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.

Hacker Impersonated GoDaddy When Hacking GoDaddy Hosted WordPress Websites

While working on cleaning up a hacked WordPress website recently we found a hacker had tried to disguise some of what they were doing by making it seem like it was coming from GoDaddy. GoDaddy, possibly not coincidentally, was the web host for the hacked website we were dealing with.

GD-Stats

The first element of this we found was a malicious plugin with the slug gd-stats. If you were looking at the Installed Plugins page in the WordPress admin area, you would see this information for that plugin:

That labels the plugin as being named GD-Stats and being from GoDaddy, Inc, though the link is to wordpress.com.

The description is weird:

Most leading CMS platforms like WordPress use Ajax in their architecture.

In looking to see if others had encountered a malicious plugin with the same name, we found a topic on WordPress’ forum from early in February where someone else hosted with GoDaddy had run into this:

This morning, I found that our WordPress website has been hacked by someone in Moscow. They uploaded the file “gd-stats.zip” then installed the plugin. Now when I go to our wordpress.org log in page, I put in my credentials, it takes me to a completely blank screen. When I went to our website, it doesn’t have the dashboard option available to log into. We’re hosted through GoDaddy. I’m waiting on their support team as well.

In a follow up they wrote this:

No it wasn’t Godaddy. It was from someone in Moscow who hacked our site at 4:30 AM. They installed the gd-stats.zip and the plug in but I finally got into our Godaddy account and deleted the plug in so we’re good now.

There was a reply from someone else with the same plugin, but no mention of the web host of the affected website.

For a hacker to add that plugin to the website they would already have to have access to the website in some way. In trying to determine what that was, we ran across a major problem, it appeared that GoDaddy had about a week before moved the website to a new cPanel account. That meant that among things, the last modified dates on malicious files were not meaningful, since it just listed the time of the move. It isn’t clear why that happened because of the partially unmanaged nature of the website at the time. Whatever was the case, the malicious plugin appeared to exist from before there was logging available that could have shed light on that. So we hit a dead end there.

Users Table

Another piece of the hack might help to further explain how the hack happened. In the WordPress database table storing the users of the website, _users, we found two non-legitimate Administrators accounts.

Both accounts were listed as being listed as being registered at 0000-00-00 00:00:00, which shows that they were not created through the normal registration process, since if they were, the time they were registered would be there.

Both of the accounts were also meant to look like they came from GoDaddy, with the usernames being:

  • gd_support
  • gd_sys_kafhi

Curiously the email address for them doesn’t use a GoDaddy-like domain, instead opting for wordpress.org.com:

  • gd_support@wordpress.org.com
  • gd_sys_kafhi@wordpress.org.com

Again we ran into a problem, since the logging isn’t available to see what it would show about how the hacker created those accounts.

There are several routes that could have occurred through. They could have been added through a SQL injection vulnerability on the website that allowed for adding things to the database, but most SQL injection vulnerabilities don’t permit that type of action, so that seems unlikely.

More likely would be that the hacker was able to get direct access to the database. That could be because of a security issue with the website, with the web host, or combination of the two. GoDaddy has had issues with improper security of database access, we posted about another hacked website where that came in to play in April.

February Time Frame

Looking at the session_tokens entries in the WordPress database’s _usermeta table, we found that one of those accounts was logged in to from a Russian IP address, 185.4.65.27, on February 4. That matches up with what was described in that WordPress forum topic.

Notifying GoDaddy

We are going to contact GoDaddy’s security team to let them know about this impersonation and maybe they can check if other websites they host still contain that plugin.

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.

GoDaddy’s Idea of Security Involves Leaving Websites to Get Hacked

If it were not for seeing the great value we can provide in quickly resolving hacking situations that have gone on for weeks or months, we likely wouldn’t have anything to do with the security industry, since it is such an awful industry, which seems to be largely built around taking advantage of people. One reoccurring example of that is that those in the security industry promote leaving websites insecure as security, instead of telling people what would actually keep websites secure (which doesn’t involve the services they are selling). As yet another example of that, here is how GoDaddy sells people on a security service that they charge up to 29.99 a month for:

Complete protection for complete peace of mind.

Website Security powered by Sucuri is advanced protection made simple. There’s no software to install, daily security scans run automatically and if there’s ever an issue our auto removal tools can’t fix, our security experts will repair it manually – no matter how long it takes and at no additional cost to you.

By repairing the issue, they are talking about cleaning up a hack, which shouldn’t happen since the website is supposed to be protected.

Also of note, with the claims made in that quote, is that our experience from often being brought in to re-clean websites after their security division, Sucuri, fails to get the job done, is that sometimes they will keep doing incomplete cleanups and in other instances they won’t come back in and will falsely claim that a website is clean when it isn’t. In either case what they don’t do is attempt to properly clean up the websites in the first place, which would negate the need for even discussing repeated cleanups.

Paying a Lower Yearly Fee for an Ongoing Website Security Service When You Have a Hacked Website is Not a Deal

When people have had their website hacked the unfortunate reality is that there are lot of people out there looking to take advantage of them. A lot of that involves telling people what they want to hear while knowing that you are lying to them. Based on what people say when contacting us, what a lot of people with hacked websites are looking for is a service that will protect their website from being hacked again. The reality we tell them is that while there are plenty of services that claim to do that, they don’t work (as an example of that, we often have people coming to us asking if we offer a service like that that works after using one that didn’t prevent their website from being hacked) and in fact the providers of them don’t even present any evidence that even tries to support that they do. The additional reality is that the companies behind these services usually don’t even try to do the work that could possibly make them work.

That last element is in some ways the most important when it comes to someone that already has a hacked website, since part of the work that these service don’t do to try to protect website also is important part of cleaning up a hacked website. Just last Friday we mentioned an example of that with a company named Sucuri, which had press coverage for something that wasn’t meaningful when the real story should have been that they were publicly admitting cutting corners with hack cleanups by not even trying to determine how the website got hacked. If you don’t know how websites are being hacked, you are going to have a hard time even trying to protect them. That they admitted to that isn’t really surprising to us because we have been dealing with the after effects of their improper clean ups and their failure to protect website from being hacked in the first place for years.

Recently we had someone contact us while looking for a better deal for a website service after their web host GoDaddy was trying to sell them on a $299 a year subscription for a service provided Sucuri, which GoDaddy owns, after they claimed their website was hacked. Paying less for a service that won’t properly deal with a hack, isn’t a better deal, since at any price it isn’t going to properly resolve the situation. Instead, if your website is hacked what needs to be done is to get it properly cleaned up. Properly cleaning up a hacked website involves three key components:

  • Cleaning up the hack.
  • Getting the website secured as possible (which which usually involves getting any software on the website up date).
  • Trying to determine how the website was hacked and fix that.

Once that has been done, then doing the security basics is what is going to do a better job than these services to keep your website from being hacked again.

If you want your hacked website properly cleaned up your best bet is to hire us. On the other hand, if you want to get ripped off, then check out the other companies out there, since a lot of them would love to take advantage of you.

GoDaddy Says That Version of PHP for Which Support Ended 3 Years Ago Meets Their Stability and Security Requirements

You would think that if a web host owned a security company they would be better than other web hosts when it comes to security. With GoDaddy that isn’t the case, though that might be explained by the fact that the security company they own Sucuri, seems to be completely incompetent. As yet another example of the security issues with GoDaddy, while dealing with a support issue on a website hosted with them we found that they were making this claim about PHP 5.4 on the Programming Languages page of their control panel on the website we were working on:

PHP version 5.4 is available and meets our stability and security requirements.

Support for PHP 5.4 ended in September of 2015.

To make thing more confusing if you click the question mark icon next to radio selector to use that version of PHP on the page a message box appears that states:

Version 5.4 is no longer actively supported.

So is the first claim inaccurate or do they have really low standards for “stability and security”?

GoDaddy’s Idea of Securing Websites Actually Involves Leaving Them Insecure and Trying to Deal with the After Effects of That

Yesterday we discussed GoDaddy’s usage of misleading claims to try to sell overpriced SSL certificates. Based on that it probably wouldn’t be surprising to hear that they would mislead people in other ways about security and that is exactly what we ran across while looking into things while working on that previous post.  When we clicked on the “Add to Cart” button for one of their SSL certificates, at the bottom of the page we were taken to, there was a “malware scan and removal” service offered to “Secure your site”:

The description of that is:

Defend your site against hackers and malware with automatic daily scans and guaranteed cleanup.

It shouldn’t be too complicated to understand what is wrong with that, though as we mentioned earlier today there seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to what security services and products do.

If a website is secure it wouldn’t have malware or some other hack on it to detect or remove, so either GoDaddy doesn’t understand what they are providing or they are lying about.

The problem we see so often with this sort of service is that people will fail to do the things that will actually keep websites secure because they believe a service like this will actually keep a website secure.

Trying to deal with the after effects of having a website hacked instead of actually securing it introduces a lot of issues. One of those being that if a hacker uses the hack to exfiltrate customer data stored on the website a cleanup isn’t going to undo that.

What is a lot more important to note is that everything we have seen from the underlying provider of GoDaddy’s security services, Sucuri, is that they are not good at detecting and cleaning up hacks of websites. Their scanner seems, to put it politely, incredibly crude. Their employees seem to lack a basic capability to understand evidence that a website is hacked. And in what is most relevant to this specific service, we recently we brought in on a situation where their scanner had failed to detect that a website was hacked and then they repeatedly incompletely cleaned up the website, leaving it in a hacked state for a while. It was only after we were brought in to clean things up properly (which Sucuri doesn’t appear to even attempt to do) that it was finally cleaned and stayed that way.

GoDaddy Using Google’s Change to Label Non-HTTPS Websites as “Not Secure” in Chrome To Sell Overpriced SSL Certificates

Yesterday we discussed someone’s belief that their website would be useless in its current form due to a company’s blog post about Google making a change to their Chrome web browser to label non-HTTPS websites as “not secure”. Unrelated to that, yesterday we  got sent an email from GoDaddy touting purchasing SSL certificates from them to avoid websites being labeled that way by Chrome. Two things stood out with that. The first being that GoDaddy charges much more than you need to be paying for an SSL certificate, which will in part prevent a website from being labeled as “not secure”, but also that GoDaddy doesn’t seem to really understand what they talking about when it comes to HTTPS. That latter fact isn’t all that surprising considering GoDaddy’s poor security track record.

The subject of the email was “Your customers need SSL on their sites ASAP.”.

On the page linked to from the email, their lowest end SSL certificate, which would be the level you need to avoid the “not secure” label, the introductory price is 60 dollars if you pay for two years upfront and then after that 75 dollars:

With other providers you can pay a fraction of that price. It also looks like that used to be true with GoDaddy as well, as they have apparently significantly increased the prices they charge for SSL certificates over the years despite nothing that would have increased their costs.

Using Let’s Encrypt you can even get a free SSL certificate and there are plenty of web hosting providers that have the capability integrated into their control panels to allow setting those up. It’s worth nothing that GoDaddy’s security company has been a major sponsor or donor to Let’s Encrypt, which seems like a tacit endorsement of Let’s Encrypt .

That GoDaddy is overcharging for SSL certificates instead of being like other hosting providers and offering free SSL certificates seems worse to us when reading one of the three testimonials they chose to show on that page that touts them providing an affordable solution:

I received a call from product support to let me know Google was getting more rigid about “secure sites”. We were able to make the upgrades that I could afford, and make my site more mobile accessible AND secure.

Another testimonial seems more insidious since it gives the impression that GoDaddy is providing cheaper certificates than others instead of more expensive ones:

I’ve set up SSL certificates from various companies but will never use anyone but GoDaddy every again. It’s easy to set up, great support and at a fraction of the price it’s great all around!

That is a great example of why testimonials are not a great source of information because that one allows GoDaddy to make it seem like they providing a more reasonable priced product without having to lie. If they really were providing cheaper certificates they would have been able to present evidence to back that up.

Misleading Marketing

The email made the following claim:

SSL is not only the right thing to do for your customers, it’s also great for boosting their search rankings and getting more traffic to their sites.

No link was provided that backed up that claim. On the page to purchase an SSL certificate, the claim is made repeatedly in regards to Google search results, but again no evidence is provided.

Based on what Google has said it doesn’t sound like using HTTPS has much impact. Here is in part what Google said when the disclosed that usage was a ranking factor:

We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it’s only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content—while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

As far as we are aware they haven’t announced strengthening it and they seem to be using changes to Chrome to increase usage of HTTPS.

In another instance, a Google employee explained the impact as follows:

If you’re in a competitive niche, then it can give you an edge from Google’s point of view. With the HTTPS ranking boost, it acts more like a tiebreaker. For example, if all quality signals are equal for two results, then the one that is on HTTPS would get … or may get … the extra boost that is needed to trump the other result.

Importantly, if both websites were using HTTPS the impact on the ranking boost of either one would be nullified.

Misleading on that seems of less importance than a page they created just to promote buying their SSL certificates due to the change to Chrome.

There they claim that “A Not Secure label on your website can devastate your business.”:

No evidence is presented for that despite it being a serious claim.

What seems like a clear indication that they are not interested in informing people about what is happening, but selling something is another part of that page which states that using HTTPS will “shows visitors they’re safe with the little green lock in their address bar”:

The next HTTPS related change in Chrome, occurring in September, involves it downgrading what is shown for HTTPS pages:

Do They Know What an SSL Certificate Even Is?

Going back to the page for selling SSL certificates there is what is supposed to be an explanation of how a HTTPS connection works, but it seems to have been written by someone that isn’t familiar with it all:

An SSL certificate doesn’t “automatically creates a secure, encrypted connection with their browser”, instead the SSL certificate is just used to validate that a secure connection is being made with the intended website instead or with another party.

Among the other issues with that is that the level encryption is determined by the server and the web browser, not the SSL certificate.

GoDaddy might be able to justify a higher price for an SSL certificate if good customer service was provided, but considering how off the marketing material is, it is hard to believe that their customer service would be well informed about them.

GoDaddy (Owner of Sucuri) Still Using Server Software That Was EOL’d Over Six Years Ago

Last week we wrote a post about how the web security company Sucuri was hiding the fact that they are owned by the web host GoDaddy while promoting a partnership program for web hosts. Not mentioning that they are owned by a competitor of companies they are hoping to partner with seems quite inappropriate. It also seems problematic since GoDaddy has long track record of poor security, so that seems like material information that web hosts should have when considering partnering with Sucuri.

One example of GoDaddy’s poor security that we have noted before is that they are using a very out of date version of the database administration tool of phpMyAdmin. It turns out they are still doing that, as we found when doing some work on a client’s website hosted with them. While working on an upgrade we created a new database so that the database would be running a newer version of MySQL required by the new version of the software being upgraded. When we went to import the database we found the phpMyAdmin installation it is tied to is the same really out of date version of phpMyAdmin, 2.11.11.3:

The 2.11.x branch of phpMyAdmin reached end of life on July 12, 2011. After that date not fixes or security fixes were not released, so GoDaddy should not have been running that version after that.

Beyond the security concern with this, you have situation where GoDaddy isn’t even managing to update a customer facing piece of software at least every six years.

It also worth noting that GoDaddy is the employer of the head of WordPress security team (they are paying him for his work in that role). You really have to wonder how, if someone who truly cared much about security, they would be employed by a company that doesn’t seem to care about that. That they are willing to work for GoDaddy might go a long way to explain why the security team of WordPress continues to poorly handle things (it also raises questions about the propriety of having the head of the security team being an employee of a company that could profit off of WordPress seeming insecure).