This Doesn’t Inspire Confidence in cPanel’s Understanding and Handling of Security

One problem that companies in the web security space have to deal with is the large volume of inaccurate security advice that is out there, much it coming from people that you should be able to rely on, including web security companies.

One company that you would hope that you could rely to provide accurate security information would be company behind the widely used cPanel web hosting control panel. That isn’t the case with something we ran across recently.

The answer to a Q&A question, “What is the anonymousfox address on my system? ” on their website starts out:

Anonymousfox is a WordPress vulnerability where users are able to exploit vulnerable WordPress plugins to get access to the account’s files on the system. While not an issue with the cPanel software, the attacker can gain access to that particular cPanel account by editing the contact address file and then resetting the account’s password.

It isn’t a great sign that WordPress is miss capitalized there, but the rest of that doesn’t even make sense. If the vulnerability is in a WordPress plugin, then it isn’t a vulnerability with WordPress, but with the plugin. Also, what is described there sounds like it isn’t a WordPress specific issue, as it sounds like an attacker that gains access to the website can change a cPanel account file, which wouldn’t be something that would be WordPress specific.

Skipping past a paragraph you see this:

There are excellent forums posts that have additional details you may want to read at the following links:

 

https://forums.cpanel.net/threads/question-and-tips-about-anonymousfox.677765/

If you follow that link you will find a cPanel employee wrote this:

This kind of activity can be achieved by a compromised password, script or plugin used on the site. It isn’t just WordPress related. I would strongly suggest you not only enlist the services of a qualified system administrator to audit your installations and security but you must identify the point of entry or the issue will continue to occur.

If you read through the rest of the information on that page, other people are stating they ran into the issue despite not using WordPress, so it is hard to understand how that is being cited and yet the information in it was ignored and the information provided in the answer is incorrect in the way it is.

What seems of more concern is that someone with just access to a website in the cPanel account could edit that file, a concern that was raised in comments on that linked page.

If GoDaddy’s “Firewall Prevents Hackers” Why Would You Also Need Multiple Hack Cleanups?

We often get asked about whether people should use a service that claims to protect their website from being hacked. Part of our answer is that we have seen no evidence that these services actually provide that protection and plenty that they don’t, including being hired to clean up hacks on websites using those services.

That these services don’t work isn’t something that is really hidden, often the marketing material service for them suggests that they don’t really work. Take GoDaddy’s Website Security service. That service has three price tiers. With all three tiers, one of the bullet points is “Firewall prevents hackers.” In the lowest tier another bullet point is “Annual site cleanup and remediation” and in the other two it is “Unlimited site cleanups.”:

If the firewall prevents hackers, why would you need a hack cleanup?

Even if you want to give the benefit of the doubt to GoDaddy, that say they are thinking people would sign for the service when their website is already hacked or they are advertising hack cleanups, even though you wouldn’t need them, since they are confident the service works, it makes no sense that they wouldn’t offer unlimited hack cleanup with the lowest tier of the service as well, since even considering those possibilities, there would only need to be one hack cleanup.

That contradiction doesn’t just appear in that spot. In the textual information on the same page, they claim to take a “preventative approach” that “blocks attacks”, but immediately pivot to an indication that their service doesn’t accomplish that:

Take a proactive, preventative approach to the safety of your website. The Website Security firewall blocks attacks on your site while its malware scanner regularly searches your site for malicious content and alerts you if any is found. All you need to do is submit a malware removal request, and our expert security team will get to work cleaning* up your site.

What is completely missing from that page is any evidence, much less evidence from independent testing, that their service is effective at stopping attacks or detecting malware. Based on our experience having been hired to re-clean websites they were supposed to have protected and cleaned, the results of such testing probably wouldn’t be good.

GoDaddy Hosting phpMyAdmin on Server With “Broken Encryption” With F Grade From SSL Labs

One telling example of the web security industry’s lack of concern for security is how web host GoDaddy has continued to have rather poor security while first being partnered with one web security company, SiteLock, and then owning another one, Sucuri.

An example of that poor security came up a few months ago while we were dealing with a hacked website where Sucuri had not properly secured the website. We meant to post about that at the time, but then forgot about it until we were dealing with another hacked website with a GoDaddy connection worth posting about.

While working on the hacked website, we accessed the phpMyAdmin database administration tool that GoDaddy provided and found a situation we can’t recall seeing before with a web host. That would be the SSL encryption was “broken” on the server hosting phpMyAdmin.

If you access that in Google’s Chrome web browser the connection is listed as “Not Secure”:

You are warned that “Your connection is not fully secure” and that:

This site uses an outdated security configuration, which may expose your information (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards) when it is sent to this site.

When looking at the Technical Details of that issue with Firefox, it states:

Broken Encryption (​TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA, 128 bit keys, TLS 1.0)

If you run that address through the SSL Labs tool, the server gets an F grade:

The domain name being used for that insecure server, secureserver.net, which isn’t an accurate name.

Cyber Ninjas, Colonial Pipeline, and Your Website’s Security

What does an election audit in Arizona and a pipeline operator have to do with the security of your website? It turns out a lot.

Cyber Ninjas

Recently an audit of the US presidential election votes in Maricopa county in the state of Arizona started. The audit has noted for being poorly run, violating rules to ensure integrity of the process, and involving strange things, like trying to check for the presence of bamboo in ballots.

That doesn’t sound like it should relate to the security of your website and it shouldn’t, but it does. The reason for that is that the company in charge of the audit, Cyber Ninjas, is a cybersecurity company. They have no experience in doing an election audit, which is good reason for them not to be doing an election audit, but also is probably a good reason they shouldn’t be doing security either.

What seems like it should be a basic element of being a professional would be to stick to what you have expertise in. An architect wouldn’t agree to take on demolishing a building just because they know how to build them. When it comes to the security industry, we frequently see people involved in things they clearly shouldn’t be. In fact, very few people in the industry seem like they should be anywhere near it. Looking at Cyber Ninjas website, they are claiming to offer a very wide range of services, which might be a sign they are offering services without the needed expertise to properly handle them.

The other thing that stands out for us about Cyber Ninjas website is how it looks so obviously untrustworthy. A lot of it is the same stuff you see repeatedly on security companies’ websites, for example, there is the obligatory stock photo of some dressed like they are going to break in to a building at a computer:

We have a hard time understanding how anyone would look at something like that and not avoid that company, but people don’t seem to feel that way. Even the name seems like it would ward people away from the company, but it doesn’t seem to.

Part of that text next to that image reads (the weird characters are in the original):

The headlines are increasingly filled with articles about hackers compromising systems and stealing data. While it often seems like they must be utilizing some dark ninja magic to accomplish their amazing feats; the reality is that most security breaches are conducted utilizing types of security vulnerabilities we’ve known how to prevent for over 10 years.

While that is mostly true, curiously if you head over to the website’s services page, the company doesn’t seem to be focused on actually addressing that. But instead on selling people on services that don’t directly address the issue and indirectly address it an ineffective way. One of the three things they highlight, and the one they provide the most specificity, is ethical hacking:

From what we can tell, ethical hacking is mostly a rip-off. You end up paying a lot of money to inefficiently review things and the issues found are not resolved.

Cyber Ninjas has gotten a fair amount of coverage because of their involvement with the audit, but there has been very little of it from security journalism outlets. What little there has been has been devoid of any discussion of what this says about the legitimacy of the security industry. There is probably a good reason for that, as companies like Cyber Ninjas are frequently the only sources for security journalists stories, despite being companies, that like Cyber Ninjas, seem like a serious journalist should be warning about, not relying on. In line with that, security journalism is quite bad, which brings in the next part of this, a pipeline company, and gets back to a claim Cyber Ninjas made.

Colonial Pipeline

A ransomware situation involving a US pipeline operator, Colonial Pipeline, has received a lot of news coverage. There was a claimed detail that seems rather important from a wider security perspective. Colonial Pipeline wasn’t keeping their software up to date:

It is important to note that the claim about one piece of software being the “most likely culprit” is just speculation. What is important about that is that keeping software up to date is one of the most important security steps and one that often isn’t done.

While usage of outdated software that is known to be insecure is often the source of hacks we deal with and the source of high-profile hackings, both security companies and security journalists seem rather uninterested in that be better dealt with. For security companies, that could be explained by it being bad for business. Right now they can charge a lot of money for security services that require little work and don’t actually have to work (you might have noticed despite all the money being spent on security, security doesn’t seem to get better). The reason that security journalist do this is harder to explain.

Improving Your Website’s Security

Improving the security of websites, and security in general, is more difficult than it should as long as the security industry and security journalists are taking actions counter to actually improving security. But to improve security, your focus should be addressing real threats with proven solutions. Keeping software up to date is a proven solution since it will avoid systems getting hacked because of vulnerabilities that have been fixed. By comparison, while security services frequently make extraordinary claims about the results they deliver, those are almost never backed up with evidence of their effectiveness. Based on plenty of experiencing looking at them in different ways, that is in part because they don’t deliver the results claimed, in many cases, if you just look at how they are advertised that becomes clear.

So when looking to improve security, you should ask what is the evidence that something will improve security versus looking at unsupported claims of amazing results.

Also, if claims sound extraordinary, they probably are not true.

What is Magecart? It Isn’t a Thing.

When it comes to the security of websites, and security in general, there is a lot of focus on catchy names for things, not a lot on actual security. A great example of that is Magecart. What is Magecart? Well, it really isn’t anything. Instead, it is a term used for a whole host of different things, which makes it useful selling security services and creating press coverage, but not for actually resolving the underlying issues.

Here is one description of Magecart from security news outlet, CSO Online:

Magecart is a consortium of malicious hacker groups who target online shopping cart systems, usually the Magento system, to steal customer payment card information.

Elsewhere, a security news outlet described it as being competing groups:

here’s no clearer indicator that the Magecart scene is getting crowded than discovering that some groups are now sabotaging each other’s code

Elsewhere it is described not as an entity, but as a type of attack:

Every day we hear about some new threat or vulnerability in technology, and the data harvesting attack known as “Magecart” is the latest threat.

Elsewhere, in a security news outlet that is part of a security company, you will find it claimed that only impacts Magento websites:

So-called Magecart attacks utilize web injections to deploy JavaScript code on Magento websites that skims and steals payment card information from retail website customers.

But the very next paragraph mentions “high-profile targets”, which didn’t run on Magento:

Once believed to be the work of a single cybercrime gang hitting high-profile targets including Ticketmaster and British Airways, Magecart-style attacks have now evolved and have been adopted by numerous threat groups.

We could go on, but you get the point.

What You Can’t See is Ignored

To the extent that these disparate descriptions of Magecart have any common feature, it is that involves JavaScript code that captures information, like payment details, during the checkout process on a website. That isn’t the only way that hackers can capture that information, as they could capture on the system that it submitted, which is often the same system serving the website where the checkout is occurring. That wouldn’t be possible to directly detect from the outside, generally, which seems to explain why there is so much focus on only part of the issue.

Even what you can detect is only the end result of a hack, so while you will find lots of stories about Magecart, there is very little on how the hack occurred. If you don’t focus on how they occurred, they you are not likely to address those issues. Not surprisingly, the hacks keep occurring. That is bad for just about everybody except the people pushing the Magecart narrative, since security companies can sell more products and services this way (which don’t resolve the issue seeing as the hacks continue) and journalists get easy stories.

Indirect Protection at Best

For this type of attack to work, a hacker has to somehow get malicious JavaScript code to run on the checkout page. That would either occur by placing it directly on the website handling the checkout or some other websites that serves up JavaScript on the checkout page. In either case, a hacker has to gain access to systems to do that. To put that another way, the way to prevent this would be to focus on the server-side, but here was the start of a recent article in a security news outlet written by an employee of a security company:

With e-commerce displaying no signs of slowing down since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Magecart cyber-criminal syndicate is thriving. By evolving their web skimmers to become harder to detect and avoid, they have been successful in breaching several high-profile businesses.

After years of discovery and research by the cybersecurity industry, we are at a stage now where companies have started looking for effective protection against this serious threat. Typically, when security teams understand how web skimming attacks operate and how they take advantage of the huge security blindspot that is the client-side, they first turn to CSP (Content Security Policy).

Focusing on the client-side would be, at best, an indirect way to handle this and wouldn’t handle the situation at all if hacker collects the data when it is submitted to the website. There is simple reason why that person might present that as the focus, the company they work for provides client-side solutions.

Need Help Securing a Magento Website?

If you have a Magento website that is hacked, we can help you to actually get it cleaned and secured. If need someone to handle keeping Magento up to date, which goes a long way to keeping it secure, we can take care of that for you.

Sucuri Claims to Know The Most Common Cause of Website Hacking Despite Not Determining How They Are Hacked

We are often brought in to re-clean hacked websites after another provider, Sucuri, has been hired to clean them, but has intentionally cut corners, leading to the website still being hacked after they have claimed to have cleaned it up. In the most recent instances we were brought in, the website was still hacked, though to a more limited extent than usual. But what stood out more that not only was the website still also insecure, but it was still insecure because of Sucuri’s parent company, GoDaddy. That is something Sucuri would have noticed if they have done one of three key components of a proper cleanup, trying to determine how the website was hacked and fixing that.

What makes the lack of doing that stand out more, is that an email sent out by Sucuri after their cleanup made this claim:

Out of date software is the most common cause of website compromise. It’s highly recommended to get that updated as soon as you can.

So clearly they believe you can determine how websites are hacked, but they don’t do that. Beyond that being a problem to get things properly cleaned, it also would it make hard for something they claim to do right at the top of their home page, namely preventing future attacks:

We fix hacks and prevent future attacks.

How do you prevent future attacks if you don’t know how previous ones were actually done? In other instances we were brought in, the website was already using Sucuri’s service when they were hacked, so clearly their prevention didn’t work, but Sucuri wasn’t interested in figuring out what went wrong.

GoDaddy’s Insecure Hosting

The remaining piece of the hack that they missed were admin accounts for the website created by a hacker or hackers. Looking in to how those got there would be part of trying to determine how the website was hacked. If you actually do that work regularly, as we do, then what you immediately notice is that the accounts don’t look like they were created through the normal process in the software being used on the website, since most of the details, like when the accounts were registered, were empty. What that usually means is the hacker had direct access to the website’s database.

If the hacker had access to the database, that most likely mean they were able to get access to the credentials for the database. A type of vulnerability that could provide them with that information is one that is widely exploited when it exists in software. We rarely see websites that have been hacked due to that type of vulnerability, because in most cases the hacker doesn’t have a way to directly connect to the database to then use the credentials.

With this website, though, we confirmed that you could remotely connect to the database. The vast majority of websites don’t need to the database to be remotely accessible and they normally are not, since it introduces a security risk with no upside for almost all websites. Fixing that would be something that Sucuri should have done, if they were doing things properly instead of cutting corners. When we went to see about doing that we found it was already supposed to be the case, as the database wasn’t supposed to be able to be connected to remotely:

It wasn’t a one off issue, as another part of the work Sucuri failed to do was to update the software on the website. When went to work on that we created an additional database to test the upgrade and it was also remotely accessible despite being set to not be.

That wasn’t the only security issue we ran across with the hosting account, as we will discuss in a future post.

What really stands out is the website is hosted by GoDaddy, which owns Sucuri. Is it any wonder that security is so bad, when not only does a security company not do the basic work they should do, not only is a web host failing on basic security, but when the two are part of the same company.

You Shouldn’t Hire Someone to Clean Up a Malware Infected Website Until They Have Confirmed There is an Issue

If you deal with malware infected websites on a regular basis, like we do, you know that with just about any issue that can occur with a website there will be someone who thinks it was caused by malware or some other hack, so what we always want to determine before taking on a cleanup of a website the owner thinks is infected, is if it is really infected. That isn’t the case with everybody, as this recent review of another company in the industry, Sucuri, which we noticed while looking at another review that a recent clients of ours (after having hired previous hire Sucuri) left about them on Trustpilot:

In December 2019, I received several urgent messages from my webhost, SiteGround, stating that Malware had been detected in 3 URLs on my website. Each alert urged me to use professional clean-up service by Sucuri and included a link to purchase Sucuri’s service. Panicked, I signed up for an annual service with Sucuri for $199.99 (the cheapest option) that included a 30-day trial period in which I could cancel. I immediately put in a ticket for Sucuri to address the urgent malware problem on my website that I’d been informed about by SiteGround. Sucuri was unable to find any evidence of malware. Meanwhile, SiteGround continued to send me malware notifications, and each time, Sucuri said there was no malware to be found. Realizing Sucuri couldn’t fix the issue and that I’d need to find another service, I immediately requested my service be cancelled as I was still well within the initial 30 day trial period. I was informed by Sucuri that they could not refund me anything because if a customer puts in even one ticket for malware removal–and EVEN IF SUCURI FAILS TO REMOVE IT–it voids the customer’s ability to cancel their service.

That Sucuri wasn’t finding something that existed, isn’t surprising considering our own experiences like what we mentioned in a previous blog post, a situation where we were brought in after they were claiming there was no issue, despite it being easy to find.

That all is out of line with how they market their service, as they make claims like this:

Our dedicated researchers monitor active malware campaigns. With a trained team of analysts, we aim to provide the best malware removal service around.

And this:

We use scripts and tools to quickly scan your website for malware. Our analysts check your site manually too. No hack is too complex for our incident response team.

Trustpilot

That review also highlights a problem when it comes to trying to find the right company to hire to do website malware removal, as that company, like others, is paying review sites, which allows them to hide negative reviews:

**I’d like to also point out that where Sucuri’s customer service team does appear to spend their time is flagging their negative reviews here on Trust Pilot. This is my 2nd time posting a review about Sucuri. Sucuri challenged my last review as not being valid, stating I wasn’t one of their customers. After I provided evidence of my customer status and my back-and-forth with Sucuri to Trust Pilot, my review was reinstated. However, Sucuri then claimed that my review violated Trust Pilot’s guidelines (for reasons that have not been disclosed to me) and they ultimately succeeded in getting my first review removed. If this is how Sucuri conducts themselves on Trust Pilot in order to get the numerous negative reviews about their services removed, then I think there’s likely little hope of their customer service and business model improving anytime soon.**

SiteGround

Also worth noting, is that like people we have dealt with after they had a bad experience with Sucuri, the web host SiteGround had promoted them. It would appear they continue to do that despite at least having some awareness of the problems with Sucuri:

After getting nowhere with Sucuri’s customer service, in February, I finally decided to address my terrible experience with Sucuri with SiteGround, my webhost, since SiteGround was the one who referred me to Sucuri–a fact that made me question whether or not I should continue using SiteGround as my webhost. SiteGround immediately contacted Sucuri on my behalf and got them to issue a refund in the full amount of $199.99. Prior to SiteGround’s involvement, I had been in contact with multiple customer service representatives at Sucuri and their only reply was basically, “Sorry you misunderstood the terms of our contract, but it is what it is and we can’t refund you.” I’m very relieved to see that at least SiteGround takes an interest in their customers and in doing the right thing in their business practice because my webdesigner recommends SiteGround to all her clients. As for Sucuri, my opinion of them remains unchanged. I have no interest in ever using their services again and I cannot in good faith recommend them to anyone.

What might explain why they continue to promote them is that they are getting paid to do that.

The Wordfence Security Plugin Continues to Fail to Live Up to its Claim to Stop Websites from Being Hacked

A couple of hacked websites we were contacted about recently are reminders contrary the marketing of the most popular WordPress security plugin, Wordfence Security, that it “stops you from getting hacked”, it doesn’t accomplish that.

In one of those situation we were provided a list of malicious files that had been supplied by the web host and one of them was stored in directory for the Wordfence plugin:

/home3/[redacted]/public_html/thefaraharchives/wp-content/plugins/wordfence/modules/login-security/classes/model/wp-pingg.php: SL-PHP-SHELL-yp.UNOFFICIAL FOUND

So it clearly didn’t stop the website from being hacked.

In the other we were told after the website was hacked the plugin “locked the site down”, which means it only came in to play after the website was hacked.

That shouldn’t be surprising since a) the developer of that plugin doesn’t provide evidence to support the claim (before using something like that there should be that type of evidence provided) and b) a plugin simply can’t do that, so the developer is lying (something we ran across an employee of theirs admitting several years ago).

A Web Application Firewall (WAF) is Not the Way to Deal With the Reoccurrence of a Hack of a Website

These days quite a bit of our business dealing with the cleanup of hacked websites is re-cleaning websites after other security companies didn’t clean them up properly before us. Troublingly we recently noticed a company that offers to clean up websites, ASTRA Security, treating that as a normal result and using it to promote using web application firewall (WAF), which they also sell:

Even after clean up and restoring your site, the Magento admin hack may reoccur. The reasons could be a backdoor left by the attacker or simply a vulnerability that may be left unpatched. To avoid such scenarios it is highly recommended to use a WAF or security solution of some sort.

If there is still a backdoor on the website that means it hasn’t been cleaned up, since that would be something would be removed during the cleanup, which someone cleaning up hacked websites should understand.

Part of a proper cleanup is trying to figure out how the website was hacked, so if a vulnerability is left unpatched then things probably have not been done right either.

The providers of WAF’s don’t provide evidence that they provide effective protection against vulnerabilities, while we have seen plenty of evidence that they don’t provide it. It would be even more difficult for them to protect against exploitation of backdoors due to wide variety of their location and what is done through them, which someone cleaning up hacked websites should also understand.

The best way to handle a reoccurrence is to avoid one in the first place by hiring someone like us that will properly clean up the website. If you didn’t do that then the next best solution is to hire someone to re-clean it that will do things properly.

ASTRA Security is Promoting Cleaning Up Hacked Magento Websites Despite Not Knowing Basics of Dealing With Them

While looking around to see if others had already written blog posts about something we ran across while dealing with a hacked website we noticed something from a security company, ASTRA Security, that seems like worth noting, since the company appears to not have a basic understanding of what they are doing. In a post that seems to be built around promoting having that company clean up hacked Magento websites there were multiple glaringly strange claims.

There is this section:

Config.php is an important file of the Magento installation. This file basically facilitates connection between the file system and the database. Config.php contains the database connection credentials. Apart from this, it can also be used to:

  • Define the security keys.
  • To specify the database prefix.
  • To set the default language for your admin panel.

Magento 1

In the first version of Magento, app/etc/config.php contained the list of installed modules, themes and language packages apart from the shared configuration settings.

That file doesn’t exist in Magento 1 and in Magento 2, where the file does exist, it doesn’t contain what is mentioned there.

Things getting odder right after that as this written:

Magento 2

In the newer version which is Magento 2, the app/etc/config.php file is no longer an entry in the .gitignore file. This was done to facilitate better development of the software.

Multiple times, config.php has been infected with malicious code by the hackers to steal user credentials. Here is one such malware sample which was found inside /includes/config.php

The files /app/etc/config.php and /includes/config.php are different files, it seems that this company doesn’t understand that the two files can share a name without being the same.

All of that indicates this company shouldn’t be dealing with Magento websites since they lack a basic understanding of the software, but it appears they don’t have even a basic understanding of web development, as they also wrote this in their post:

Tools like phpMyAdmin are of great help in searching for multiple Magento admin hack infected files in one go. Search for malicious code using phpMyAdmin as shown in the image below.

phpMyAdmin is a database administration tool, so it can’t search files at all, much less search multiple at once. That is very common tool, so failure to understand that seems odd for someone dealing with websites, much less doing something more advanced, namely cleaning up hacked websites.

Unfortunately the security industry seems to be filled with companies that don’t seem to care about having the necessary skills to handle the work they offer and the results are not surprisingly often bad.

If you need someone to clean up a hacked Magento website that actually has years of experience of working with Magento websites and cleaning up hacked ones, we provide that.