Why are Hackers Targeting Your WP Site and What You Can Do as a Fix?
Over 90,000 security attacks take place by the minute, implying that no online website is safe from hackers. If you ever become the victim, all of your data would be at stake… unless you take strong measures and can mitigate the attack through effective defensive strategies. Like any other website, even Word Press hosted platforms are a likely target.
Let’s review how you can figure out the weak areas of your website, signs that your security is being threatened, and what you can do to strengthen security.
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Factors that make your WP site prone to an attack
Weak passwords, unverified plug-ins and other issues make your WP site more vulnerable to attacks. Remember that hackers aren’t really searching for anything manually, but instead release bots which determine the vulnerability of your website. These bots identify if your website can be entered into and provide hackers an access. Here are some of the weak links which you must familiarize yourself with before you strengthen security of your WP site.
Any page, whether it’s at the front end or back end, is a target if it requires an id and password before any visitor is granted access. Generally, this includes the main login page, comment boards and payment gateways. However, many users don’t always create strong passwords, which make these login pages more insecure compared to the other pages on your site.
Comments cause security issues due to two main reasons: first the users, generally, users have to login before they can comment, and secondly once, access is granted, spam attacks may occur. As such, many developers prefer disabling comments altogether.
Forms of any sort, whatever their purpose may be, do require an input from the users which makes them more vulnerable. Hackers can break in and access all vulnerable data, or they can even steal data by installing malware that records keystrokes of various users. If anyone uses a wireless keyboard, then also it can be hacked.
The WP database is one of its biggest advantages, having completely simplified the structure. However, this has also led to problems. Almost everyone knows that wp- is often used as a prefix for many labels, which threatens the infrastructure.
73% Word Press installed versions were vulnerable. New versions are released regularly, and you should install them immediately so that your WP website remains secure.
Plug-ins are often a likely target for security breaches. Of all the security attacks on WP websites, plug-ins are the root cause behind more than 50% of them. Obviously, you can’t stop using plug-ins altogether, but do make sure that you only install only reliable plug-ins.
Themes are also offered by various third parties. Only download ones that seem genuine and reliable. Do read the reviews before trying out any theme.
Security levels offered by hosting companies do vary. Ideally, you should select a hosting plan with the following features.
- Firewalls on the server side
- Apache or NGINX servers
- On-site security systems
- Anti malware and antivirus programs
- SSL Certificates
Purpose behind common security attacks
Even if you just recently set up your Word Press website or if the audience set isn’t too large, hackers might still try to get access. Here is what they could do if your site ever falls into their hands.
Injecting malicious content
One of the main purposes behind hacking is to inject malicious code or content into your WP site, and bring it out on the front end in the form of comment spam, sending spam emails to the subscribers’ list, hijacking the email account or even submitting content. If visitors click on erroneous link, several security risks can be introduced.
Hackers often want to use WP sites as a medium for spreading malware and spam. This can be done through malicious code that is injected from the backend or with files that are uploaded from the front end. Now if visitors interact with this code, hackers would be able to steal their information or even use their device for spreading viruses to other websites
Stealing personal and business information
A Data Breach Study conducted by IBM claims that stolen data accounted to $3.6 million globally in the year 2017. This is equivalent to $141 per record of data. Stolen data isn’t only expensive for your businesses in terms of the money, but also hurts your reputation and credibility. Should hackers ever gain personal information, they can misuse it in several ways, many a times, for their own personal gains.
Hackers can also steal business information such as your financial details.
Hosting phishing pages
Phishing scams cause around 50,000 sites to appear on Google’s blacklisted websites weekly. Phishing refers to creating fake pages which are then used for gathering information from visitors. This can be done by embedding a form on any page of your WP site, and then collecting all the information through this form. Another way of doing so is redirecting users on another website that is already under the hackers’ control.
Hosting legit pages from your server
Some hackers actually use your website for building legit pages which are targeted towards improving their SEO ranks. These pages promote their own content and businesses, thereby, increasing awareness of their products and services. Generally, your WP site hosts various pages, which are then used as back links for the hackers’ original website.
Overloading the server
Overloading a web server is often referred to as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. When the threshold exceeds, your website crashes down. Though this may not always directly benefit the hacker, they can still do this if they have any personal vendetta against you or if they are looking around for ransom.
Bandwidth can be stolen through a number of ways. One of these is hotlinking, in which case, your images are linked and then used for other websites’ traffic. Hackers can steal your website and server resources through various means such as brute force attacks and bit coin mining.
Vandalizing the website
Website vandalism spoils your reputation and hurts your brand.
Signs that indicate a breach
Figuring out whether your WP site has been hacked or not is possible if you look out for a few key signs. These are highlighted below.
Drop in traffic
Always mentor Google Analytics report, and see if you can notice any sudden drops in website traffic. Trojans and malware may hijack traffic onto your website, and direct it elsewhere. Since some of these malware can’t redirect logged-in visitors, the issue may remain unnoticed for some time.
Google blacklists 50,000 sites for phishing pages, and 20,000 for malware, as already mentioned. This warns users, making them less likely to visit your website. So check the safety reported generated by Google’s safe browsing tool regularly, and ensure there are no warning signs against your website.
If hackers can inject data into your site, they would be able to modify your files and the database itself. Many a times, they may add URLs, directing users towards spam links, anywhere on your pages, usually in the footer section. You can remove these links, but until you resolve the security issue and close down the access point, there’s no guarantee.
This is one of the most obvious signs that your WP site has been targeted. Many hackers simply deface the homepage so, hurting your credibility in the long run. Some of them may also openly announce that your WP site has been hacked so as to defame your company.
If you can’t login your WP site, then the admin account may have been deleted. Since it would no longer exist, you wouldn’t be able to reset your password. Admin accounts can be added again through FTP or the pHpMyAdmin portal.
Suspicious user accounts
You may come across spam user accounts, if you don’t protect the registration process in any way. This isn’t a concern when you allow visitors to create accounts themselves through the registration page. However, if you have disabled user registration, and you can still spot new user accounts, then your website is probably hacked.
Unknown files and server scripts
Server related unknown files and scripts are an indication that your website has been hacked. Use a scanner plug-in which would alert you whenever it comes across an unknown file or script. Alternatively, you can also access your WP site through an FTP client and check out the /wp/content/folder — this is the most likely location for any malicious content.
Please note that malicious files are often named like the standard WP files so you may not be able to notice them instantly. While you can delete them, that’s still no certainty that your WP site is secure until you conduct a complete security examination.
Slow and unresponsive website
Denial of service attacks can cause your Word Press website to become slow or unresponsive. Go through the logs and identify IPs that are making the most requests. You’ll probably have to block these as a quick fix before you can completely examine security.
Also please note that while slow websites are a sign of a hacked WP, the speed can also be affected due to other reasons. Low speeds don’t always imply a breach.
Fixing a hacked WP site
So now you know that your WP site has most likely been hacked. Here’s how you can fix the website.
Identifying the hack
Which of the signs discussed above can you spot? Try logging in using your admin account; notice if your WP site is redirecting to another URL or if it contains any legitimate links. Jot down all the issues that you observe before you start fixing your website.
Before cleaning up, modify all passwords.
Contacting your hosting provider
The support team of your hosting provider should be able to help you out if you suspect that your website has been hacked. They would guide you and help you fix all issues. Sometimes, your website may have been jacked as a part of a bigger scheme, in which case, other websites would also have been affected. This is especially common if your hosting plan is shared. Your provider can give you relevant information, and sometimes, may even fix your website.
Restoring from backup
If you already backup your WP site, you can restore an early version that wasn’t breached. While this is apparently a simple fix, it does have its cons. For instance, if your WP site has a blog, then you may lose all posts and comments. Also if hackers have had access to your website for a long time, then also this won’t work.
Scanning and removing malware
Delete inactive themes and plug-ins because they are likely entry points. When done, you can scan your website using secure and reliable tools. The results of these scans should show the location of the hack, which is usually an upload directory, a plug-in directory, the wp-config.php or .htaccess files.
Once you know affected files and directories, you can either manually delete theme or replace them with a clean version. Do this repeatedly until you’ve deleted the hacked file, directory or script.
Check out permissions for all users, and make sure they only have required access. If you notice any suspicious admin users, delete the accounts.
Channing secret keys
WP generates security keys for encrypting passwords. In case, a user password is stolen, they can still gain access because of valid cookies. These can be disabled by generating new security keys, which would then have to be added to the wp-config.php file.
You must have changed passwords as part of the first step. Do this again as the last step to be on the safe side.
Professional security experts can examine our WP site and implement strong defensive controls. So do heed onto their advice.
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Originally published at thelatesttechnews.com on January 17, 2019.