Here Is How SiteLock Tries To Mislead People with Their Meaningless Attacks per Day Stat

We frequently have people contacting us looking for help after they have been contacted by the web security company SiteLock, through that we often hear bit and pieces of the misleading and outright false claims they frequently make. Recently we have been sent complete sets of communications between them and the people they were trying to take advantage of. There are a number of things we have noticed in those that seem worth touching on, but we will first start with something related to something we discussed in another blog post a month ago.

This comes from an email conversation with a SiteLock “website security consultant”, which is really just a commissioned sales person. You can probably guess from that how misleading the title is from what the person really does that what they are telling people also isn’t truthful.

Here is a claim that the sales person made:

You have been very blessed if you site has not been hacked for 6 months as a typical website faces 44 attacks a day. With out the proper security any and all of those attacks can effect your site.

When we discussed that stat last month we noted that what would relevant would be how many successful attacks there are, not how many attempts there were. As we also noted then, SiteLock’s president actually claimed they were able to determine what were successful attacks:

As our research shows, cybercriminals are now able to successfully breach a site with fewer, more targeted attacks.

If they truly know that (it seems like they probably didn’t, but were claiming otherwise to make a reduction in claimed average attacks sound scary) why wouldn’t they let people know how many successful attacks there are seeing as those are what what actually matter? An obvious answer would be that successful attacks are incredibly rare. It isn’t like the average website is being hacked once a year, much less multiple times a day as the sales person’s claim implies is possible.

In the rest of the email no evidence was provided that the $99 a month service they wanted this person to purchase would do anything to protect the website from being hacked and they even promoted that the service includes unlimited cleanups, which wouldn’t be needed if the service actually protected the website since it shouldn’t be needed to be repeatedly cleaned up if the services actually secured the website. Based on their marketing material it seems that SiteLock believes that a security service shouldn’t actually be able to secure website against being hacked, which in way makes sense since simply doing the basics is what will actually provide real security.

Just Because SiteLock Is Trying To Con You Doesn’t Mean Your Website Hasn’t Been Hacked

In interacting with people about hacked websites one of the things that comes up frequently is people conflating security companies trying to take advantage of them with a belief that their websites haven’t really been hacked. A lot of the blame for this resides with the security companies that are trying to take advantage of people (and look to be very successful at it) and others that help enable that, which includes their business partners and government entities that don’t take any action against them. But some of the blame has to be placed on customers of these services that seem to take a completely uncritical view of these services, as among other things, their funding of these companies allows the companies to expand and take advantage of more people.

As an example of that, we had someone contact us recently after they ran across a post we had written how the web host Bluehost was continuing to try to sell SiteLock services based on claims that were made in phishing emails meant to look like they came Bluehost support. The situation this person had was very different than that.

They had been contacted by a company informing them that their website was being used for phishing. Their web host, Bluehost, which is a SiteLock partner, had suspended their account for the same issue. They said they were “shocked” because they had SiteLock on the account and they thought that with that the website wouldn’t have been able to be hacked.

As company that deals in the field we obviously have a very different view of things, but it still is hard to understand a view like that when you consider that SiteLock and every other similar company we have run across don’t provide evidence that their services are effective at protecting websites. To us that seems like a baseline before purchasing any service like that, but clearly it isn’t.

The next part of the story is something that we have heard plenty of times before, but it still doesn’t make much sense to us. That being that they were then told they would need a higher level of SiteLock service to protect against the issue from happening again. To us that raises what seem to be some obvious questions, like why would SiteLock by their own admission be selling security services that don’t actually provide security. Another one would be why would at that point people still not expect some evidence to presented as to the effectiveness of the services considering SiteLock have just admitted that they are selling services that don’t actually work.

When we had responded explaining about that lack of evidence that SiteLock services are effective (along with plenty of evidence to the contrary that we have run across) and that SiteLock’s own marketing indicates that they are not even attempting to provide real security the response from the person was not concern with SiteLock’s practices, but that the whole situation seemed suspicious. We asked about the evidence presented that the website had been using for phishing, but the person seemed uninterested in actually checking over things. Based on past experience our guess is that the website was actually hacked in this case.

Dealing With a Possibly Hacked Website

While in this case we guess the website had actually been hacked, we have run into plenty of instances where SiteLock and their web hosting partners are falsely claiming that websites have been hacked. So what we recommend you do in that situation is get a second opinion on their claim. We are always happy to provide that for free and would hope that other reputable security companies (to the extent that there are any) would do the same.

If the website is hacked what you want done is to have it properly cleaned up, which involves cleaning up the hack, securing the website (which usually mainly involves getting the software up to date), and trying to determine how the website was hacked and fix that. If a service doesn’t do those things (as is true of SiteLock’s main services) then you stand a decent chance of having continuing issues. After things have been cleaned, instead of paying for a security service that won’t protect your website, you should make sure to do the basics to keep your website secure from most issues.

Somehow SiteLock Got a Five Star Review for Failing to Properly Clean Up a Website Multiple Times

When it comes trying to find a company to help you deal with a hacked website, one of the big problems is that many people providing reviews and recommendations don’t actually have a good idea of what a proper hack cleanup service would entail. We have had people that come to us re-clean websites, who after we ask if the previous company had determined how the website was hacked, tell us that trying to do that never came up, but the company did a good job. The fact that the website needs to be re-cleaned seems like it might be an indication that they didn’t actually do a good job, but what tells us for sure that they didn’t do a good job is that they didn’t try to determine how the website was hacked despite that being one of three basic components of a proper cleanup. In our experience a lot of companies fail to attempt to do two of the three components of a proper cleanup (the other being securing the website, largely by updating the software), which makes it not all that surprising that we have a lot of people coming to us to re-clean websites.

With one company trying to find an accurate assessment is hard as they have flooded review sites with positive reviews of little value. That company being SiteLock, which otherwise has a rather bad reputation. That bad reputation is due to their business practices, which are even worse than the usual bad practices of the industry. Instead of trying to improve them, which might not be possible since without misleading and greatly overcharging people they likely wouldn’t be able to sustain their business due to the poor quality of their offerings, they have focused on pushing people to leave reviews right after having an interaction with them.

One review from last week that we ran across really stands out for that. The review was one of two five starts reviews left by this person in the same day.

The first one is rather vague:

certainly professional and extremely responsive to my problems….highly recommend!

The second one is more specific:

I have had to request three successive cleanings (all in one day) to hopefully resolve a malware problem – this particular malware was very persistent and difficult to eradicate. Each time I requested a repeat service, they did not hesitate or put me off – they worked the problem with professionalism, and for that I am very appreciative. Thank-you.

That they failed to clean things up fully at least twice (it is entirely possible the issue still hadn’t actually been resolved and even the review just says that it was “hopefully” resolved) seems like it should be a negative, but somehow that is treated as positive.

Maybe it says something about SiteLock’s targeted customer base that they are “appreciative” of someone doing what they were already paid to be doing.

The reality here is that from what seen of SiteLock, they don’t properly clean up websites, including skipping those two components of a proper cleanup, so the situation where the issue wasn’t resolved multiple times isn’t surprising. Cutting those corners wouldn’t be what we would describe as professional behavior.

Down the road the results can be worse, below is a review left on another review website, consumeraffairs.com, from just a few days ago, which is in line with we have heard repeatedly about SiteLock:

My website was hacked about 3 months ago. I signed up for Sitelock services as they promised me that they would clean my website from all malware and make sure that it wouldn’t be back. They explained to me that the hackers had found a back door and they were going to repair all the files and make sure that they wouldn’t find their way back in. They did clean my website and it was up and running well after about 48 hours. Their customer service reps and technical reps are very nice and sound very knowledgeable. Their service is not cheap at all but I thought that for $50 a month, I was now covered… 3 months later, I suddenly couldn’t log in onto my admin panel. My access was “forbidden”. I contacted them many times (as well as my website host) with no answers at all from Sitelock. No one contacted me back…

Fortunately, after about a week, I was finally able to log in but with no explanation. Three weeks after this first incident, the same thing happened again. When I called this time Sitelock (instead of contacting them online with no response) the rep told me it was probably a problem with my host server. After spending 1 hour with my host server, I was told it was something else. I contacted Sitelock again, this time to be told that my site had been hacked again: the first hackers had “reopened” the back door (that Sitelock was supposed to have found and closed) and this time wanted total control of my site.

They could remedy this if I pay $45 additional a month. I am totally in disbelief and refuse to pay this additional fee as I really think that this is their fault if I was attacked again. They didn’t protect my website sufficiently as they promised they would. I am extremely unsatisfied at this point. I still cannot log into my website but I don’t want to pay another dollar for a service they didn’t render. In the meantime, I’m stuck and pissed off!

Considering that SiteLock’s idea of website security doesn’t involve actually securing websites, what happened there isn’t surprising.

Based on everything we have see the likely reason why this person was told they would need to pay more to remedy the situation is that when you get in touch with SiteLock you are usually dealing with a commissioned sales person, not a technical person, so they don’t have the capability to resolve an issue and their interest in getting you to spend money with them or in the case of existing customers, more money (we have seen that done up to level of trying to sell someone a cleanup for a website that wasn’t hacked).

What is also interesting about that situation is that there was a belief that the cost of the service was indication of the effectiveness as opposed to some actual evidence that the service was effective (which we haven’t seen SiteLock or providers of similar ever provide despite making incredible claims about the security their services are supposed to provide).

SiteLock and Sucuri Inaccurately Portray Hidden Spammy Content on Website as Malware

We frequently have people contacting us for a second opinion on claims from the security company SiteLock that their websites have been hacked. To be able to provide that we ask for the evidence being presented by SiteLock to back that claim up. An important reason for doing that is that SiteLock appears to refer to anything they detect as possibly being an indication of a hack as malware, even if it isn’t malware.

Malware is short for malicious software and can accurately refer to one of two things when it comes to websites. The first being malicious code being served from a website and the second being malicious code located in a website’s files or database.

One reason why they might refer to any indication of a hack as being malware is to make the issue sound more serious than it really is and make you more likely to pay them for some security service. As an example of that, in one instance where we were contacted about a claim of theirs, what they were claiming was “critical” severity malware was just a link to another website. What was even supposed a problem with the link, which was included with a comment on a blog post, wasn’t clear since the domain name of the website being linked wasn’t registered anymore, but saying there is an issue with a link would sound a lot less concerning than “malware”.

Someone that they recently contacted with a claim that their website contained malware, had also been told by the SiteLock representative that called them that Google would “shut down” their website due to the issue. In reality Google doesn’t shut down websites and since the issue wasn’t actually malware they wouldn’t even block access to the website if they had detected the issue.

That person had then run the website through the Sucuri SiteCheck scanner, which also claimed the website contained malware. Sucuri also goes the over top in making issues seem as bad as possible to sell their service:

The small text there states:

Your site appears to be hacked. Hacked sites can lose nearly 95% of your traffic in as little as 24 to 48 hours if not fixed immediately – losing your organic rankings and being blocked by Google, Bing and many other blacklists. Hacked sites can also expose your customers and readers private and financial information, and turn your site into a host for dangerous malware and illicit material, creating massive liability. Secure your site now with Sucuri.

What they actual identified there is what we would describe as hidden spammy content, which is a less serious issue than malware. It also didn’t contain any code, JavaScript or otherwise, despite Sucuri labeling it as “Known javascript malware” and stating that “Malicious Code Detected”.

While Google might penalize a website for that hidden spammy content like that, it isn’t going to do any harm to people visiting the website.

If you visit the link they provide for the details of that type of issue, http://labs.sucuri.net/db/malware/spam-seo.hidden_content?24, the description doesn’t mention “malware”, but does mention “hiding spammy content”:

Hiding spammy content (links, spammy texts, etc) on legitimate web pages is a common black hat SEO trick. It helps use existing site pages in black hat SEO schemes while keeping it invisible to site visitors and webmaster.

There are many techniques that help hide certain parts of a web pages. Most of them include either CSS or JavaScript. The simples is placing spammy content inside a div tag with the display:none; style.

Another interesting similarity between those two companies, which seems like it ties in to the overstated impact of the real issue on this website, is that security services provided by both SiteLock and Sucuri don’t seem to be focused on actually securing websites. Instead they seem to be more focused on trying to deal with after effects of the website having been hacked after having left the websites insecure. That all could be an indication the companies don’t have a good understanding of what they claim to have expertise in or that they are just interested in trying to get as much money out of people instead of being focused on improving security.

This Review Seems Like Evidence That SiteLock’s Vague Emails About Supposed Vulnerabilities Are Just a Marketing Ploy

On a fairly regular basis we are contacted by people looking for advice after being contacted by the security company SiteLock. From what we have seen a lot of the claims that SiteLock and their representatives make are misleading or false and seem to be intended to get people to sign up for unneeded services.

In some cases the claims are obviously false, like when they falsely claimed that a website contained “critical” severity malware due to having a link to an unregistered domain name.

In other cases the claims sound impressive, but they fall apart upon inspection. That was the case with SiteLock’s “likelihood of compromise” scores, which are promoted as being based on “high-level security analysis by leveraging over 500 variables to score a website’s risk on a scale of low, medium and high”. When a Forbes contributor reached out to SiteLock for an explanation on how their website that supposedly had a “Medium” “likelihood of compromise” could even be compromised in way that was considered by SiteLock’s analysis, they claimed they would and then stopped responding:

When asked how a remote attacker might then modify the files on a CMS-less single-page self-contained static website without either guessing/phishing/resetting the account password or finding a vulnerability in the server stack, a representative initially said they would work with their engineering team to send me some examples of how such a site could be compromised, but later said they would not be commenting further and did not respond to two subsequent requests for additional comment.

One of the claims we have yet to see any evidence that there is any basis behind it, are claims that websites have some undetailed vulnerability, which are made in emails like this:

Because website security is important, your hosting provider has provided you with a complimentary scanner from SiteLock that proactively checks for malicious threats and vulnerabilities. This scan regularly reviews your website plugins, themes and content management system (CMS) for potential vulnerabilities.

During a recent scan, a vulnerability was detected on your website.

For details on the findings, including the location of the vulnerability and remediation options, please contact SiteLock today. We would be happy to walk you through your dashboard and talk to you about next steps. Our security consultants are available 24/7 to answer your questions.

Call 844-303-1509 or email support@sitelock.com

A recent positive review of SiteLock we ran across certainly seems to give more weight to possibility that there really vulnerabilities that they have discovered. Here is the review:

I responded to your email letting me know I had vulnerabilities on my websites. After our conversation everything was taken care of to thwart those vulnerabilities with your premium firewall. David was very helpful in making me understand how the firewall will benefit me. Thank you!

If there were really were vulnerabilities, what would need to done to take of the vulnerabilities would be to fix them. A firewall wouldn’t fix them. At best it might limit the ability to exploit them, but SiteLock doesn’t provide evidence that their TrueShield Web Application Firewall is effective at all (they might not have any idea if it is since the service is provided by another company, something they lie about) and in some cases that type of firewall can be easily bypassed entirely. It also worth noting here that as far as we are aware when you get in touch with SiteLock you are talking to a commissioned sales person, not a technical person with security expertise, so they likely wouldn’t know if what they are selling someone is actually beneficial or not to that person.

What we previously have seen with this type of email made it seem like the claims could be baseless, as among other things they have even sent message where the didn’t even say what website was supposed to have been impacted. The review seems in line with that, as it looks like it is just a way to get people to contact them and then sell them on security services that are not actually even focused on protecting websites from being hacked.

As we said the last time we mentioned these emails, you could probably safely ignore these messages, but if you want extra assurance you could contact SiteLock and ask for evidence of their claim (though we have heard in the past that they wouldn’t provide that) or check to make sure you are doing the important things to keep your website secure, like keeping your software up to date. While we don’t recommend it, we also offer a security review to check over things like if software you are using is known to be insecure.

SiteLock Admits To the Meaningless of Website Attacks Stat, While Still Promoting It

Recently we have put forward the idea that a way to better understand the poor state of the security industry is to think of it as the “insecurity industry”, as much of the industry is not interested in actually securing websites, but instead on selling people on the idea that they should be buying expensive security services without an expectation that they will actually provide effective protection. One company that really exemplifies that is SiteLock. Just a couple of weeks ago we discussed how they promote their service in way that indicates that it doesn’t actual protect websites, as they portray that instead of keeping websites from being hacked they provide incomparable security by being better able to deal with the after effects of leaving websites vulnerable to being hacked (though they didn’t provide any evidence they are even good at what they claim to be able to do).

One of things we mentioned previously as part of what defines the “insecurity industry” is selling people on the idea that websites are under constant attack. That is something that SiteLock frequently brings up. For example, in a press release from March 12 they claimed:

The average website is attacked 59 times per day, which is up a staggering 168 percent from the previous year.

If you think about for a second though, that doesn’t sound like a meaningful statistic since the average website isn’t being hacked 59 times a day or even once a day.

A couple weeks after that press release, SiteLock had a bit of a problem as their latest claimed stats indicated that attacks were down:

Websites experienced 44 attacks per day on average in Q4 2017, a 25 percent decrease from the previous quarter.

Part of the way they tried to downplay that was to extrapolate out that number over a year (despite knowing that the number is variable):

Despite this decrease, a single website can still experience 16,000 attacks in one year alone.

As far as we are aware the average website isn’t being hacked once a year even, so once again the stat is rather meaningless.

Next up they downplayed it by saying the number of attacks isn’t actually meaningful:

“A decrease in attacks does not mean that websites are safer. In fact, it may even be the opposite,” says Neill Feather, president of SiteLock. “Hackers are constantly trying new avenues and even leveraging older tactics that continue to be successful. As our research shows, cybercriminals are now able to successfully breach a site with fewer, more targeted attacks. Now more than ever, businesses need to evaluate their current security posture and ensure they have both the right technology and a response plan in place should a hack occur.”

So if attacks are up you should be concerned, if attacks are down you should be even more concerned, it is almost like the number of attacks isn’t meaningful at all.

That claim sticks out considering that they are still make a big deal of the number of attacks. They even created a graphic in that very post highlighting the number of attacks:

What would be a relevant stat would be how many successful attacks there are. The quote from the President of SiteLock indicates they would know that, “our research shows, cybercriminals are now able to successfully breach a site with fewer, more targeted attacks”. We doubt they actually do, but assuming they did, telling people the truth, which is that the successful attacks are very uncommon, would get in the way of scaring people. So how uncommon? From everything we have seen we are talking about an incredible small fraction of one percent of attacks that are successful.

Another part of the about the quote from the President of the company that sticks out to us is “businesses need to evaluate their current security posture and ensure they have both the right technology and a response plan in place should a hack occur”. This gets to the idea of the “insecurity industry” because the expectation that even though you have the “right technology” (that is paying SiteLock or somebody else for a protection service) you should be assuming you are going to get hacked anyway. The reality though is that if you do the basics of security you can prevent most hacks (even ones that advanced security products fail to protect against). In some cases though doing the basics won’t protect websites from hacks in part due to things that SiteLock and other security companies are doing that they shouldn’t and thing they are not doing, but should be doing (like failing to determine how websites they are cleaning up have been hacked).

Part of the next paragraph after his quote is in line with selling insecurity as security:

Additionally, a website scanner can find malware on your site, helping to mitigate threats in real time.

If you are finding malware on a website you are past the threat stage and have already been exploited. Unless a malware scanner is running constantly, it is likely wouldn’t help in realtime and we haven’t seen any evidence that any malware scanner is all that effective at detecting malware (SiteLock has promoted theirs with bogus independent testing). Selling people that detecting malware on a website isn’t an indication that a security product failed, but it is working, is exactly is exactly what the “insecurity industry” is.

Beyond scaring people, another reason why a company would put out stats like this is to get press coverage, since journalists will run with this type of thing even if the data is of questionable value (we have seen plenty of instances where security journalist have run with wholly false claims, including from SiteLock). You might think that a journalist might notice that SiteLock is even saying the stat isn’t meaningful here and not run with it in this instance, but that didn’t happen. Among them, the Washington Post ran with it with the headline “A typical small business website is attacked 44 times a day” and Tech Republic “The average SMB website is attacked 44 times per day”.

This Looks Like It Might Be Another Instance of SiteLock Partnered EIG’s Apparent Security Issue

A week and half ago we discussed a situation where there looked to be at least a hacker specifically targeting websites hosted with web hosting company EIG, which does business under the brands including A Small Orange, Bluehost, FatCow, HostGator, iPage, IPOWER, JustHost and quite a few others. The more concerning possibility is that the hacker wasn’t just targeting websites hosted with EIG but taking advantage of some security issue within their systems to breach the websites. Due to their relationship with a web security company, SiteLock, they don’t seem to have an interested in investigating this type of situation (and neither does SiteLock).

That wasn’t the first time we had run across the possibility of such a situation occurring with EIG, back in July of last year we discussed another instance, but in that case we were not brought in to clean up any websites targeted, so we had a very limited ability to assess what was going on.

We have now run across yet another instance that lines up with the others.

We were contacted about a hacked website after the person handling a replacement of that website was in contact with SiteLock (due to the website being hosted with HostGator) and then they found our blog posts about SiteLock.

What they had been told by SiteLock was the same kind of stuff we hear a lot. That included that they were told that if the website was cleaned up of the “malware”, but not protected by SiteLock going forward, it would just get infected again. Because the website was for a church, the SiteLock representative said they could provide a discounted rate of $400-600 a year (which doesn’t seem to actually be a discounted rate). Instead they hired us to clean it up for a lot less than that.

What we knew before we started working on the cleanup was that the main website in the account was serving up Japanese language spam when crawled by Google and other search engines, which lead to the search results for the website to also show that. That website was running Joomla 1.5, which was EOL’d in September 2012. There was a recently set up WordPress installation, which was being prepared to replace that website, and that website was not serving that spam content to search engines.

What would seem to be the obvious security concern there would be the Joomla installation, since it is using software that hasn’t been supported in 5 and half years. We haven’t seen evidence that Joomla installations of that vintage are currently exploitable in some mass fashion, so that seemed less likely to us. There was also the possibility of an extension installed in the Joomla installation being a security concern since those would be equally out of date.

The code causing the Japanese language spam wasn’t hard to find, it was obfuscated code added to the top of the index.php file in the root directory of the Joomla installation, which is also the root directory of the website. The last modified date for that file was years ago, which probably meant the hacker had changed it to hide that they had modified the file (which is very common).

As we started more thoroughly reviewing the files to look for any other malicious code on the website, the only place we found them was in multiple files that were located in a directory for a plugin, /wp-content/plugins/html404/, in another WordPress installation on the website. That additional WordPress installation hadn’t been mentioned to us.

That plugin contained files from version 2.5.6 of the plugin Akismet as well as files with malicious code in them. Those files were named:

  • 404.php
  • idx.php
  • jembud.php
  • wso25.php
  • xccc.php

That WordPress installation was running WordPress 4.7.9, which is an outdated major version, but should be secure due to WordPress releasing security updates for older major versions. The website was using a customized version of a popular theme and only one other plugin installed, neither of those things look like a likely source of a security issue.

In looking over the WordPress accounts for that website we found that the first account, which normally be the one created when WordPress was installed was named “html404”, which considering it matched the name of plugin’s directory, seemed like it was probably changed by a hacker (likely with the password also being changed).

In the looking at the session_tokens for that user in the wp_usermeta table of the database for that WordPress installation we could see that at nearly the same time that plugin’s files were listed as last being modified on January 25 someone had logged in to that account from an IP address in Indonesia (which isn’t where the website is located).

A non malicious file in the root directory of the website connected with the code added to the index.php file was also listed as last being modified at the same time, so it looks like the breach of the WordPress installation lead to the Joomla website being modified.

Because the web host for the website, HostGator, did not have any log archiving enabled we could only see the HTTP logging from the day we were cleaning up the hack limiting what we could gleam from that. The FTP logging didn’t show any access that shouldn’t have happened.

Looking around for any other mentions of this that might allow us to give the client better information on what could allowed what had occurred to happen, we came across a thread on the website for WordPress with other people that had been impacted. That provided further confirmation of what we had been piecing together, but nothing that shed any light on the cause.

At that point the possibility that this could be another example of whatever security issue might be going on at EIG was at top of mind. Since a hacker with either direct access to the databases on the server or access to files on it, which would give access to the configuration files with database credentials in them need to access the databases, could change a WordPress username/password like this. There was no direct mention of what web hosts the websites mentioned in that thread were using, but one of the participants username pointed to the website impacted and the website was hosted with Bluehost, another EIG brand.

In the previous instances where we found an EIG connection there was a defacement involved that had showed up on the website Zone-H. That allowed us to easily check over numerous websites to see what the host were. That isn’t the case with this hack, but we did check over a number of websites we could find that were involved and what we found was they all were hosted with EIG brands. Here are the IP addresses along with the EIG brands of websites we found reference to being impacted:

While the sample set we have is smaller in the previous instances the chances that all of the website we checked would all happen to be at one hosting company is not what you would expect if the hacking was caused by something unrelated to the web host. At best it looks like we have now run across multiple hackers that look like they are only targeting this one company, but what seems to be a reasonable possibility is that there is a security issue in EIG systems that is allow hackers to exploit them.

Several of those are from the same IP address, which would likely mean they are on the same server.

SiteLock’s Idea of Protection Doesn’t Seem to Involve Real Protection

Considering that EIG brands heavily push people to hire SiteLock to clean up websites, it seem incredibly hard to believe that SiteLock could have missed what we have picked by just dealing with a couple of websites, if they were properly dealing with hacked websites. But from what we know they don’t usually properly clean up hacked websites. Instead of doing proper cleanups they sell people on services that claim to protect websites, as what was attempted to be sold in this instance, that don’t even attempt to do that.

If you are not determining how websites are being hacked, it would be difficult to be able to protect them. If there is an issue with EIG’s system, it would unlikely that such a service could protect against it, so spotting that type of situation would be really important.

SiteLock’s lack of interest in true protection is even worse in the light of the fact that SiteLock has “partnered” with a web host that seems at best uninterested that hackers are specifically targeting their customers or worse, their customers are getting hacked due to a security issue in the web host’s systems. But it gets even worse, when you know that while the relationship between EIG and SiteLock is promoted as partnership, the reality is that the two companies are very closely connected then they let on publicly. The majority owners of SiteLock also are the CEO and board member of EIG, which neither side mentions publicly. So you have the owners of a security company that seems to be uninterested in security of websites it is supposed to be protecting also looking to be leaving websites they host insecure. On top of that both sides would profit from this insecurity as EIG disclosed that they get 55% of revenue for SiteLock services sold through their partnership, so both companies have a financial incentive to not find and fix something like this as long as their customers doesn’t become aware of what is going on and leave in mass. That seems like a good argument for keeping security companies and web hosts at arm’s length (maybe not surprisingly with the other instance of a security company closely tied with a web host the security company doesn’t seem to be interested in security either).

Wordfence Has Missed This As Well

SiteLock isn’t the only security company that seems to not be on the ball here. In the previously mentioned thread on the WordPress website one of the participants mentioned they were going to have the security company Wordfence “perform a comprehensive security review and if necessary, final clean-up” after being impacted by this. In the follow up there is no mention at all of Wordfence having made any attempt to determine how this occurred, just that “I am happy to report that the Wordfence security analyst found no evidence of malware on the website.”. Considering that trying to determine how a website was hacked is one of three basic parts of a cleanup, it seems a bit odd that there wouldn’t be a mention of Wordfence not figuring out the source if Wordfence had done things right and mentioned that they were unable to determine the source of the hack

The follow up response to that was from a Wordfence employee, who instead of being concerned about the source of hack being a mystery, just promotes a post on the Wordfence website that wouldn’t have any impact on resolving the underlying cause of these hacks. So it would seem they are unconcerned about this as well.

SiteLock Makes Up List of Hackable Websites While Ignoring Real Issue They Don’t Deal With

We frequently have people contacting us looking for advice after they have been in contact with the web security company SiteLock. A lot of the claims made by SiteLock that are relayed to us are untrue, which isn’t surprising considering everything we have seen and heard about that company. One of these claims that was passed along to us recently seems like something worth making a note of because it deals with how SiteLock sells people on the need for their protection services, while actually leaving websites vulnerable.

The owner of a website was told that while the hack of their website didn’t have much impact, the website would now be on a list of hackable websites and the original hackers or “worse” would return to more damage than the simple defacement that was done. The SiteLock representative was suggesting purchasing a $50 a month protection plan to protect against those future hackers.

We have never heard of a list of hackable websites and it doesn’t really make sense that a hacker would do a visible hack, which is what a defacement hack involves, and then come back and do something worse in the future. This would be like a bank robber breaking in to a bank vault and spray painting that they broke in, but not taking any money, but planning to come back and do that at a later date. That analogy sounds more like something a villain in a comic, movie, or TV show might do.

The reality though is that for a website to be hacked something has to have gone wrong. If you don’t fix that vulnerability then the hacker or another hacker could exploit the vulnerability again in the future. The solution to that is to figure out what that was and fix it as part of a proper hack cleanup. As we were just mentioning the other day though, SiteLock touts that they don’t do that, instead simply using automated tools to try to remove malicious code on the website, leaving the website vulnerable to being hacked again and again.

It also follows that SiteLock protection service wouldn’t provide good protection since they don’t know how websites are being hacked. Not surprisingly SiteLock doesn’t present evidence, much less evidence from independent testing, that their services are actually effective at protecting websites.

What seems to be the explanation for this is that SiteLock’s business model is built around getting reoccurring fees from people without having to do much for it. Properly cleaning up hacked websites would require having skilled people, which would cost serious money, and would only bring in money once. While selling people security services that are not expected to work that well, since there isn’t an expectation that websites can actually be secure, doesn’t require competent people. If you can get people to believe that websites just get hacked, as opposed to something going wrong that can be prevented, then it makes it easier to sell them a nebulous protection service.

If your website has been hacked you want to make sure to get it properly cleaned up, which involves removing anything the hacker added to the website, securing the website (which usually involves upgrading the software on it), and trying to determine how the website was hacked and fixing that. Many companies, including SiteLock, cut corners. So simply going with a well known company doesn’t mean that you are going to get a good result, in fact what we have seen is that the biggest names are usually very bad at security (lying about things has been effective method to make security companies popular, but it doesn’t help to make them good at security).

SiteLock’s Idea of Website Security Doesn’t Seem Too Focused on Actually Securing Websites

Recently, while searching for some information about another security company an ad for SiteLock also showed up in the search results:

The page linked to in the ad seems worth discussing as to what it says about the SiteLock’s view of website security (which is line with plenty of other companies as well), but the ad itself had a number of claims that stood out to us as well.

For example, based on everything we have seen SiteLock charges incredibly high prices (and not all in line with level of service you are getting), so the idea you are getting the “lowest price” seems laughable.

It also claims that you can “Switch to SiteLock for Free.”, which seems meaningless, as unless some other service charges you an extra fee if you previously used another service, there wouldn’t be a fee for switching. If you click the ad the only thing listed as being free is getting a quote (would someone else charge for a quote?).

The claims about “Ditch the Weak Security” and “the only fully automated website security” touch on what is seen on the page you are taken to when clicking the ad:

In that SiteLock claims there is no comparison between them and others when it comes to website security:

When it comes to comprehensive, automated website security, there is no comparison.

But in looking at the things they are comparing it shows they are not really all that focused on actually securing websites:

  • COMPLETE WEBSITE MALWARE DETECTION
  • AUTOMATED MALWARE REMOVAL
  • DOESN’T SLOW WEBSITE PERFORMANCE

If a website is secured there wouldn’t be any malware to be detected or removed in the first place. As we were just discussing yesterday with a real world example involving another well known security company, automated attempts to do both of those things don’t look to work very well either.

The details of those things being compared are either missing any evidence for claims as to SiteLock’s superiority (which seems like a basic and important part of a comparison) or don’t make sense.

For the first item they claim to “find more vulnerabilities, malware infections and other security issues” than anyone else:

SiteLock checks websites from the inside out and the outside in to find more vulnerabilities, malware infections and other security issues.

But no evidence is provided to back that up.

When it comes to vulnerabilities, in the past we have written about how we couldn’t find evidence that they vulnerability scanner was actually detecting vulnerabilities, much less more of them than anyone else. We later found that their vulnerability scanning looks to be at least, maybe only, running a tool called Nessus over websites, which causes some serious problems.

Next up is the claim about their malware removals:

SiteLock offers the only website security solution that automatically removes most malware. In instances when our software can’t eliminate an infection, our security team is automatically alerted to manually remove the malware.

There are a couple of obvious issues with that. First, they are not the only ones with automated malware removal. Second, when cleaning up a hack you don’t want to just remove it, as that alone does nothing to fix the vulnerability that allowed it to happen in the first place. So they are promoting that they improperly clean up websites, while making it sound like a good thing.

The final one doesn’t really make sense. They claim this about their service:

SiteLock scans are cloud-based, which means we do not slow down the customer’s website when we check for malware, vulnerabilities and other website security issues.

They claim this about their competitors:

The competition’s scans run on their customer’s website servers, consuming valuable resources that slow website performance.

But prior to that they claimed this about their competitors:

The competition typically only checks websites from the outside in, thus missing many potential security issues.

It doesn’t make sense that the competitors are checking “websites from the outside in”, but that their “scans run on their customer’s website servers”. In any case SiteLock is clearly going to use some resources to scan the websites, since they have to access them somehow to do that checking.

12M+ Customers

The claim on the page that “12M+ customers trust SiteLock to protect their website” is something we should take up more in detail sometime, as it is great example of SiteLock’s ridiculous claims. But a quick example of why that is ridiculous is that 6 million of that customer count come from their purchase of a company named Patchman. That company provides a service for web hosts that would patch some security vulnerabilities in some software used on their customers websites. That company doesn’t have 6 million customers, instead that is a claimed count all of the customers of the web host they do business with had. So half of SiteLock’s customers count are not necessarily even aware of the service being provided, much less to trust it to protect them. It also would provide limited protection since it only deals with some security issues and in the case of WordPress, the developers of WordPress already release security updates for older versions, so the service duplicates protection already provided.

Securing Your Website

If your website hasn’t been hacked what you should focus on is making sure you are doing the basics of security since those will actually help protect your website. If you are looking for a security service in addition to that, we would recommend you only use one that provides evidence from independent testing that they are effective at doing that. We should note that we have yet to see a company that provides that (or even presents evidence from non-independent testing to that effect).

If your website has been hacked you want to make sure to get it properly cleaned up, which involves removing anything the hacker added to the website, securing the website (which usually involves upgrading the software on it), and trying to determine how the website was hacked and fixing that. Many companies, including SiteLock, cut corners, as can be seen SiteLock by touting that they don’t do things properly. So simply going with a well known company doesn’t mean that you are going to get a good result, in fact what we have seen is that the biggest names are usually very bad at security (lying about things has been effective method to make security companies popular, but it doesn’t help to make them good at security).

Is SiteLock Making Websites Less Secure?

Recently we have run across evidence that SiteLock and their owners might actually be making websites less secure. While cleaning up a hacked website last week we noticed that at of one of SiteLock’s hosting partners, the Endurance International Group (which does business through brands A Small Orange, Bluehost, FatCow, HostGator, iPage, IPOWER, JustHost and quite a few others), a hacker has at least been targeting websites hosted by them or more concerning, the hacker isn’t so much as targeting websites hosted by them, but taking advantage of security issue with Endurance to gain access to their customer’s websites. You would think a web host would be interested in looking into something like that, but instead when contacted about hacked websites they just push people to hire SiteLock to clean up the websites, which does nothing to deal with the source of the hackings. Part of the reason for them doing that is that the Endurance gets the majority of the revenue for SiteLock services sold through their partnership, so they have a financial interest not to make their hosting as secure as possible. Another reason for pushing SiteLock is that the majority owners of SiteLock also run Endurance.

The very real possibility that the owners of a security company are also run a web hosts that is the cause of their customers being hacked is on the one hand kind of stunning, on the other hand it is in line with what we have come to expect when it comes to the handling of the security of websites.

Hacker Behind Recent Hack of Numerous EIG Hosted Websites Claimed They Had Full Access to One of EIG’s Servers Last Year

Last Thursday we mentioned how we had come across a hacker that had recently hacked numerous websites hosted with various Endurance International Group (EIG) brands. EIG does business through brands A Small Orange, Bluehost, FatCow, HostGator, iPage, IPOWER, JustHost and quite a few others. That the hacker was only hitting websites hosted with those brands stood out, since, if say, a hacker was exploiting a vulnerability in a WordPress plugin to gain access to them you would expect to see numerous different web hosts being represented.

At the least, that seems to indicate that the hacker is targeting website hosted with EIG brands, which is possible explanation of that situation. What would seem more likely though is that the hacker is gaining access to some part of EIG’s systems allowing them access to all of the websites on a server. Considering the hacker was hitting numerous website sharing the same IP address, which would likely indicate they are on the same server, that seemed like a reasonable possibility.

Proving that EIG systems are being exploited would be difficult without information they only have access to. Our past experience is that web hosts are rarely even willing to consider that they have been breached, much less admit that it has happened. As we mentioned in the previous post, things are worse with EIG, since they are run by the majority owners of a security company SiteLock and EIG gets a cut of security services sold by SiteLock to their customers. That creates an incentive not to provide their customers the best possible security and what we have heard is when contacted about a hacked websites that they just try to push their customers to SiteLock instead of doing any checking into the situation (that includes someone that contacted us last week that has the been hit as part of this hack).

While doing some more searching around on the message left in one of the files we found on a website hit by the hacker (that is also on the other websites being hit), “Hacked By Isal Dot ID”, we found that a year ago the hacker was claiming to have full access to a server that a website had hacked was on.

At the time of the hack that website was hosted on the IP address 192.185.142.185. The listed ISP of that IP address is Websitewelcome.com, which is HostGator.

(The website is now hosted on the IP address 74.220.219.116. The listed ISP of that IP address is Unified Layer, which is Bluehost.)

While the claim of a hacker isn’t necessarily reliable, it does raise further suspicion that there may be a security issue on EIG’s end. This seems like something they should be addressing. If you have been hit by this hacker and have gotten a response related to that instead of just being pushed to hire SiteLock please get in touch with us or leave a comment on this post.