Attacks/Breaches

Hack of Plug-in Website Ruffles WordPress Community

An intruder thought to be a former employee used a backdoor into the WPML website to skim email addresses and send a mass email blast.

When the website of a very popular plug-in used in an amazingly popular Web content management system (CMS) is hacked, this makes for big security news — even if, according to the plug-in's publisher, there's nothing to worry about.

WordPress is used as the content platform for around 75,000,000 websites. According to some observers, WordPress is used more than all the other CMS platforms combined, and it's the platform behind roughly one-third of all the content on the Internet. So when an email message was sent to the users of popular WordPress plug-in WPML (which stands for WordPress Multi-Language) telling them that major security holes had been found in the plug-in, the collective blood pressure of WordPress users went up a notch. 

The thing is, no such security holes had been found in the plug-in that is used by publishers who present versions of their site in multiple languages. Instead, an intruder thought to be a former employee used a backdoor into the WPML website to skim email addresses and send a mass email blast to the entire list from WPML.org's own servers.

In a blog post at WPML.org, CEO Amir Helzer detailed the steps the organization had taken to remediate the damage: "We updated wpml.org, rebuilt everything and reinstalled everything. We secured access to the admin use 2-factor authentication and minimized the access that the web server has to the file system."

While the organization stressed that no payment information had been compromised, it noted that login credentials for customer accounts had been taken. The group has sent legitimate follow-up email message to all users and is requiring them to reset their password on their next login.

In a statement provided to Dark Reading, Bill Evans, vice president of marketing for One Identity described a likely contributor to the hack. "In the case of this developer, they likely had access to a privileged account password, a database password, or an administrator password that was shared by many employees for the purpose of doing maintenance on critical systems." Helzer confirmed much of this in his blog post when he wrote, "Our data shows that the hacker used inside information (an old SSH password) and a hole that he left for himself while he was our employee."

In his extended statement, Evans stressed the importance of good privileged access management practices to eliminate the possibility of old and outdated passwords stored in code or DevOps config files.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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