Secure This: A Website Security Company That Doesn’t Care About Security

One of the biggest problems we see with improving the security of websites is that while basic security measures are often not being taken, security companies are trying sell security services that are not actually needed for most websites. We often see the negative impact of this as people contact us about cleaning up websites and they think they need those types of services because those other companies are pushing the services, while they don’t want to make sure that basic security measures that will actually protect their website are done. A possible explanation of why the companies push those services is that many security companies don’t understand or don’t actually care about security.

Yet another example of this that we came across is Secure This, which is company that wants to sell you automated vulnerability scanning for various software, including Joomla. You average Joomla based website doesn’t need this because the software in use would have already been tested against these automated scanners and any security vulnerabilities that are going to be found would not be spotted by them. What you instead want to do is to make sure that you keep the software up to date so that when security vulnerabilities are found you are protected with the latest version of the software. The importance of keeping Joomla and extensions up to date isn’t just our advice; Joomla says that is keeping them updated is one of the “most important guidelines” for keeping your website secure. Secure This doesn’t feel they need to do that with their website though:

Secure THis is Running Joomla 3.1.1The latest version of Joomla 3.x, 3.1.5, included a fix for Critical Priority security vulnerability, so if Secure This cared about the security of their own website they would have made sure to upgrade promptly in August, when 3.1.5 was released.

If you don’t want to handle keeping Joomla updated you can hire us to do it for you.

NATO’s Allied Command Transformation Website Running Outdated and Unsupported Version of Joomla

NATO ministers meet last week and discussed improving their cybersecurity. A bad sign for their current handling of cybersecurity is the website of NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, which is running an outdated and unsupported version of Joomla:

NATO Allied Command Transformation Website is Running Joomla 1.5

Security updates for Joomla 1.5 ended in September of 2012, so the website should have been migrated to a supported version of Joomla – currently versions 2.5 and 3.1 – some time ago .

Keeping the software powering a website up to date is a basic measure needed to be taken to keep it secure and it is relativity easy in comparison to what NATO needs to do to fully secure all of their systems.

It might be reasonable to cut NATO some slack on their failure to keep up to date considering that Joomla is still running Joomla 1.5 on a number of their websites:

Joomla Extensions Directory is Running Joomla 1.5Joomla Community Portal is Running Joomla 1.5Joomla Resource Directory is Running Joomla 1.5

Outdated Software Running on Websites of WordPress and Other Web Software

When the makers of web software talk about security they always emphasize the importance of keeping software updated. One of the developers of WordPress said it this way “The only thing that I can promise will keep your blog secure today and in the future is upgrading.” Keeping software updated is good advice, but isn’t advice that the software makers, including WordPress, always follow themselves.

We recently mentioned a pretty egregious example of this from OpenX. Their blog, where they recently said it is critical to keep software up to date, is running a version of WordPress that is over three years out of date. Also, the main portion of their website appears to be running a version of Drupal that is over a year out of date.

MediaWiki, the software the powers the Wikipedia, is run on portions of many web software websites so we decided that it would be a good choice to see if software makers are keeping other people’s software running on their website up to date. There are several ways to check what version of MediaWiki is running and the easiest way to check for outdated MediaWiki installations is to use our Meta Generator Version Check web browser extension, available for Firefox and Chrome. The extension will show a warning icon when a web page has a meta generator tag from an outdated version of web software.

For those not familiar with MediaWiki they currently provide security updates for the two most recent releases 1.17.x and 1.18.x. The most recent version of those releases 1.17.2 and 1.18.1, both of which were released on January 11. We update our web browser extension a month after a new version is released, so until then it will check for MediaiWiki versions below 1.17.1.

Before mentioning the websites running outdated versions it is worth noting that one website we checked was actually up to date. TYPO3’s TYPO3Wiki is running 1.18.1.


WordPress MediaWiki Version

The WordPress Codex is the most out of date as it is running 1.15.5, which is two supported releases out of date. Support for 1.15.x ended in December of 2010.

Zen Cart

Zen Cart MediaWiki Version

The Zen Cart Wiki is one supported release out of date and running a version, 1.16.2, that that is three minor updates out of date. Support for 1.16.x ended in late November of last year.


Joomla MediaWiki Version

Joomla! Documentation is one supported release out of date and running a version, 1.16.4, that that is one minor update out of date.


phpBB MediaWiki Version

The phpBB Development Wiki is at least running the most recent version of 1.16.x, 1.16.5, but that release is no longer supported.


Moodle MediaWiki Version

MoodleDocs is at least running a supported release, 1.17.x, but the version, 1.17.0, is two minor updates out of date.

Our New Web Browser Extension to Warn When Outdated Software is Being Used

We are always looking for ways how we can help to improve the security of the web. One of the basic security measures that needs to be taken to keep websites secure is keeping the software running on them up to date, as newer releases often contain security fixes and enhancements.

The developers of web software have done a lot to make that easier by providing messages in the software that the websites is in need of update and making the update process easier. Even with this there is still many website running outdated versions of that software.

When we are in touch with people running websites whether they are potential clients, people we are contacting to let them know their website has been hacked, or for some other reasons, we make sure to let them know if we see they are running outdated software that needs to be updated. We only reach a limited number of people so to increase awareness that outdated software is running on websites we have created a new web browser extension, named Meta Generator Version Check, to make it easier for others to see when there is outdated software running a website.

With the web browser extension installed, each time a web page finishes loading the extension checks the web page’s source code for a meta generator tag. The one for the current version of WordPress looks like:

<meta name="generator" content="WordPress 3.2.1" />

After reading that, the extension then provides a warning if it detects one of the following software is running on the website:

  • WordPress versions prior to 3.2.1
  • Joomla 1.0 and Joomla 1.6
  • Mediawiki versions 1.16.4-1.13 (earlier versions do not contain a meta generator tag)
  • vBulletin versions prior to 3.8.7
  • TYPO3 versions prior to 4.3
  • Movable Type versions prior to 4.37, 5.06, and 5.12
  • Melody versions prior to 1.0.2

Looking at that list you might notice that there is a fair amount of software missing. The limitation of checking the meta generator is that not all software produces one and some of those that do, do not provide a tag that allows us to identify what version is running. In other cases only partial version information is given. For Joomla, this means the extension can warn about websites running Joomla 1.0 and 1.6, which are no longer supported, but for Joomla 1.5 and Joomla 1.7 there is no indication if they are running the current version of those, as of yesterday they were 1.5.24 and 1.7.2, or an older version.

Another issue we have found as we looked to add checks for more software is that the supported versions of software are not always easy to find. We would recommend that software developers make sure that they prominently display what versions of their software are supported so that people looking for that information can easily find it.

If you see that we are missing a check for software that provides the required information in the meta generator tag please let us know so that we can include that in the extension.

While it would be possible to have the extension do a more intensive check to determine what version of software is running on website, using information not available in the meta generator tag, this would in most cases require requesting additional files when each page is loaded and would provide information that is not being made available by the web page itself.

We currently plan to update the extension to warn that software is outdated a month after a subsequent version has been released or support has ended for a version. For severe security vulnerabilities the extension may e updated sooner provide an earlier warning.


The main use for the extension is to be alerted that websites that you are visiting are running outdated software so that you can let them know that they need to update it or if they are your client you can do the update yourself.

It also could be useful in looking at who you considering doing business with or what software you might use on your website.

If a web host isn’t keeping software on the frontend of their website updated, it is reasonable to be concerned that they might not be taking proper security measures for their hosting clients as well. After checking just a few web hosts we found that both Just Host (3.0.3) and IX Web Hosting (3.1) were running outdated version of WordPress. It is also interesting to note that homepage of IX Web Hosting’s website has security seals from both McAfee Secure and something called Ecommerce HackerShield (which appears to something created IX Web Hosting’s parent company) claiming the website is secure despite the outdated software, with known security vulnerabilities, running on a sub-domain of the website and linked directly from the homepage.

For software, an example of something that might be concerning that we just noticed with a piece of software that we run on our website, Piwik, is that their website is still running WordPress 3.0.4.


A version of the extension is now available for Chrome. A version for Firefox is currently pending a review from Mozilla. The Firefox version has some limitations in comparison to the Chrome version due to current limitations of the Mozilla Add-On SDK, as the Add-on SDK is further developed those limitations will also go away. A version for Safari will not be released until Apple modernizes their enrollment process for Safari Extension development.

You can also find a web-based version of the tool here.

Is Running Outdated Software Always a Security Concern?

Outdated software is not automatically less secure than a newer version, it would only be more insecure if it contains a security vulnerability that does not exist in a newer version. Often new releases include fixes for security vulnerabilities or security enhancements. There is also a possibility that changes have been made in a newer version that removed a security vulnerability that was not known to be security vulnerability at the time. To be safe it is a good rule to update the software even if the developers have not warned of vulnerabilities in prior versions. To keep things simple we have decided that the extension will warn if outdated version is running instead providing a warning only when we know an old version contains a security vulnerability.

Is Including a Meta Generator a Security Concern?

With software that includes a meta generator tag there are often people claiming that it makes websites less secure, this is especially true when it comes to WordPress.  We previously discussed the issue in detail in regards to WordPress. The summary of that is as follows: The bad guys are not generally checking the meta generator tag and they usually don’t even check if you are running the software they are trying to exploit. On a daily basic there are attempts to exploit software that is not and has never been on our website. Because the bad guys attempting to exploit vulnerabilities do not bother to check what version of software you are running the website, you will get hacked if you are running a version with that vulnerability even if you managed to completely hide the version running. Finally, if someone wanted to find out what version you are running they could do that even if you remove the meta generator tag.

With our new extension we think it makes even more sense to include a meta generator tag as it increases the usefulness of the tag by letting people inform others they have outdated software running on their website that needs to be updated.

Is It Time to Upgrade to Joomla 1.6?

Recently we have been having many discussions with clients about whether it is time for them to upgrade from Joomla 1.5 to Joomla 1.6, with most of the discussion surrounding whether it is necessary to do that now for security purposes. There are a number of factors that need to looked at to determine if it is time for you to upgrade.

It is often said that one of the most important measures for keeping a website secure is to insure that you are running the latest version of any software on the website. While that this is true in general, what isn’t mentioned explicitly in that advice, and many companies that claim to be security experts don’t seem to understand, is that you need to keep the software updated to one of the latest supported versions. If more than one version is supported at a time you don’t need to be running the latest version, just one of the latest supported versions. In the case of Joomla, both version 1.5 and 1.6 are currently supported with bug and security fixes. So at the moment you would be secure if you were running either 1.5.23 or 1.6.3. Back in January, when Joomla 1.6 was released, it was announced that support for Joomla 1.5 would continue for 15 months, so there is about year of support for Joomla 1.5 left.

A major reason for the continued support of Joomla 1.5 is that Joomla 1.6 is a major upgrade from Joomla 1.6, which requires migrating the Joomla database, some changes in Templates to be compatible with Joomla 1.6, and can require major changes in extensions to be compatible. At this point many extensions do not have a version compatible with Joomla 1.6; VirtueMart is one such extensions that comes up often during our discussions.

Joomla 1.6 does not introduce any features that directly increase security from hacking. An automatic update features has been added that makes it easier for Joomla and its extensions, which support the feature, to be updated. As keeping Joomla and its extensions up to date is the most important step to keep a Joomla website secure, this will hopefully improve security.

It is also important to note that Joomla 1.6 requires at least version 5.2 of PHP and version 5.0.4 of MySQL. At this point, hosting providers should already provide those, though in some cases you to switch to PHP 5 in your hosting account’s options. You can check what versions of those are currently being used on the System Info page, which is accessible from the Help menu in the Joomla admin.

So Should You Upgrade Now?

  • If you are in need of the new features in Joomla 1.6 and the extensions you need are compatible with it, you can upgrade now.
  • If you are in need of the new features in Joomla 1.6 and the extensions you need are not yet compatible, you will need to wait until those become available.
  • If you are not in need of the new features then you can wait to upgrade. You might want to begin planning for the upgrade, checking your template, scheduling for the upgrade to be performed during a non busy time for the website, etc.

Still Running Joomla 1.0?

While support ended for Joomla 1.0 in July of 2009 many website are still running Joomla 1.0. While we haven’t seen Joomla 1.0 to be a major target for hackers, we still strongly recommend upgrading to a supported version as soon as possible. While jumping to Joomla 1.6 appears to be the better option, as you will not need to make another major upgrade in the next year or so, it is not always possible yet and will require a larger change be made at one time. In our discussions involving Joomla 1.0 websites the major issues holding back upgrading to Joomla 1.6 has been that needed extensions are not yet compatible with the new version. Upgrading to Joomla 1.5 may require less change as it provides a legacy mode that allows some Joomla 1.0 templates and extensions to continue to run without modification, that feature does not exist in Joomla 1.6. You will still eventually need a template and extensions that are compatible with Joomla 1.6, but you would have over a year to get those in place while having a secured website in the mean time.