Unreliable Claim That 1.5 Million WordPress Pages Defaced Is Reminder of the Terribleness of Security Companies/Journalists

In the last day there have been quite a few security journalists writing articles claiming that 1.5 million pages on WordPress websites have been defaced due to a vulnerability that existed in WordPress 4.7.0 and 4.7.1. In looking over those articles we have found that in some cases the claim isn’t actually sourced at all and what appears be the original source for the figure in the others, which came from a security company, isn’t reliable at all and that the journalists ignored a huge red flag that should have warned them that the claimed figure and the source of should not have been relied on.

First let’s look at a couple of the articles with unsourced claims. The Inquirer’s article is titled “WordPress hacking spree sees 1.5 million web pages defaced“; nowhere in the article is a citation for that claim provided. The closest the article gets is this:

According to a report on the BBCthere are millions of pages that have already been defaced thanks to the vulnerability.

In that BBC article the claim is not sourced either:

One estimate suggests more than 1.5 million pages on blogs have been defaced.

In ITworld’s article “Recent WordPress vulnerability used to deface 1.5 million pages” you get a source, but no explanation as to how the number was calculated, which seems like important information to provide:

Since then the number of defaced pages has grown to over 1.5 million and there are 20 different attack signatures, according to statistics from Feedjit, the company behind the Wordfence security plug-in for WordPress. The number of unique affected websites is estimated at around 40,000, as a site can have multiple defaced pages.

Also worth noting here is that there is an estimate of the number of websites impacted, which seems to be the more relevant number to be the headline number, assuming either was accurate. We don’t think there is much question as to why they went with the pages number, with the current state of security journalism click-baitness is more important than providing high quality reporting.

The Bleeping Computer’s article, “Attacks on WordPress Sites Intensify as Hackers Deface Over 1.5 Million Pages” cites nearly identical numbers as to the number of pages and websites:

Attacks on WordPress sites using a vulnerability in the REST API, patched in WordPress version 4.7.2, have intensified over the past two days, as attackers have now defaced over 1.5 million pages, spread across 39,000 unique domains.

It also looks like they are citing Wordfence for their number of web pages defaced as well:

The number grew to over 100,000 pages the next day, but according to a report from fellow web security firm WordFence, these numbers have skyrocketed today to over 1.5 million pages, as there are now 20 hacking groups involved in a defacement turf war.

When you look at Wordfence’s post the claim of 1.5 million pages is based on Google’s estimate of how many pages contain certain “hacked by” phrases:

On the far right we also include the number of defaced pages for each campaign, according to this morning’s Google results.

Are those reliable? The answer seems to be no. Here is how a BBC article from 2012, “Are search engine result figures accurate?“, starts out:

Enter the name Tim Harford into Google and you get 835,000 results.

Or 325,000, or 285,000… I got these widely differing results on computers within metres of each other in the same office at the same time.

So using those as headline number and not disclosing that it is the source (along with a disclaimer as to the questionable accuracy) seems quite inappropriate. It gets worse though, because in Wordfence’s post they take this misleading number and stretch in even further. In their chart they labeled the 1.5 million page estimate as being the number of “Hacked Sites”, not web pages:

That seems like the sort of thing that should have warned journalists away from that, but security journalists don’t seem to care much for accuracy.

The 39,000 unique domains or around 40,000 websites figure also looks to come from the same chart. The problem that appears to be a measure of websites where Wordfence saw an attempt to exploit this on, not the number of websites hacked:

Considering that any WordPress websites running 4.7.1 when 4.7.2 was released would have been automatically updated to 4.7.2 and protected against the exploit long before the attacks started, unless the automatic updates feature wasn’t working on the website (which we don’t see being the case with many websites) or it was disabled (which people sometimes foolishly do), the number of attacks that could have been successful was probably a small portion of the 39,000 attacked.

Unfortunately what has happened here with these inaccurate claims of the size of exploitation are all too common these days due to the poor state of security companies and security journalists.

Wordfence Spreads Falsehood on Database Prefix Security Hardening to Push Their Plugin

In the past we have written about how the WordPress focused security company Wordfence is making up threats in an effort to promote their plugin (and therefore their paid service). We have received pushback on that, some of which can be summed in that even if Wordfence isn’t telling the truth, their plugin might provide protection against what is really going on. Or as one of the comments reads less gracefully:

To the layperson, they don’t give a crap if it’s a dictionary attack or a brute force attack. An attack is an attack is an attack. If they happen to have some passwords in that dictionary and wordfence does stop it, is there not value in that?

That might be a reasonable argument if Wordfence was just telling people to use their plugin in addition to taking other steps. Ignoring the fact that their plugin has actually introduced additional vulnerabilities on websites due to the vulnerabilities that have existed in it, taking an extra step shouldn’t hurt the websites security, so it wouldn’t be that big of an issue.

The problem with that is that Wordfence intent in making these claims is pretty clearly to promote their plugin instead of actually promoting better security. A recent post of theirs shows this, as they make the claim that a common security hardening step of WordPress provides no protection and then quickly turn to promoting their plugin as an alternative. The truth though is they are wrong about this, probably because of their lack of security knowledge, which would be a good reason for them not to be handing out this type advice in the first place (or using it to promote their plugin).

No Protection

In the post on December 28 blog post, titled “WordPress Table Prefix: Changing It Does Nothing to Improve Security“, Wordfence claims (emphasis theirs):

Changing your WordPress table prefix is risky to implement and it does absolutely nothing to enhance your site security.

A little later they state this (emphasis theirs):

An idea became popular a few years ago that went something like this: If an attacker has access to your database via SQL injection, you can prevent them from accessing your data by renaming your tables to some unique prefix.

What Wordfence seems to have missed entirely is that a SQL injection isn’t the only way an attacker can get access to a database, which we will come back to in a bit.

Past their details that are supposed to back their claim up you get to real reason for the post, to promote their plugin:

Changing the WordPress Database Table Prefix is ‘Security Theater’

Changing the WordPress table prefix is what we refer to in the industry as ‘security theater’. In other words, it is busy-work that makes you feel more secure but does nothing to make you more secure. It only adds risk and complexity.

We have another cool sounding phrase that describes this: ‘Security through obscurity’. What this means is that you’re trying to secure yourself by making things harder for an attacker to find. In the security industry this is widely accepted as a pointless exercise.

Things that do actually make you more secure against attacks are a WordPress Firewall, like the one included free with Wordfence. This actually blocks SQL injection attacks before an attacker can gain access to your database.

The Wordfence firewall includes rules to block SQL injection attacks. It even includes a sophisticated SQL parsing engine that understands SQL the same way a database does. When we see incoming SQL, we intelligently parse it to determine if the intent is malicious or not. If it’s a SQL injection attack, we block it. If we detect it’s a site user or administrator doing something safe like posting a blog post, we allow it through.

(The claim made there that “Security through obscurity” “is widely accepted as a pointless exercise” in the “security industry” is not actually true, as a quick look through the results a Internet search for the term would show, but as usual it looks like Wordfence doesn’t know what they are talking about.)

Wordfence’s Firewall is a Defective Hammer

There is common saying, of which one variation is “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” The problem with that is not everything is a nail. Even when something is a nail, if your hammer is defective, it won’t necessarily be able to hammer the nail. Wordfence pretty clearly sees their firewall as a hammer and ignores the fact that it is often not effective.

We have done six tests of Wordfence’s plugin against real vulnerabilities in other plugins over at our Plugin Vulnerabilities service (four of them done as part of testing multiple security plugins). The results for their plugin and therefore its firewall haven’t been good. In four of them no protection was provided. In the other two the protection was easily bypassed. It turns out that Wordfence is actually aware to at least to a certain of the limitations of their firewall, but instead of being realistic about it, they spin the issue, apparently hoping (so far correctly) that they can get away with that.

Wordfence’s plugin isn’t an outlier, as in the four tests that involved multiple security plugins only one of them provide non-bypassable protection in one test and that came the tradeoff that Editor-level and below users wouldn’t be able to upload media. The obvious take away from that testing is that security plugins don’t provide much protection. Another take away we have had from that testing that is relevant here.

In a test of a vulnerability that allowed a file included with an attackers request to be uploaded to the website, we found that Wordfence prevented exploitation in our basic test. That was due to Wordfence seeing that a file being sent with the request had a PHP extension. That was easily bypassed though because one of the other items sent with the request was the name you wanted the file being uploaded to be saved as. So for example, you could upload the file as “malicious.txt” instead “malicious.php” and then specify the file be named “malicious.php” when saved to the file system. Wordfence wouldn’t stop the request without the PHP extension, but the file would still have a PHP extension after being uploaded on the website due to the name specified. Our take away from that is that vulnerabilities don’t always play nicely with assumptions made by security products.

Updating the Database

Recently for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service we were reviewing a report of a SQL injection vulnerability in the plugin ZX_CSV Upload, which allows “simple upload & update data from CSV to DB plugins”. The report noted that you had to be logged in as an Administrator to exploit. Seeing as an Administrator can normally do almost anything, they would normally have the ability to do the equivalent of SQL injection. So there wouldn’t really be a security vulnerability there unless this could be used to do something malicious using cross-site request forgery (CSRF). CSRF involves causing someone to take an action they didn’t intend. When we went to look to see if that was the case with this plugin we noticed a more obvious issues, the intended functionality of the plugin was susceptible to CSRF.

In practical terms this vulnerability could be used to update the database to add a new Administrator user controlled by an attacker, if they could get a logged in Administrator to access a page they control.

In our post on the issue we noted:

You would need to know what the prefix for the database is, so changing that would actually come in to play with a vulnerability (which it rarely does despite the big deal made about changing it in various security plugins and tutorials).

That post was put out on December 19, so if Wordfence was following sources putting out good information they could have avoided their false claim changing the database prefix “does absolutely nothing to enhance your site security”.

Making this even worse in our testing Wordfence’s plugin (and therefore firewall) doesn’t protect against exploitation of this vulnerability, while changing the prefix actually could.

It is worth noting that this plugin only had 10+ installs, so any exploitation of it is unlikely, but another vulnerability could open a similar possibility on a wider scale. Wordfence assumed incorrectly that the only time that the prefix comes in to play is with SQL injection, which this vulnerability makes clear isn’t the case.

Guessing the Prefix

If the database prefix hasn’t been changed the only limitation to exploiting it on a website using the plugin would be getting a logged in Administrator to access a page you control, which isn’t necessarily easy (at this point we don’t see any evidence of any wide scale attempt to exploit vulnerabilities that require getting that to happen, so you would only likely to be at risk in a targeted attack). But what if the prefix had been changed, you would need to make enough requests to guess the right one as well. So how many possibilities would there be?

MySQL database table names (and therefore the prefix) permit the following characters “0-9”, “a-z” , “A-Z”, “$”, “_”.  Depending on the operating system the table name will or won’t be case sensitive. For our purposes then let’s assume that the prefix is all lower case and the dollar sign isn’t used.

If you only letters are used you have the following number of combinations depending on prefix length:

  • 1 character prefix: 26 combinations
  • 2: 676
  • 3: 17,576
  • 4: 456,976
  • 5: 11,881,376
  • 6: 308,915,776
  • 7: 8,031,810,176

If you also include numbers you have the following number of combinations:

  • 1 character prefix: 36 combinations
  • 2: 1,296
  • 3: 46,656
  • 4: 1,679,616
  • 5: 60,466,176
  • 6: 2,176,782,336
  • 7: 78,364,164,096

The chances that you could cause the logged in Administrator’s web browser make enough completed requests to be successful in guessing the right prefix seems would depend on the prefix length. Maybe it could work with a short one, but once you are talking about the possibility of billions requests per table you are updating, the websites likely couldn’t handle the load if the computer and the network between them could before the user closed the web page causing the request to be sent.

So how long does a WordPress security plugin make it when changing it? The iThemes Security plugin, which has 800,000+ active installs according to wordpress.org, created one for us that was 7 characters and included numbers when we tried it features to change it, “ej952ng”.

Layered Security

Based on that, changing the database prefix has the possibility of being useful additional security step for a website at risk of targeted hacking as part of a layered approach to security (whether emphasizing that that type of action while even security companies, including Wordfence, are failing to do more basic security measures is its own issue).

So does Wordfence not believe in layered security? Actually they do, but when it involves it is a chance to push their plugin with a made up claim:

On some sites it’s a disaster if they’re compromised. The data theft can never be undone even if they recover from a hack. They want to employ every measure they can to be secure – and in our industry that’s a standard approach: We refer to it as a layered approach to security.

On others sites, it’s just a case of restoring from backups if you get hacked and moving on.

That is why we offer options like these that are configurable.

Wordfence and Security Concern Trolling

When it comes to the security of WordPress websites one of the impediments to improving it is that security industry likes to make up threats and then claim they will protect against them, which makes it harder to get people to focus on things that would actually improve security of their websites.

One example of this that was fairly popular for a while was to claim that WordPress listing what version of WordPress was in use in the HTML code of the website was a security risk and that they had a solution. It didn’t really make any sense for a number of reasons.

First, if the developers of software were really doing something that intentionally puts you at risk, the solution seems like it should be to use different software not try to undo them putting you at risk.

Second, hackers usually wouldn’t bother checking if a website was running WordPress, much less what version was in use, before trying to exploit a vulnerability. So if you were using an outdated version of WordPress with a vulnerability that could be exploited (we haven’t have seen a vulnerability in WordPress be the cause of a large scale hacking for maybe a decade at this point), no matter how hard you tried to hide the version it wouldn’t impact whether the vulnerability would get exploited. The real way to prevent the exploitation would be to keep WordPress up to date.

Third, if a hacker wanted to know what version of WordPress was in use, then hiding the listing of version number wasn’t actual effective at the time as they could simply check for changes in JavaScript or CSS files to determine the version in use. That wasn’t a secret, but either the people promoting this either never bothered to a search to see it had been pointed out or they ignored it.

A Strong Password Is The Real Solution

The latest example of this type of thing involves a new feature introduced in WordPress 4.7, which was release earlier this month. The REST API added in this version provides “machine-readable external access to your WordPress site with a clear, standards-driven interface”.

Cue that being claimed to be a security issue, in particular the user portion of it, which the plugin Wordfence Security, used on 1+ million websites according to wordpress.org, started blocking access to shortly after. In a discussion on that the WordPress.org Tech Guy, who we have had a bit of interaction in dealing with WordPress on vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins, he responded to it this way:

Why do people still think this a real issue? Your Twitter username is exposed to everybody. Is that a real problem?

What really happened here is that WordFence added code to break the API. Simple as that. Usernames are not private information, in any sane system. Use good passwords. Then it doesn’t make any difference what your username is.

My username on my site is “otto”. Best of luck to ya.

That all sounds reasonable and he expanded on that in a follow-up response.

Here is part of the response from Wordfence:

Security is all we do. The WordPress.org core team and contributors have a different focus and a different world-view. Many of our team spend all day fixing hacked WordPress sites and working directly with traumatized customers who are incredibly stressed because their business has stalled and their data has been stolen.

We don’t arbitrarily implement features. Our design decisions are based on thousands of hours of human experience working with hacked sites, looking at attack data and understanding the wide variety of our customer’s needs.

While they claim they don’t “arbitrarily implement features” and “decisions are based on thousands of hours of human experience working with hacked sites”, no where in their response do they even make a claim that the feature would likely lead to websites being hacked. There is a good reason for that, it wouldn’t.

In the post announcing the feature they do give a reason for doing it, but it is even worse than none:

This can be exploited by bots that are launching brute-force password guessing attacks on WordPress websites. They can use this API to list the usernames of anyone who has published a post on a WordPress site. The list of users displayed via this API almost always includes a user with admin level access.

Despite Wordfence repeatedly pushing the idea that brute force attacks against WordPress admin passwords are happening (and that their plugin is the solution), they simply are not happening. At best Wordfence doesn’t understand what is actually going, which are dictionary attacks, not brute force attacks. Those involve a hacker trying to log in using common password and there is a really simple way to protect against them, use a strong password. It doesn’t matter if someone has your username, those attacks will fail as long as you use a strong password. If Wordfence told the truth about what is happening it would also remove a reason to use their plugin, which might also explain why they keeping pushing that falsehood.

WordPress does a good job on helping people to use a strong password. When setting up WordPress it will pre-populate a strong password for you:

Let’s say you decide to use a weak password instead. Not only will the password strength indicator tell you it is “Very weak”, but you will need to check a box to “Confirm use of weak password”:

About the only other thing they could do in terms of make sure a strong password is used is making its usage mandatory, which has some downsides.

Wordfence Lack of Concern For a Real Source of Hacked Websites

Going back to Wordfence’s explanation for creating an issue where there isn’t one, it read in part:

Security is all we do. The WordPress.org core team and contributors have a different focus and a different world-view. Many of our team spend all day fixing hacked WordPress sites and working directly with traumatized customers who are incredibly stressed because their business has stalled and their data has been stolen.

At the same time it turns out they are actually okay with people using their plugin being hacked. Before we get to that let’s look at how their plugin is described on the Plugin Directory:

Secure your website with Wordfence. Powered by the constantly updated Threat Defense Feed, our Web Application Firewall stops you from getting hacked.


Wordfence Security is 100% free and open source. We also offer a Premium API key that gives you Premium Support, Country Blocking, Scheduled Scans, Password Auditing and we even check if your website IP address is being used to Spamvertize.

So it is free and will stop you from being hacked right? Well not always.

On November 20 the security company NinTechNet, makers of the security plugin NinjaFirewall, were cleaning up a hacked website and discovered that the source of the hacking was a arbitrary file upload vulnerability in the plugin Delete All Comments, which recently had 30,000+ active installs according to wordpress.org. They contacted the developer and didn’t receive a response, they later notified the Plugin Directory and it was removed. On December 10, they disclosed the issue publicly.

On December 11 it was added to a public database of WordPress vulnerabilities, the WPScan Vulnerability Database. On December 12 it was added to the free data that comes with the companion plugin for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service.

Also on December 12 we saw the first interest in the plugin by hackers with the data we monitor for Plugin Vulnerabilities service, which probably also indicates that widespread exploitation would have begun then as well.

On December 16 we did a test to see if security plugin could prevent exploitation of these over at our Plugin Vulnerabilities service. Seeing as the vulnerability had not been fixed (and still hasn’t), so keeping your plugins up to date would not protect you, this is situation where a security plugin could provide some. Unfortunately none of the 15 plugins we tested prevented the vulnerability from being exploited.

One of the plugins tested was Wordfence, so here is a situation where websites are being hacked, the plugin didn’t stop it from happening and you have people that are going to be, to use Wordfence phrasing, “traumatized customers who are incredibly stressed because their business has stalled and their data has been stolen”.

Only on December 16 did Wordfence take any action on this:

We developed a firewall rule for that exploit and released it into production on December 16th, the moment we heard about it from our users.

And only because their users notified them. And it turns out that was only because of us:

In the case of the vulnerability above, we heard about it because you were making some noise about it. Our users alerted us.

That is quite a poor response, when you consider that simply monitoring one of two publicly available sources of information of vulnerabilities could have lead to a response days sooner, instead of relying on their users to do it for their work for them. But at least people using the plugin are safe now, right? Wrong.

Instead only websites using their paid service will get protected for a month:

The rule is now in production for Wordfence Premium. It will only be available in the free Threat Defense Feed 30 days after release, so around Jan 15th.

So everyone else will be open to being hacked for a month, with a vulnerability that Wordfence knows is already being exploited, since that was how it was discovered.

While leaving people using their plugin vulnerable to be exploited is bad for them, it could actually pay off for Wordfence since they also do hack cleanups.

Even the people with the paid service are getting poor service, as Wordfence wasn’t proactive in protecting them, instead relying on users to let them know of the issue, after the exploitation looks to have taken off. What is particularly striking about that is they market their paid service very differently. In promoting the Real-Time Threat Defense Feed that is part of that, they say:

Wordfence protects over 1 million WordPress websites, giving us unmatched access to information about how hackers compromise sites

The unmatched access could actually be outmatched by simply monitoring public sources. It isn’t just this vulnerability, through our Plugin Vulnerabilities service we repeatedly found apparent zero-day vulnerabilities, which are vulnerabilities being exploited before the developer is aware of them, in WordPress plugins and every indication is that Wordfence was not aware of them (that also makes you wonder about their claim that they have “thousands of hours of human experience working with hacked sites, looking at attack data”). In some cases it looks like hackers were exploiting those vulnerabilities for more than a year before we had started monitoring the data that helped us to identify them and take further action.

Wordfence Should Stop Misleading The Public

If Wordfence wants to leave people relying on their plugin vulnerable like they have with the vulnerability in Delete All Comments, they have a right to do that, but they should be honest with people about what is going on and not say things like that they put the community first, when the actually put profits before them.

It would also be good if they stop making up threats as well.

Wordfence Continues To Peddle False Claim of Brute Force Attacks To Push Plugin That Doesn’t Protect Against Real Threat

When it comes to improving security of websites one of the problems we see is that real issues do not receive the attention they should, while other issues, that are of little to no concern, do get attention. Often times it is security companies that play an important role in this happening, when they should be helping to push against this.

When it comes the security of WordPress websites one of the big problems that exists is that vulnerabilities in plugins that are being exploited do not always get fixed in a timely manner or in some cases ever. A recent example of that comes with an arbitrary file upload vulnerability that exist in the most recent version in the plugin Delete All Comments. Through that vulnerability a hacker could upload files of their choosing and then do almost anything they want with the website. The security company NinTechNet spotted the vulnerability while cleaning up a website was hacked through it on November 20. They notified the developer, but received no response from them (one possible explanation for the vulnerability being in the plugin is that it was actually intentional put in the plugin, though it could just as easily be unintentional).

NinTechNet then notified the Plugin Directory and the plugin was removed from that. That prevents anyone not using the plugin already from installing and making themselves vulnerable, but what happens for the 30,000+ websites that already were using it according to wordpress.org? Nothing. The people running those websites are left unaware that their website is open to be exploited. Amazingly this isn’t because no one had brought up this issue. We raised it back in March of 2012. Shortly after that we proposed on the Ideas section of the WordPress website that people be alerted people when their websites are using plugins that have been removed from the Plugin Directory and providing at least general reason why it was removed. Shortly afterwords it was marked as “Good idea! We’re working on it” and it was stated that it was being worked on. By six months ago the same person said:

We cannot provide this service at this time.

IF an exploit exists and we publicize that fact without a patch, we put you MORE at risk.

Strangely the idea is still marked as “Good idea! We’re working on it”, which keeps it from being listed on prominently on front page of Ideas section (where it would be tied for the second most popular idea that hasn’t been greenlit and where more people would see that the issue is being left unaddressed).

There is another option, the Plugin Directory can put out a fixed version when the developers doesn’t do that, but they rarely do that, don’t seem to have provided any sort of public criteria on when they would do that, and someone on the WordPress side even deleted a comment we made in regards to the issue at one point.

In the meantime if you install the companion plugin for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service you get warned in situation like this as we include information on vulnerabilities that looked to be being exploited to the free data included with that (last week we also added data on vulnerabilities that look to being exploited in the current version of a plugin with 40,000+ installs and another with 20,000+ active installs).

If these got more public attention we have hard time believing that WordPress would continue to leave people vulnerable, but that is the situation we and everyone else is dealing with until such time.

If you are thinking that a security plugin would protect against this type of thing, think again. We tested the ability of 15 security plugins to prevent exploitation of the vulnerability in Delete All Comments last week and found that none of them stopped it.

One of those plugins that didn’t stop it was Wordfence, a plugin with 1+ million active installs, which is describe on the its main page on the Plugin Directory thusly:

Secure your website with Wordfence. Powered by the constantly updated Threat Defense Feed, our Web Application Firewall stops you from getting hacked.

That unqualified claim is that it stops from you getting hacked is clearly false as not only that test against the vulnerability in Delete All Comments shows. In three other tests we have done, in either Wordfence provided no protection or the protection was easily bypassed. It is also worth noting that from everything we have seen Wordfence’s Threat Defense Feed misses many plugin vulnerabilities.

So how do you get over 1 million installations of plugin that doesn’t actually do what it claims to do. Well what appears to be an important role in that is that Wordfence simply makes up threats and then claims to protect against them.

Brute Force Attacks Are Not Happening

Take for instance last Friday when they put out a post “Huge Increase in Brute Force Attacks in December and What to Do“, which claimed:

At Wordfence we constantly monitor the WordPress attack landscape in real-time. Three weeks ago, on November 24th, we started seeing a rise in brute force attacks. As a reminder, a brute force attack is one that tries to guess your username and password to sign into your WordPress website.

Of course they have the solution for this:

If you install the free version of Wordfence, you are automatically protected against brute force attacks. It’s that simple. We also automatically block the worst offenders completely, and we share some information below on who those are.

There is just one problem with all of that, brute force attacks against WordPress admin logins are not actually happening. Back when we originally discussed the fact that security companies are falsely telling people brute force attacks are happening in August we used as an example from Wordfence in January, so Wordfence has been using this falsehood to push their product for some time.

We wrote in that post:

To understand how you can tell that these brute force attacks are not happening, it helps to start by looking at what a brute force attack involves. A brute force attack does not refer to just any malicious login attempt, it involves trying to login by trying all possible passwords until the correct one is found, hence the “brute force” portion of the name. To give you an idea how many login attempts that would take, let’s use the example of a password made up of numbers and letters (upper case and lower case), but no special characters. Below are the number of possible passwords with passwords of various lengths:

  • 6 characters long: Over 56 billion possible combinations (or exactly 56,800,235,584)
  • 8 characters long: Over 218 trillion possible combinations (218,340,105,584,896)
  • 10 characters long: Over 839 quadrillion possible combinations  (839,299,365,868,340,224)
  • 12 characters long: Over 3 sextillion possible combinations  (3,226,266,762,397,899,821,056)

The chart of login attempts in Wordfence post from last week show only millions of login attempts per day:

It would take a long time for that to get to the amount needed for a brute force attack, but wait, those are not against one website, those are across hundreds of thousands of websites:

So we are talking about an average of 10s of attempts per website, which is never going to amount to a brute force attack.

So what is actually going on? Well based on the number of attempts and by looking at what username/password combinations were used in actual malicious login attempts it looks like most of these are actually dictionary attacks. A dictionary attack involves trying to log in using common passwords.

Knowing what type of attack is important because how you prevent them and the level concern you should have is very different for different types. With what is actually happening, dictionary attacks, all you need to protect yourself is to use a strong password, otherwise you can simply ignore this.

That might explain why Wordfence is misleading people, if they told people the truth they wouldn’t be a need for them to install their plugin (and then possibly sign up for Wordfence’s paid service). The other possibility, which seems just as likely based on what else we have seen, is Wordfence simply doesn’t have a good understanding of security. That could also explain why they don’t understand why it is inappropriate to make an unqualified claim that their plugin “stops you from getting hacked” when that would that would be able to truly stop any hack is next to impossible.

If you look at the comments on Wordfence’s recent post you can see they have successfully mislead a lot of people into believing their false claim, which makes it even harder to get people to focus on real issues and that means more websites are going to get hacked that should not have.

Wordfence Using Outdated and Insecure Software on Their Website

When it comes to the security of websites what we see is that basic security measures are often not being taken with websites, while security companies push additional security measures without evidence that they provide better protection than doing the basics or in addition to doing the basics. Considering how bad the security industry is, it probably isn’t surprising to hear that we have repeatedly found that security companies themselves are not doing the basics, while pushing additional security measures.

Back in October we looked at one cyber security company that claimed to have “clients in the intelligence community, DoD and nearly every cabinet agency” that wasn’t keeping the WordPress and Drupal installations on their websites up to date, while telling people that they doing the additional security step of vulnerability scanning isn’t enough and that they need penetration testing done as well (which not surprisingly they offer). From what we have seen it looks like a lot of penetration testing largely involves running automated tools that try exploit known vulnerabilities in software, which usually would not exist if you are keeping your software up to date.

In November we looked at a couple of other cyber security companies that had been in news that were also running outdated software on their websites.

Today let’s look at example of this from the WordPress security world, which shouldn’t be all that surprising if you follow our blog. In the past we have mentioned the security company Wordfence in regards to their scary lack of security knowledge and pushing the falsehood of of brute force attacks against WordPress admin logins (which they are still pushing).

Over at the blog for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service today we looked another instance where Wordfence’s very popular security plugin failed to prevent exploitation of a plugin vulnerability (the 14 other security plugins we tested also failed to prevent exploitation), this vulnerability is one that you can’t protect yourself against by keeping your plugins up to date, so it would be something where an additional security measure could actually be useful (the companion plugin for our service has been warning webmasters of that vulnerability since Monday).

While working on that we ran across the Wordfence Official Documentation portion of Wordfence’s website and noticed they are running an outdated and insecure version of MediaWiki on that:

Both versions 1.23.14, release in May, and 1.23.15, released in August, contain a number of security fixes.

It’s Scary How Little Wordfence Knows About Security

If you follow the news what seem pretty clear is that cybersecurity is not in good shape these days, whether it’s major credit card breaches at retailers or hacks of high profile organizations, clearly something is very wrong. It seems unlikely that is due to a lack of spending on security products and services, consider that estimates of yearly spending on cybersecurity are in the 10s of billions of dollars and expected to continue to rise. Instead part of the explanation is that much of that money is being spent on products and services from companies that know and or care little about security.

To give you one example, anti-virus software from well known companies Kaspersky Lab, Norton, McAfee, Sophos, and Trend Micro all were found by Google researcher Tavis Ormandy to have had exploitable vulnerabilities in them. When you have to be concerned that security products are increasing your security risk that indicates something is quite wrong. But what is more striking about those vulnerabilities is the ease of exploiting some of these and that they were due in part to the companies doing dumb things. For example, in the case of Norton, quite of few of their products, including enterprise products, were subject to a remote code execution vulnerability that could be exploited by sending an email (it wouldn’t have had to be opened) that was due in part to running code at a higher privilege level than was have been needed.

As we have ramped up our Plugin Vulnerabilities service for keeping track of vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins, we have run across more of what WordPress security companies are up to and what is seen is that are not the exception when it comes to the poor state of security companies. One such example is Wordfence, we have frequently seen things that showed they either didn’t know or care much about security.

What we have wondered for some time though, is it more that they don’t know about security or if they just don’t care about it. To see why that is, take their involvement in the widespread claim that brute force attacks against WordPress admin password are occurring, despite the fact the evidence from Wordfence and other security companies actual shows that they are not. Does Wordfence had no clue what they were talking about or do they know they were telling people a falsehood to help push their product and service, seeing as those wouldn’t be needed if people knew what the malicious login attempts falsely being labeled as part of brute force attacks were most likely part of, dictionary attacks, which can be protected by simply using a strong password. We really were not sure.

In another example, Wordfence made a bold claim about being able to protect against stored XSS attacks, which we found to be false with some simple testing. In that case it could have either been that they were saying something they knew wasn’t true or it could have been that they understand so little about this type of vulnerability that they didn’t understand what incredible claim they were making and that they needed to be very careful about making it without being sure about the claiming.

We think the latest false information put forward them makes it pretty likely that they are lacking a basic understanding of security, which is frightening since so much of the WordPress community is relying on them for information and protection.

In a post about what they say are the most attack plugin vulnerabilities (worth mentioning here is that we recently found that Wordfence seems to be oblivious to vulnerabilities in plugins that are actually the biggest threat) they made a claim that we and they found out surprising, that many of the vulnerabilities being targeted were local file inclusion (LFI) vulnerabilities:

The large number of local file inclusion vulnerabilities that are being exploited is surprising. I should also note that many of these LFI’s were discovered by Larry Cashdollarwho I had the pleasure of seeing speak at Defcon in Las Vegas 2 weeks ago. So I suspect that many of these are being used in an attack script of some kind which may explain their prevalence in the attacks we’re seeing.

The clustering of LFI’s together and Shell exploits together in the list order is odd, but I don’t have a theory to explain that and there is no error in the data that accounts for that. It appears to be coincidence.

Considering that everything we know from monitoring plugin vulnerabilities and dealing with lots of hacked websites is that this type of vulnerability is rarely targeted, this seemed odd. But a quick look at the data they presented showed a simply explanation, local file inclusion vulnerabilities were not actually be targeted. Instead what was being targeted were what we refer to as arbitrary file viewing vulnerabilities (they are also often referred to arbitrary file download or directory traversal vulnerabilities), which are very different.

Before we get in to what each of those type of vulnerabilities is,  it is worth mentioning that Wordfence really had to go out of their way to get this wrong, as can easily seen by the fact that the first five vulnerabilities they listed as being local file inclusion vulnerabilities are actually listed in the linked to advisories as being the following types of vulnerabilities:

Not one of those is listed as listed local file inclusion vulnerability, so Wordfence must have thought they were all wrong.

A local file inclusion (LFI) vulnerability allows an attacker to include a file that exists on the file system of the server the website is on (a remote file inclusion (RFI) vulnerability allows the same with a file that exists somewhere else). For this type of vulnerability to useful to a hacker they either need to be able to place a file on the website or there needs to be a file thats inclusion in this way causing a security issue. Since those do not appear to be readily available in most cases it follow that this type of vulnerability is not often being exploited.

An arbitrary file viewing vulnerability allows viewing the contents of a file that exists on the website. With WordPress websites we frequently see attempts to exploit this type of vulnerability to view the contents of the wp-config.php file. If successful that would provide the attacker with the database credentials associated with the website. For that to be useful the attacker would need to be able to connect to the database, their ability to do that varies greatly depending on the hosting setup. While we see many attempts to exploit this type of vulnerability, we see it being the cause of a website being hacked much less than arbitrary file upload vulnerabilities, which we also see many exploit attempts against.

While Wordfence’s lack of understanding what each of these vulnerabilities would likely has some impact on protecting against them, it would have an even bigger impact on their properly doing hack cleanups (which they also offer) since it greatly helps to understand what security vulnerabilities have existed on the website to determine the source of the hack and the impact the exploitation of a vulnerability could have had.

If you care about security we would recommend you help us get the truth about Wordfence out to a wider audience so that together we can lessen the damage they are doing toward the security of so many websites.

WordPress Disappears Our Response To Post Indicating that Wordfence Premium Failed To Protect Websites From Being Hacked

When it comes to improving the security of WordPress ecosystem one of the things that is desperately needed is better security information. For example, if you were to look at discussions of WordPress security you would likely to believe that there were a lot of attempts to brute force WordPress admin passwords, despite the evidence from the WordPress security companies claiming they are happening showing that those supposed brute force attacks are not happening at all. Unfortunately, one of the parties we have recently found being an impediment to improving security information that is available to the public is WordPress, or more specially, one or more of the people involved in moderating their forums.

Several weeks ago we discussed how someone at WordPress was disappearing some of our posts on the wordpress.org support forum and it has happened again just in the last day. Since one of the threads that had a reply of ours removed, touches on some important security issues that are in need better information, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss it here, especially since someone at WordPress doesn’t want accurate security information related to that to be accessible to people reading their forum for some reason.

One of the things we do to keep track of what plugin vulnerabilities are out there to make sure we provide the best data for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service is to monitor the wordpress.org support forums for threads discusses such issues. In doing that we run into threads discussing an assortment of other security issues, which we sometimes add a response when we can provide some insights based on knowledge of plugin security and hack cleanups of WordPresw website. Yesterday we ran into a thread involving a claim that several websites were hacked due to a third-party library included with WordPress, SWFUpload.

There we several things that stuck out to with this post. One, was that person, who discussing a hack of several of their clients websites, did not appear to have tried to properly determine how the website were hacked, instead they just seem to be guessing that it was caused by SWFUpload:

Now I think I found the hackers method, I believe they used “swfupload”.

Any security scan will not show “swfupload” as a danger because WordPress (foolishly) includes these script files for legacy reasons. Apart from that, the files in folder “swfupload” are not needed for current WordPress installs. These are old files and since they are old they are NO longer updated to stop hackers.

Now that I had 2 client websites hacked and malicious files uploaded, I believe that is the weak spot in WordPress allowing the hacker to gain access.

If that were the source of the hackings there should be evidence of the log files, which their post made no mention of reviewing (despite being a basic part of a hack cleanup). It seems highly unlikely that was the source, since if a hacker were to have discovered a vulnerability that allows hacking websites throughWordPress it is likely they would try to hack as many websites as possible quickly before it was discovered that their was issue since once it was, WordPress could quickly release an automatic update that would protect the vast majority of WordPress websites within a day. Seeing as we haven’t seen any evidence to point to a hack of WordPress itself occurring recently, it seem unlikely that was the source. The first two paragraphs (of total a three) of our response discussed those things:

If there was a known vulnerability that could be exploited like this in the version of SWFUpload included with WordPress it is likely that there would be a lot of websites being hacked through it right now, but we are not seeing any evidence of something like that going on at this point, so it isn’t likely to be the source of your hackings.

What you will want to do is to review the log files for the websites to see what evidence they provide as to the source of the hackings. If SWFUpload was in fact the source then there should be evidence of that in the HTTP log and that evidence would also provide information needed for the WordPress developers to work on fixing it.

The other major thing that stuck out what this person surprise that the website had been hacked while using the Wordfence Premium service:

I had 2 of my client WordPress sites hacked in this past month and they uploaded malicious PHP and JS files to infect the site with a backdoor PHP script. When I found the hacked upload 2 weeks ago in one client’s site, I wondered how did they got into the site while using WordFence Premium?

Should that be surprising? Not to anyone who is actually knowledgable about security, since in reality the various website security products and services out there provide at best limited protection against real threats against websites (and sometimes they actually are the security threat). For example, a WordPress security plugin would have no ability to stop an attacker who gains access to the FTP credentials from accessing the website’s files and in fact if the attacker wanted to they could modify the security plugin to ignore any changes they made to the website.

For Wordfence in particular it wasn’t surprising to us that their service wouldn’t protect a website considering among other thing they are one of the security companies pushing false claims of brute force attacks (while advertising that their service will protect you from them) and that we recently found their claim that their plugin would protect against stored XSS vulnerabilities was not supported when testing real world vulnerabilities against it. When it comes to their paid service, Wordfence Premium, back in June we noted that it was failing to detect vulnerabilities that were being exploited in the current versions of plugins. We concluded our response by mentioning that, since it is relevant for someone thinking that the service would protect them, that said service is oblivious to vulnerabilities that are being exploited and could actual be a cause of the hackings:

Since you brought up Wordfence Premium, it is worth noting that the service looks to have missed detecting exploitation of numerous vulnerabilities that were in the current version of WordPress plugins, so its ability to protect websites against real world threats is at least somewhat limited.

Was someone at WordPress trying to cover up the fact that Wordfence Premium has serious problem in its protection by removing our response, we don’t know, but removing our post had the same effect.

No One Is Trying To Brute Force Your WordPress Admin Password

When it comes to improving the security of the WordPress ecosystem one of the biggest problems we see is the shear amount misleading and often times false information that is put out by security companies. One of the most frequent falsehoods we see is the claim that there are a lot of attempts to brute force WordPress admin password. Not only is the claim false, but is so obviously false that these security companies either don’t understand the basics of security or they are knowingly lying to the public, either of which would be a good reason for you to avoid them.

To understand how you can tell that these brute force attacks are not happening, it helps to start by looking at what a brute force attack involves. A brute force attack does not refer to just any malicious login attempt, it involves trying to login by trying all possible passwords until the correct one is found, hence the “brute force” portion of the name. To give you an idea how many login attempts that would take, let’s use the example of a password made up of numbers and letters (upper case and lower case), but no special characters. Below are the number of possible passwords with passwords of various lengths:

  • 6 characters long: Over 56 billion possible combinations (or exactly 56,800,235,584)
  • 8 characters long: Over 218 trillion possible combinations (218,340,105,584,896)
  • 10 characters long: Over 839 quadrillion possible combinations  (839,299,365,868,340,224)
  • 12 characters long: Over 3 sextillion possible combinations  (3,226,266,762,397,899,821,056)

Now that you have an idea of the number of requests it would take to actually do a brute force attack, lets look at the number of attempts that security companies are claiming are occurring that support their claim that brute force attacks are going on.

First up is Wordfence, back in January they put out a post about the claim that brute force attacks are going on and gave a figure for how many login attempts had occurred over a recent 16 hour period (they call each login attempt an attack):

During this time we saw a total of 6,611,909 attacks targeting 72,532 individual websites. We saw attacks during this time from 8,941 unique IP addresses and the average number of attacks per victim website was 6.26.

The total during that time period likely isn’t any where near enough login attempts for even one brute attack to be successful, but with less 7 attempts per website, that clearly is not evidence of brute force attacks actually occurring.

How about Sucuri Security, they have a page on their website entitled WordPress Brute Force Attacks, that is supposed to present the “state of brute force attacks against WordPress sites”. The graph shown there includes failed login attempts for websites “protected” behind their website firewall. There is an obvious issue with that since failed login attempts are not necessarily malicious, so the graph is not necessarily entirely that accurate. Even with that caveat, the largest amount on one day looks to be have been about 50 million requests:


We don’t know how many websites that is split across, but even if it was one website that likely wouldn’t be nearly enough for one successful brute force attack per day.

In one instance recently, someone we perviously did some work for contacted us because they had gotten an email from Sucuri’s WordPress plugin that was alerting them to brute force attack. In that instance Sucuri was claiming that a brute force attack was occurring based on a total of 30 login attempts.

Security Companies That Don’t Understand the Basics of Security

Back in September of last year Sucuri not only claimed that brute force attacks where happening, but also claimed that brute force attacks are frequent source of hacking (despite the fact that they are not actually happening at at all):

However, brute force attacks are still going strong. In fact, they are one of the leading causes of website compromises.

So what could explain the false claims about brute force attacks?

One explanation is that these security companies don’t have an understanding of the basics of security, like knowing what a brute force attack is. Considering you don’t have to look at some obscure resource to know what they are, you just have to go to the Wikipedia, there isn’t any excuse for that.

The other explanation is that these security companies do know what a brute force attack actually is, but they are lying about them happening since if they told what was actually happening they wouldn’t be able to use it to push the products and services they provide. That would have the added bonus of allowing them to claim they can protect against something, without having to worry about that turning out to not be true (as we recently found with another claimed protection by Wordfence), since the brute force attacks are not actually happening.

Protecting Yourself From the Real Threat, Dictionary Attacks

So based on those security company’s data brute force attacks are not going on, but there are malicious login attempts happening, so what is actually happening? Based on looking at actual login attempts and the number of requests it looks like most of the malicious login attempts are from dictionary attacks.

A dictionary attack involves trying to log in using common passwords, think things like “123456” and “123admin”.

With dictionary attacks protecting your website is really easy, just use a strong password. Thats it. You don’t need to put in place all sorts of other protection, since the dictionary attacks will fail as long as you do that. WordPress now defaults to generating a strong password and displays a password strength indicator if someone chooses to create their own password, so if you have an Administrator choosing to use a weak password, you probably have bigger issues to worry about. If you are concerned about lower level users using weak passwords and then being subject to dictionary attacks, there are a number of options to enforce stronger passwords that are available.

With it being that easy to prevent what is going on, it would be difficult for security companies to promote products and services to deal with this, so that is why we wonder if they are intentionally lying about what is going on.

It also worth noting that there is likely a quite a bit of overlap between the passwords tried during different dictionary attacks, so the amount passwords tried is likely much less than the total attempts occurring over even a fairly short period of time.

Help Us Clear Things Up

If you see someone claiming that brute force attacks against WordPress admin accounts are happening, we would appreciate if you point them to this post, so that we can start to clear up the false information being pushed by those security companies and people can start focusing on properly protecting themselves.

The Fact That Wordfence Couldn’t Clean Up a Hacked Website Doesn’t Stop People From Suggesting That It Will Clean It

When it comes to improving the security of websites one of the biggest problems we see if the shear amount of bad information, including lots of bad advice, that is being put out there. We frequently see people suggesting using the Wordfence plugin for WordPress, which we have hard time believing somebody who is knowledgable about security would recommend due to a number of issues. Those issues include the fact that broad based security plugins like that are not all that useful against real threats, that more than a few security vulnerabilities have been found in the Wordfence plugin itself, that the developers don’t seem to have a good grasp of security, and that the plugin produces some really bad false positives. Usually you have no way of knowing if somebody giving out that advice has a different opinion in regards to those types of things or they are giving advice without really being informed about the situation. In some cases you can see that advice is being handed out uniformed, though.

As part of keeping track of security issues in WordPress plugins for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service, we monitor the wordpress.org forum for threads related to plugin vulnerabilities. In addition to helping to find some more vulnerabilities to include in our data, we run across threads about other security issues related to WordPress and WordPress plugins. In one of those we saw when the use of Wordfence being suggested as a solution, when that clearly wasn’t helpful advice.

The original poster in the thread described the problem they were having cleaning up a hacked website. After trying numerous things, including reverting to a backup copy, malicious files were continuing to be added to the website. At the end of the post they mentioned that they have three WordPress security plugins installed, but that they hadn’t been any help:

Protections plugins I’m currently using (and which can’t find anything wrong with the website)

Despite that one those plugins was Wordfence, the second and third responses suggested that Wordfence could deal with the issue:

Yes, those are not default files. WordFence is the best for scanning once you are already infected.


I had the same issue, so far WordFence has done a great job. Two days and no wp-checking.php has showed up. Yet!

In this type of situation what we would recommend, and did later in the thread, is to see if you can determine if the hacker still has some sort of access to the website, which is allowing them to continue to modify the website, and if that is the case, close off that access.

Incidentally, one of the other plugins they were using, AntiVirus, was one that we found was flagging a fresh install of WordPress as having virus back in 2012.

WordFence Really Doesn’t Know What They Are Talking About

One of the biggest problems we see with improving the security of websites is the amount of bad information out there, as it is hard to start to address the underlying problems when so much of what is being said is wrong. What surprised us when we started dealing with security issues is how much of that bad information comes from security companies. We don’t have the time to go through every instance of this since it is so widespread, but it is worth looking at an example of a company putting out bad information from time to time when a larger security issue is also raised.

On February 11, security researcher Claudio Viviani publicly disclosed a SQL injection vulnerability in the WordPress plugin WORDPRESS VIDEO GALLERY. According to his advisory he had notified the developer of the plugin about the issue two days before that. The next Tuesday we added the vulnerability to our Plugin Vulnerabilities plugin and on Friday, after waiting a few days to give time to the developer to release the fix, we notified the people running the WordPress.org Plugin Directory of that the vulnerability existed and had not been fixed. Following that the plugin was pulled from the directory. Earlier today they let us know the plugin had been removed and that the fixed version should be available soon. While checking to confirm that issue was fixed in the new version, which it was, we came across a forum thread that linked to a WordFence, which sells a WordPress security service, blog post entitled Zero Day SQL Injection Vulnerability in WordPress Video Gallery.

The problems with their blog post start with the title. This vulnerability wasn’t a zero day vulnerability since that involves a vulnerability being exploited before the developer or the public knows about the vulnerability. That wasn’t the case here as the vulnerability was publicly disclosed a week before and it appears the developer knew about it before that. The implications of a zero day vulnerability are much different than what this actually is, so the distinction is important. Zero day vulnerabilities do get more press coverage, so you might ask if they characterized it that way to try to get them attention.

That wasn’t the end of the problems, it continues into the content of the post:

There is currently a zero day SQL injection vulnerability in the WordPress Video Gallery plugin. Our researchers are seeing exploits in the wild for this and the exploits claim the vendor has been notified on the 9th of February.

If you click the “exploits in the wild” link what you get is not anything to do with exploits of the vulnerability in the wild, instead it is a copy of Claudio Viviani’s advisory on the Exploit Database website. The advisory itself doesn’t provide any code to exploit vulnerability. The proof of concept (POC) given simply shows where the SQL injection code would go:


It doesn’t include any malicious SQL code and providing the POC doesn’t really make much difference in exploiting the vulnerability since with the details of the vulnerability someone should be able to recreated the provided POC quite easily.

You really have to wonder about the competency of the WordFence researchers when they are claiming that a security advisory is somehow evidence of “exploits in the wild”.

Also in that section they half acknowledge the developer was notified of the vulnerability ahead of the exploitation, which would mean that this isn’t a zero day vulnerability as they are claiming.

The plugin still has not been updated by the vendor. Because this is being exploited actively and the vendor has been notified, we are now publicly disclosing the existence of this vulnerability.

WordFence isn’t actually publicly disclosing anything since the person that discovered the vulnerability already did that, it isn’t clear if they don’t know what public disclosure actually is or if they are intentionally trying to take credit for something they didn’t do.

A ‘googledork’ is also available in the exploit which allows attackers to use Google to find sites which suffer from this vulnerability in order to exploit them.

While this might sound ominous it doesn’t really mean much, the “googledork” in this case is simply a search query that shows URLs in Google’s index that are from RSS feature of this plugin. Here it is from the advisory:

# Dork Google: inurl:/wp-admin/admin-ajax.php?action=rss

Again this doesn’t actually matter much since all the search query does is show indexed URLs that contain the start of the path that is exploited:


Protecting Against Unfixed Vulnerabilities in WordPress Plugins

The situation with this plugin does get to a real problem, how do we protect against websites being hacked when known vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins are not fixed. WordFence’s solution beyond reporting the issue to the Plugin Directory, seems to be more effective at promoting their website then dealing with this type of situation:

Please share/tweet/mail this to your fellow WordPress administrators to help create awareness about this serious issue.

We have been pushing for a better approach to handling than this type of situation for years, which would involve WordPress warning admins when an installed plugin has been removed from the Plugin Directory (if you would like to see that happen please vote for it on the WordPress Ideas website). Until that happens you can use our No Longer in Directory plugin that provides a more limited version of that functionality. For this type of situation though one of our other plugins, Plugin Vulnerabilities, is more useful. This plugin warns when installed plugins have known security issue and also provides information on vulnerabilities that existed in other versions, which is useful when cleaning up a hacked WordPress website. Last Tuesday we updated the plugin to warn about this security vulnerability, so if you had our plugin installed and you had version 2.7 of the WORDPRESS VIDEO GALLERY plugin installed you would have then seen the following warning on the Installed Plugins page:

Plugin Vulnerabilities Screenshot