a little further checking we were able to determine they are using a version no newer than Drupal 7.21. That means that they haven’t updated the software in nearly a year and they have missed at least two security updates (7.24 and 7.26).
The Internet has lots of bad information on website security floating around. In dealing with many websites that have been hacked, we see the harmful impact this has due to it leading to bad security practices and making it harder to get people to take the measures that will actually keep websites secure. Much of the bad information comes from companies providing security tools and services, whom you would expect would know what they are talking about. We looked at an example of bad security research by Cisco on Friday that lead to bad security reporting by Ars Technica and by today they have both pulled back from their claims.
Cisco has struck through most of their post and included this update:
This post’s focus relates to a malicious redirection campaign driven by unauthorized access to thousands of websites. The observation of affected hosts running Linux kernel 2.6 is anecdotal and in no way reflects a universal condition among all of the compromised websites. Accordingly, we have adjusted the title for clarity. We have not identified the initial exploit vector for the stage zero URIs. It was not our intention to conflate our anecdotal observations with the technical facts provided in the listed URIs or other demonstrable data, and the below strike through annotations reflect that. We also want to thank the community for the timely feedback.
Ars Technica has added an update to their post, included below, which doesn’t explain why they went beyond the claims in Cisco’s post or why they repeated Cisco’s claim without doing basic research that would have shown the research was highly flawed.
The Cisco blog post has been updated to change a key finding Ars reported in the following post. Contrary to Cisco’s earlier reporting, the update says not all the servers compromised in the attack were running Linux version 2.6. “We have not identified the initial exploit vector for the stage zero URIs,” the update stated. “It was not our intention to conflate our anecdotal observations with the technical facts provided in the listed URIs or other demonstrable data, and the below strike through annotations reflect that. We also want to thank the community for the timely feedback.”
Considering how colossally bad Cisco’s findings were we want to expand on how they got it so wrong, so that it might point security reporters in the direction of better vetting security research before repeating its claims in the future.
One of their key findings was that all of the websites were running an old version of the Linux kernel:
All of the affected web servers that we have examined use the Linux 2.6 kernel. Many of the affected servers are using Linux kernel versions first released in 2007 or earlier.
They then raised the possibility that this was what allowed the hack.
It is possible that attackers have identified a vulnerability on the platform and have been able to take advantage of the fact that these are older systems that may not be continuously patched by administrators.
The original title of the post, Mass Compromise of the Obsolete, also implied that the hack was related to obsolete software.
What we brought up on Friday was that not all of the websites on their list of affected websites were even running Linux, much less the Linux 2.6 kernel. Cisco’s explanation for this discrepancy is that their claim that all of the examined websites were using the Linux 2.6 kernel was anecdotal. We don’t how you can square the claim you examined the websites, but your finding was anecdotal. It seems either they didn’t look at their whole list of websites or they used a faulty tool that determined websites not running Linux were using the Linux 2.6 kernel, neither of which we would describe as being anecdotal. Asking Cisco how they determined the website were all running the Linux 2.6 kernel and what there sample set was would have been something that should have been done before journalists repeated their claims. Incorrectly identifying a set of hacked websites as having a common software version is something that we have seen repeatedly from security companies (a couple of examples), so reporters should look carefully at the evidence and probably get a second opinion on the evidence.
While their original post doesn’t spell out what versions they are referring to by the “many of the affected servers are using Linux kernel versions first released in 2007 or earlier”, a comment by one of the authors of the post says that “version 2.6.18 appeared to be particularly prevalent”. If the Cisco researchers had look into why this version was rather prevalent they should have realized they were going down the wrong path. Why would Linux 2.6.18 be rather prevalent? Well for one thing, it happens to be the Linux kernel version used by Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5 and it derivatives, the most prominent being CentOS 5. A little further checking would have shown them that RHEL 5 will continue to be supported for some time, so servers using the Linux 2.6 kernel would not necessarily be obsolete or insecure. This is something that Cisco should be aware of since the server powering the Cisco Blog is using RHEL 5:
Because we often see people saying otherwise, it is important to note that just because there is a newer version of software available it doesn’t mean that an older version is not safe and secure, as long as the older version continues to receive security updates.
What ultimately would have prevented this mess is if Cisco had taken the basic step of determining how the websites were hacked instead of jumping to conclusions based on data that was not reliable. Security reporters should understand that determining how a website has been hacked is an integral to dealing with them and if somebody isn’t explaining that, it should be a huge red flag that the information being given might not reliable.
On Tuesday we looked at example of the poor state of security journalism. In that case a hack was tied to a specific version of TYPO3, despite fact that websites not running that version of TYPO3 or running TYPO3 had been hacked. There was also the larger issue that no evidence was provided as to how the websites were hacked, which would have been what would be needed to actually tie the hack to a specific version of TYPO3 and would allow people to make sure the protected their websites against it. Just a few days later we have spotted another very similar example worth highlighting. Ars Technica today put out an article “Ancient Linux servers: The blighted slum houses of the Internet” that states:
Now comes word of a new mass compromise that preys on even more neglected Web severs, some running versions of the Linux operating system kernel first released in 2007. According to a blog post published late Thursday by researchers from Cisco, the people behind the attack appear to have identified a vulnerability that has since been patched in later Linux releases that allows them to dish malicious content to unsuspecting people who visit the site.
If you read Cisco’s blog though they only state “it is possible” that a “vulnerability that has since been patched in later Linux release” was the source of the hack, while Ars Technica says that it “appears” to be the case. Here is the relevant section of Cisco’s post:
That turns out to be less of an issue then the fact that the websites are not even all running Linux, much less the Linux 2.6 Kernel. Some websites provide information on the software running the in HTTP headers served with the page. Our Server Details web browser extension, available for Chrome and Opera, can parse those HTTP headers to provide the details in them and warn for outdated software. Using those headers we started going through the Cisco’s list of compromised websites and second compromised websites. For each we have listed below the first five websites we found not running Linux and what operating system they are running:
archive.mrpools.co.uk Windows Server 2003
blueprintbowling.com Windows Server 2008 R2
hwy65mx.com Windows Server 2003
jandjpoolspa.com Windows Server 2003
mussotra.com Windows Server 2003
Second Compromised Websites
Cisco provides no evidence of how the websites were hacked, which is the really important thing to prevent more websites from being hacked. If they had actually determined how it was hacked before jumping to speculation then they wouldn’t have tried to connect this to Linux, which it seems pretty likely it doesn’t have anything to do with. Cisco also has provided no evidence this has anything to do with outdated software, if we were to make an educated guess based on the evidence provide so far we would say it is more likely due to compromised FTP credentials, which could easily be checked for by reviewing the FTP logs for the websites.
We should also note that the use of the Linux 2.6 kernel is does not indicate that website using obsolete software, as distributions including Debian, Ubuntu, and Red Hat still have supported releases that use that version of the Linux kernel.
Based on cleaning up many hacked websites we know what are the things that are likely to lead to a website being hacked and therefore what needs to be done to protect them from hackers. One of those in keeping the software running on the website up to date, as this prevents known vulnerabilities in older versions from being exploited (like the privilege escalation vulnerability in older versions of Joomla that we have been seeing exploited recently). Unfortunately, what we see is that many websites are not being kept up to date. What is more troubling is that security companies, which you would expect to lead when it comes to handling security, are not bothering to keep the software running their websites up to date. Last week we posted for the second time about a Kaspersky Lab website that was running outdated software, this time the website of their security news website Threatpost. They haven’t been alone, a couple of years we looked at the poor state of security of Panda Labs’ websites after they had been hacked. This week we can add ESET to the list of security companies who are taking the basic security measure of keeping the software on their websites up to date.
Let’s start with their news website, We Live Security, which they promote as being about “research and information”. If you are going to be providing others with information on security it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that you are taking basic security measures yourself. This doesn’t seem to something ESET believes in as the website is running on an outdated version of WordPress:
They haven’t missed any security updates yet so that isn’t as bad as it could be, but the version is five months out of date. In the source code of the website’s pages it can be seen that they are using version 1.4.7 of the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin, which is nine months out of date. The more recent version 1.5.0 “contains tons and tons of bugfixes and security improvements“, so the plugin definitely should have been updated by now.
More of a problem is the website for ESET Virus Radar. If you are using our Drupal Version Check web browser extension you can see they are running an outdated version of Drupal on the website:
Digging a bit further we were able to determine that the website is running Drupal 7.22. That version is seven months out of date are there have been two subsequent updates – 7.24 and 7.26 – with fixes for security vulnerabilities.
With the state of web security being in such bad shape there is a need for good reporting on security issues. Unfortunately what we have seen is that the news organizations that exist are not doing a good job.
One indication of the poor job they are doing is that they are failing to take basic security measures on their own websites. In a previous post we looked at three major tech news websites that were running really out of date versions of Drupal, including one that is now over five years out of date. As of today they are still running the same out of date versions as they were then. In another cases we look at a news website specifically focused on security that was and still is running on an outdated and unsupported version of Plesk.
Another area of concern is that these news organizations have a habit of running stories based on information that rather simple research would show is false and on conjecture. In many cases this is due to reporters just repeating claims of security companies, which are often highly faulty. In a post from a couple of years ago we looked a couple of cases of this involving false claims about hacks of a version of WordPress. Today we have another example of this involving TYPO3. Recent reporting by heise Security claimed that there was a hack that only affects TYPO3 4.5 based websites due to an unknown vulnerability (German). We first spotted mention of this from claim from post on the TYPO3 blog calling in to question the reporting. Here what they said about the claim:
From our point of view this news coverage is not only incomplete – and therefore confusing to users – but also factually incorrect: According to our own analysis by the TYPO3 Security Team, none of the websites named by heise Security use the the current TYPO3 Version 4.5.32, for which there are no known security holes. In addition, several of the named websites do not use TYPO3 at all.
Because we clean up hacked TYPO3 websites we need to know what potential threats are out there, so that we can identify the source of hack in instances when we lack all of the evidence of how the hack occurred, we decided to do our own check into this to see if what TYPO3 was saying is accurate. To do this we looked what software the websites in the Google search result that heise Security reported showed the hacked websites were running. The first website in the search results was running Infopark CMS Fiona, so right there the claim that the hack only effects website is TYPO3 4.5 appears to be false. We then checked the rest of the websites listed on the first three pages of search results and found more that were not running TYPO3 4.5.
Here is what we found the website to be running:
Infopark CMS Fiona 1
TYPO3 4.1 1
TYPO3 4.2 2
TYPO3 4.4 3
TYPO3 4.5 16
TYPO3 4.6 1
Unidentified TYPO3 Version 1
TYPO3 4.5 does make up the majority, 53%, of the websites in our sample, but that is far different from the hack only affecting websites running that specific software. The fact that 80% of the websites running TYPO3 might indicate that the issue is related to TYPO3 in some way or it might just be a coincidence. The fact that TYPO3 4.5 made up 67% of the TYPO3 websites doesn’t seem to important as data from W3Techs.com indicates 90.6% of TYPO3 based websites are using some 4.x version and that 4.5 makes up 54.9% of the websites running 4.x.
Normally the pages of a TYPO3 based website will include a meta generator tag like this:
<meta name=”generator” content=”TYPO3 4.1 CMS” />
that lists the version of TYPO3, so heise Security should have been able to see that the websites were not all running TYPO 4.5 as they claimed.
By checking for the existence of a directory that was added in TYPO3 4.5.32 it does appear that some of the website TYPO3 4.5 based websites were are probably running 4.5.32, so the claim to the contrary in the TYPO3 blog post appears to be false.
Where heise Security reporting really fails, and too often other similar reporting does as well, is there is not even a mention of any attempt to determine how the websites were hacked. Determining how a website is hacked, to the extent possible, is a critical component of cleaning up a hacked website. What we see on a regular basis is that companies are hired to clean up a hacked website, they don’t determine how it was hacked so that the vulnerability is fixed, and then the website gets hacked again. While we are sure that creating stories about the fact that a bunch of websites were hacked draws readers, it doesn’t do anything to prevent websites from being hacked in the future. It also can be misleading as this article emphasizes a TYPO3 connection despite a lack of evidence that this hack was due to something in TYPO3.
If this hack was due to a vulnerability in TYPO3 it would show up in the logs of HTTP activity, so reviewing that would be one of the first steps in determining how a website with this hack was hacked. You can see an example of how that is done in a previous post where we looked at a website that had been hacked by exploiting a vulnerability in outdated versions of Joomla.
While keeping the software running a website up to date is a basic security measure, as it prevents the website from being exploited due to a known vulnerability in outdated versions of the software, we continue to see that the software isn’t being kept up to date. Our recent look at the stats of our tools for checking web software versions showed that a large percentage of websites checked were running outdated versions of Joomla, WordPress, and MediaWiki. Even websites that you would expect would be taking security seriously are failing to keep the software up to date. We recently looked at companies offering to clean up hacked Joomla websites and found that they were not keeping the software running their websites up to date. All of those companies are rather small, so what about higher profile organizations? The examples below show that even they are failing to do this basic task.
Threatpost is a security news website run by Kaspersky Lab, a major provider of security software. If you visit their website with our Server Details web browser extension you will be warned that the website is using outdated software. Clicking on the icon for the extension will let you know that they are using an outdated version of the nginx web server software:
The next version in 0.7 series of nginx was released in June of 2010 and the last release in the series was released in July of 2011. There have been two security vulnerabilities discovered – and resolved in newer versions of nginx – that impact the version being used, the older one being disclosed in November of 2011.
This isn’t an isolated issue at Kaspersky, in April of last year we posted about the fact that their US website was running an outdated version of Drupal. They are still are running the same outdated version, which is now over four years out of date.
University of Cambridge
The website for the University of Cambridge is running an outdated version of Drupal, with at least one security update missed:
The university’s computer science department has a Security Group, which you would expect would want to make sure that the university’s websites is being kept secure, but at this point they are not even doing for their own blog. Their Light Blue Touchpaper research blog is running a very out of date version of WordPress:
Three years ago we posted about the fact that trust marks shown on websites that claim to certify that the websites are secure cannot be trusted to identify if a website is actually secure for a number of reasons, including that in many cases they scan the websites from the outside so there are many things that they would never detect. What we recently noticed is that the Norton Secure Seal service fails to do a really basic security check that can be done from the outside. When it comes to the security of websites one of the basic security measures is to keep the software running the website up to date. This prevents the website from being hacked to the exploitation of a known vulnerability in the software that has been fixed in a subsequent release. As we have found the Norton Secure Seal service doesn’t check to make sure the software running the website they are claiming is secure is up to date.
As an example of this we will take a look at the website of an IT security company that carries the Norton Secure Seal as you can see here:
Using our Joomla Version Check web browser extension you can see that the website is running an outdated version of Joomla:
That version of Joomla, 3.1.1, is seven months out of date and more importantly subsequent versions have fixed four security vulnerabilities, including a vulnerability rated as having critical severity and a vulnerability rated as having high severity. A website with that level of security issue should not be labeled as being secure.
The technology our web browser extension uses to detect that Joomla is powering a web page and what version is in use is rather simple and there is no excuse for a major company such as Symantec, the maker of the Norton Secured Seal service, not being able to do the same. Providing more awareness that an outdated version of Joomla is in use is definitely needed as outdated versions of Joomla are widely used, including among companies that provide security services for Joomla websites, and some older versions contain a vulnerability that is being exploited by hackers.
It isn’t just Joomla that Norton Secured Seal service doesn’t check to make sure is up to date; the same website has a blog running an outdated and insecure version of WordPress as well:
We are frequently hired to clean up websites that another company was previously hired to clean up but then has been hacked again (or wasn’t actually cleaned up in the first place). In some cases we wouldn’t lay the blame on the company, sometimes hacks are well hidden and getting them cleaned up can take more than one cleanup (which you shouldn’t be charge extra for) and in other cases there are security issues that the company doing the cleanup can’t handle. For example, if your web host has a security issues then they are going to only ones who can fix that. What we find in most instances though is that company doing the hack cleanup has not done the basic elements of the hack cleanup.
When someone contact us about cleaning up a website that was previously cleaned the first question we asked is if the first company determined how the website was hacked. Determining how the website was hacked is important part of the cleanup as if you don’t know how it was hacked you won’t know if the security issue that allowed the website has been fixed. Considering that the websites have been hacked again it isn’t surprising that the answer we hear over and over is that they didn’t. But isn’t just that they didn’t determine how the website got hacked, the companies didn’t even try to determine how the website was hacked. Either these companies are knowingly cutting corners or they don’t care enough about the service they providing to know what work they should be doing. In either case what they are doing is highly unethical.
We don’t ask our clients who they previously hired, but they do bring it up from time to time. During recent cleanup of a Joomla website the previous company was mentioned and when we went to their website we noticed that they were running an outdated version of Joomla. Keeping the software running on a website is a basic security measure, so any company that doesn’t bother to do that really shouldn’t have anything to do with the security of other people’s website. We took a look around at companies advertising to clean up Joomla websites and we found that all of the companies were running out of date software. As warning to the public and as a reminder of how bad the current state of companies providing security services is we have highlighted them below:
Dean Marshall Consultancy (http://www.deanmarshall.co.uk/)
Support for Joomla 1.5 ended in September 2012, so a websites shouldn’t be running it anymore (though many, including joomla.org, are still using it as we mentioned yesterday). As part of cleaning up a hacked website still running Joomla 1.5 you will eventually want to migrate it to a newer version, which doesn’t seem like a task for a company that still hasn’t done it for their own website.
Joomla Help Live (http://joomla.cmshelplive.com/)
Joomla 1.7 is over two years out of date and more importantly it has a serious security vulnerability that we have seen being exploited.
US Joomla Force (http://www.usjoomlaforce.com/)
One of the biggest obstacles we see to improving website security is that many of the organizations that should be leading on security are not even taking basic website security measures themselves. One type of organization we see that with is news organizations that cover web security. Previously we discussed several that were running very out of date and insecure versions of Drupal. This time we will use InfoRiskToday, which describes itself as providing “credible, timely information that security leaders can put to use as they craft comprehensive information security strategies”, to highlight a security risk and several tools that we provide that can make detecting it relatively easy.
Plesk is control panel software that runs under a website and permits management of the software on the server and configuring the server. It also has had serious security vulnerabilities that have lead to many websites being hacked (one example being a major hack at Media Temple). The way to remain relatively secure against that sort of thing is to keep Plesk up to date, as should be done with all software. Unfortunately what we have seen is that there are still servers using Plesk 9, for which extended support ended back in June of last year. Since it isn’t supported anymore, if a new security vulnerability was found it wouldn’t be fixed, so Plesk should be updated to a supported version as soon possible to keep it secure.
We have created a pair of web browser extensions available for Chrome that can make checking for such an outdated Plesk installation relatively easy. The first one, Control Panel Login, looks for HTTP headers that indicate that Plesk is in use and when found displays the Plesk logo in the URL bar. Here is how looks when you visit InfoRiskToday’s website:
Clicking on the icon takes you to the standard URL for logging on to Plesk from the website. Our second extension then comes in to play. Control Panel Version Check will display an icon in the URL bar if it detects that a page with Plesk version information is being visited. Clicking on the icon will then display the version information and indicate if it is outdated. In InfoRiskToday’s case you can see that they are still using Plesk 9:
When it comes to the security of your website, your web host plays an important part but too often they are failing do what they need to do to keep your website secure. One of things they should be doing is keeping software on the server up to date as that prevents your website from being exploited due to a known vulnerability in the software.
To make it easier to spot when web hosts are using outdated control panel software we released the Control Panel Version Check extension, available for Firefox and Chrome, back in December. Using it you can see that HostGator is using an outdated version of cPanel:
The version of cPanel they are running, 11.36, has only been unsupported for a week now so the situation isn’t nearly as bad as many of the hosts we highlight for running years out of date software. But what makes it worth highlighting is that on HostGator’s website they say that they provide the “Latest cPanel Control Panel”:
The latest version at this point is 11.42, which was released a couple of weeks ago. If you are going to tout that you are using the latest version of cPanel then it is really unacceptable to not even be using a supported version.
In addition to the outdated cPanel, HostGator is using a year out of date version of phpMyAdmin:
There have been a number of serious security vulnerabilities fixed in subsequent versions of phpMyAdmin.