cWatch Makes False Claims About Security of WordPress Themes While Touting Their Security Analysts

When we previously discussed a service named cWatch we noted how the people behind it didn’t seem to understand what they were talking about when it came to security. We recently happened to take a look at them again and found things haven’t changed. Previously they falsely claimed that it isn’t possible to fully clean up hacked websites, despite them offering to do website malware removal for free (which seems like it explains the price). This time they are making false claims about the security of WordPress themes.

In a June 11 blog post titled “Infected WordPress Themes Still on” they start by stating:

Having come across many exploits and vulnerabilities it is no surprise that WordPress, being one of the most common themes used, seems to be a hacker favorite.

In order to stay proactive, we researched Apache Subversion (SVN) and discovered some major commonalities within some infected themes.

This presents a major concern as these infected files can be quite easily installed from the site directly.

During the next couple of blog posts we will publish a series of articlestitled INFECTED WORDPRESS THEMES STILL ON WORPRESS.ORG, where we will share with you our findings in the hopes of helping stop the spread of these infections through awareness.

That sounds concerning, but a little odd. If there was really some issue wouldn’t they want to work with WordPress to resolve it instead of trying deal with it through “awareness”? From what we have seen of the security industry, awareness is usually a euphemism for making false or misleading security claims to get coverage for yourself and that is the case here.

The next section of the post though seems to indicate that cWatch didn’t really know what they are talking about:

The following is a list of the infected WordPress themes we have discovered:

What they are linking to there are not themes, but individual files that contained malicious code in themes. That seems like a big detail to miss, but there’s more. The first five files are from various versions of one theme, Delish. In each link the number listed is the version number of the theme. Based on that it seemed that only versions up to 1.3.3 would have been impacted. The current version is 1.6, so five of the seven “themes” they claim infected are in fact not. In fact, version 1.3.4 was released on March 31, 2015 (and did in fact remove the malicious file). So it wasn’t like this was dealt with after the claim by cWatch or even recently. There is another issue with the claim that theme was infected, which we will get to in a moment.

The two other themes are not even available anymore and it doesn’t look like they were available recently. One of them, Neworld, had the malicious file removed in a version that was released on June 8, 2015. The other theme “Elgrande (shared on” never had fix released, so that is the closest there is a current issue, but it still doesn’t live up to cWatch’s claim that “these infected files can be quite easily installed from the site directly” since it can’t be easily downloaded from there anymore and you can’t install themes from there at all.

In looking into those themes we noticed another rather large issue with cWatch’s claims here, which they completely missed, despite it seeming like it should be obvious to anyone that claims to have the expertise they claim to have. All of the infected files have .png extension, which will cause web servers to see them as image files, so the malicious PHP code that had been in them would not run. There would need to additional code to make that code run, which is missing in all but “Elgrande (shared on”. So there wasn’t a threat from the other two themes even in the versions that contained the malicious files.

What all that seem to make more glaring is at the end of the post there is this ad for cWatch:

Having security analysts as a resource to inspect and investigate all code would be ideal. Connect with us if you are looking to have a security analyst on your side for less than a cup of coffee a day.

Unless you want a security analyst that doesn’t seem mildly component, you would probably want to avoid them.

Poor Copy and Paste

The poor quality of the content of their blog isn’t a one off issue, as can be seen in another recent post. The post is odd to start with since it is about malware that was claimed to have impacted “700 WordPress and Joomla websites”. We don’t know why something like that would merit coverage, unless there was some new vulnerability that was exploited to hack those websites. Strangely the source of the hacks was not discussed at all in their post or the original source they lightly rewrote to create their post. Speaking of the original source, what really stood out to us in the post was the strange headline in the last section:

Mitigation by SiteLock

If ionCube-encoded files have not been intentionally or specifically installed by you or your developer, then any file claiming to use ionCube is likely to be suspicious since the effective usage of IonCube generally needs manual server configuration. Moreover,  cross-compatibility with varied versions of PHP is found to be minimal, thus decreasing the viability of use as malware.

SiteLock is the name of another security company that isn’t exactly known providing accurate information when it comes to this sort of thing, so you wouldn’t want to be blindly repeating their claims. cWatch though takes it further by simply lightly rewriting SiteLock’s post. Here is SiteLock’s version of the above paragraph:

If you or your developer have not specifically and intentionally installed ionCube-encoded files, it is likely that any files claiming to be using ionCube are suspicious, as successfully making use of ionCube typically requires manual server configuration. Also, cross-compatibility with different versions of PHP is minimal, reducing the viability of use as malware.

What is worth reiterating is that you have two security companies there that offer services that they claim protect websites, but they seem to be uninterested in how these websites were hacked, despite the obvious relevancy to what they claim to offer. In reality SiteLock at least actually thinks that protecting websites involves leaving them vulnerable to being hacked, they are not alone in that belief.

Comodo and Melih Abdulhayoglu don’t secure their own websites, why would trust them to secure yours?

We were recently contacted by Comodo about some sort of a partnership with their cWatch service. From the homepage of that service, things immediately seemed questionable. They are offering “Free Instant Malware Removal”:

To properly remove malware or some other hacking issue, you can’t do it instantly. If you do it properly it will take some time and it will cost somebody money, so at best they were offering this as a loss leader to sell their other service and more likely they were not doing it right (like it is true of so many companies based on how many people come to us to re-clean websites). The instant claim would seem to indicate that they are using an automated method to do that, which based on plenty of experience seeing the poor results of that, it doesn’t work all that well. Why they would think we would partner with them when they are at best offering to do what we do for free, we didn’t understand.

Looking a little further, things didn’t seem better. They one post on their blog, How to Clean a Hacked Joomla! Site, which is more an ad for their services than any actual information on the subject.

What will be relevant in a second is that at the end of the post it says:

Prevention is better than cure.

One of the preventative measures they list before that is:

  • Update the Joomla! software and all its components including core files and extensions.

From there we got to a post on blog of the CEO of Comodo, Melih Abdulhayoglu, Free Hacked Website Repair & Malware Removal. Before we get to the details of that, what is worth noting is that this blog is running an outdated and insecure version of WordPress as can be seen from the source code of the page:

That version was superseded by version 4.7.3 on March 6, 2017. So the WordPress version is eight months out of date. That shouldn’t be the case because normally the automatic background updates feature of WordPress would have updated it shortly after the new version was released. So either that feature has been disabled or there is some incompatibility between the feature and hosting environment of the website. If it was the latter that would be something that Comodo could work with WordPress to fix it for everyone.

What continues to stun us is that we keep finding securing companies that are running outdated and insecure versions of WordPress despite the automatic updates that manages to work for the average website and the fact that security companies should know better than anyone else about the need to keep software updated. In just the last year we have already mentioned on this blog that we have run into this same situation with the following security companies: Checkmarx, Cloudbric, Trend Micro (who got hacked because of it), and PacketSled. We ran into all of those without going out and looking for companies with this situation, so they are likely to be more than that.

Version 4.7.3 was a security update. So were versions 4.7.5, 4.7.6, and 4.7.7.

Also from the source code you can see that website is running version 4.2.8 of the plugin Captcha:

That version is also eight months out of date and contains a reflected cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability that we and at least two other entities discovered. That is a type of vulnerability that isn’t likely to be exploited on the average website, but seem like a more likely target in the case of a security company run by people that don’t seem to care much about security. If Comodo was using our Plugin Vulnerabilities service they would have been alerted to that fact back in April.

The outdated WordPress install is also an issue on the Comodo blog:

You also have to wonder if they use their own service or if works at all, as one of the features is “Daily Malware & Vulnerability Scan”, which should being warning about those vulnerabilities:

Seeing as Comodo doesn’t take their own advice on keeping software up to date, they seem like a good example of terrible state of the security industry. If you look at controversies section of the Wikipedia page about the company there have been a lot of other problems with the company.

Another item that seems worth noting for its questionable nature is this row of major company logos on the homepage, which isn’t explained but we would guess that Comodo would want you to assume they use the service (which at least most of them probably are not):

Improper Cleanups

The CEO of the company is also listed as its “Chief Security Architect” and claims to be an “Internet security expert”.

Getting back to the post he wrote, it is cringe worthy, as it starts:

We are in web sites where we were in 90s for computers!

It was a new concept to protect your PC with antivirus products in the 90s.  Now its the norm.

Websites and webhosting is where computers were in 90s…still unprotected….still getting hacked and infected….

PC’s are still getting hacked and infected despite antivirus software. The reason that websites get hacked and infected isn’t because they don’t have antivirus software, it is because of various security issues. The solution is to fix those, not to try to poorly detect attempts to exploit those.

One of the ways websites get hacked is when login credentials for the website are compromised on a PC through malware on it, which still happens despite antivirus being “the norm”.

Next up is this:

Today there is a healthy market of selling “malware cleaning” or “hack repair” for website owners. At a hefty price!

This is not the solution! The malware will come back no matter how many times you clean it.

The business model of “Profiting from Website Malware Cleaning” must STOP!

The need for cleaning malware from your website is not going away, but “Profiting from it” is!

If you properly clean up malware, as we do, it doesn’t come back, because part of proper cleanup is figuring how the website got hacked and fixing that. If a new vulnerability is being exploited then the person doing a proper cleanup can then work with the vulnerable solution to try to get that fixed to prevent others website from getting hacked.

Based on that it isn’t surprising that Comodo can offer their service for free, since they are explicitly cutting corners, and you really are getting what you pay for there.

Then a few lines down, the post explains why they are providing free cleanups:

We build innovation to keep you safe, protect you from hacks and malware. The very people who need our Protection is the very people who are hacked and have malware on their websites.

So, by cleaning their site for Free, we hope to gain their trust so that when they choose to protect their site, assumption is that they will, having gone thru the experience of having your site hacked, choose us.

And there is more reason why they should be choosing us. Because there simply is no other technology that can deliver what we can.

We have the world’s very first Website Protection that has a full blown SIEM, Managed WAF, CSOC (Comodo Security Operation Center) staffed by amazing security professionals available instantly 24/7/365 and running on a CDN!

Don’t even think about comparing this amazing technology to legacy “malware scanning” tools out there who are charging website owners an arm and a leg to remove malware.

There simply is no comparison in terms of what CWatch technology can do vs what’s out there!

What you will notice there is that no evidence is provided that their service is effective at all. Offering free cleanups doesn’t mean they can effectively protect websites from being hacked, especially when you don’t do that properly. But they are not alone in this, we have yet to see any company providing such a service like theirs (and there are plenty of them) that provides evidence, much less evidence from independent testing, that they are effective at protecting websites (we did recently run across a security company admitting that they lie when promoting their product with an unqualified statement that it “stops you from getting hacked“).

We have had plenty of people that come to us after having used a service like Comodo’s that ended up failing to protect the website, so without evidence from independent testing that proves that a service is effective we would recommend you avoid it. Instead if you make sure you are doing the basics you are unlikely to be hacked. One of those basics is keeping your software up to date, which Comodo has failed to do with their WordPress installs on the CEO’s blog and their main blog. Why would you possibly trust your security to a company that doesn’t manage to do the basics themselves?

Also notable, is that they are saying you shouldn’t compare them to others, that is probably because as we already mentioned there are plenty of services just like theirs. Humorously one of the thing they tout that they are first to have is “CSOC (Comodo Security Operation Center)”, why would another company have a Comodo branded part of their service?