A couple weeks ago we had a post about the WordPress security company Wordfence’s scary lack of security knowledge, which something they certainly are not alone in among security companies with a focus on WordPress. Another such company is SiteLock, that in a recent post announcing a new feature that is supposed to warn of known vulnerabilities in WordPress, showed they lack a basic of understanding of how WordPress handles security issues, leading to SiteLock warning their customers of WordPress vulnerabilities that don’t actually exist on their websites.
In the fourth paragraph of the post they say something that would red raise a big red flag from anyone who actually some knowledge of WordPress security:
Vulnerabilities can range from cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection (SQLi), to authorization bypass. Issues are presented with their name, category, severity, a summary of the issue, and a more detailed description. For example, when scanning a WordPress website running v3.9.13, many serious vulnerabilities are found detailed in the scan report.
The reason for the red flag is that WordPress 3.9.13 is the latest version of WordPress 3.9, so that version should have little to no known security vulnerabilities. To understand why that it helps to understand how WordPress handles security updates. Back in WordPress 3.7 a new feature, automatic background updates, was introduced. This allows WordPress to automatically update between minor versions, so a website would automatically updated from 3.9.12 to 3.9.13, but would not automatically update to 4.0. Alongside of that WordPress started releasing security updates for older versions of WordPress that contain that feature, even as they moved on to newer versions of WordPress. So for example when the security release 4.5.3 was put out, so was 3.9.13, with the same fixes.
So while you should be keeping up to date with WordPress, if you are running WordPress 3.7 or above you should still be relatively secure against WordPress vulnerabilities since you would normally be getting those security updates. If you deal with the security of WordPress websites and in particular if you deal with cleaning up hacked websites, this is something you absolutely should know since it plays an important role in the determining the possible sources of the hack. SiteLock does those things, but clearly isn’t aware of this. Which you can tell by screenshot of their scan report warning about a couple of “Critical” severity vulnerabilities in WordPress 3.9.13 that don’t actually exist in that version:
[The following image is missing because SiteLock doesn’t want to you to be able see text they copied from other people’s websites.]
From the announcement post, WordPress 3.9.8 fixes three cross-site scripting vulnerabilities and a potential SQL injection that could be used to compromise a site (CVE-2015-2213).
It also includes a fix for a potential timing side-channel attack and prevents an attacker from locking a post from being edited.
From the announcement post:
- A serious critical cross-site scripting vulnerability, which could enable anonymous users to compromise a site.
- Files with invalid or unsafe names could be upload.
- Some plugins are vulnerable to an SQL injection attack.
- A very limited cross-site scripting vulnerability could be used as part of a social engineering attack.
- Four hardening changes, including better validation of post titles within the Dashboard.
The final paragraph of their post doesn’t show good grasp of the reality of securing WordPress websites:
In WordPress security, knowing you have a vulnerability is half the battle. Taking action to remediate vulnerabilities is the other half. Fortunately, as many WordPressers know, the majority of issues found will likely be resolved by simply updating the WordPress core, plugins and themes. However, most WordPress users don’t regularly check the WordPress.org forums or subscribe to notifications about plugins, so they may not be notified of major security issues that haven’t yet been patched. With the new Platform Scan for WordPress, we are increasing the visibility of security concerns to help you be the most informed WordPress user you can be.
Your focus should be first and foremost on keeping the software on your website up to date, since the reality is that you will not always know if a new version includes a security fix. So knowing about vulnerabilities is much less than “half the battle”. Another problem, we know from running our Plugin Vulnerabilities service, is that even if “regularly check the WordPress.org forums or subscribe to notifications about plugins” you won’t know about many unpatched vulnerabilities out there, as lots of vulnerabilities appear to be known and being exploited by hackers, but no one has been noticing them, until we started actually doing the work needed to find them. So could SiteLock play a similar role? It is possible, but based on their track record and the fact that they look to be just reusing existing vulnerability data (which doesn’t even include many vulnerabilities that we have disclosed that exist in the current versions of plugins) it seems unlikely. If you want to be most informed WordPress user when it comes plugin vulnerabilities then signing up for our service would do that over SiteLock’s.
SiteLock’s post doesn’t say where their data comes from (which raises another red flag), but what is shown in the scan results screenshot in their post it looks they are using data from the WPScan Vulnerability Database and adding in some additional information from the US-CERT/NIST. Considering that we have found that the WPScan Vulnerability Database has some serious quality issues when it comes to their listing of plugin vulnerabilities, SiteLock’s data is likely to also likely to have those issues as well.
We would have placed a comment on their post letting them of the problem with their data, but they don’t allow comments (maybe because they would be inundated with complaints about how they treat their customers).A Better Alternative to SiteLock For Cleaning Up a Hacked Website
If your web host is pushing you to hire SiteLock to clean up a hacked website, we provide a better alternative, where we actually properly clean up the website if it is truly hacked or if isn't we will help you to get the issue resolved for free.
Before you do anything else though, you should check out our post on what you should know when you get contacted by or about SiteLock.