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Network Solutions mops up after mass WordPress breach

Plenty of blame to go around

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Administrators at web host Network Solutions say they've closed a hole that allowed attackers to commandeer a large number of sites so they tried to infect visitors with malware.

The mass hack caused Network Solutions customers running WordPress to silently redirect visitors to networkads.net/grep, a site that attempted to perform malicious drive-by downloads. Network Solutions has now closed the hole by resetting database passwords for the blogging software, the company said Sunday. Users should also review their settings for any administrative access accounts that aren't recognized and if found delete them.

The compromise was the result of database credentials that WordPress stores in plain-text, according to David Dede, a researcher with Securi Security. While the database is supposed to be accessed only with the Apache webserver, "lots of users" configured the file so it was readable by any Network Solutions customer.

A malicious user then employed a script that automatically scoured the Network Solutions system for poorly secured accounts and, when found, modified the databases so the corresponding websites redirected users to the malicious website.

"So, at the end anyone can be blamed," Dede wrote. "At WordPress for requiring that the database credentials be stored in clear-text. At WordPress again for not installing itself securely by default. At the users for not securing their blogs. At Network Solutions for allowing this to happen."

To clean up the mess, Network Solutions had to change the database passwords for WordPress, which will likely cause problems for customers who use scripts that automatically access the file. The Network Solutions blog post doesn't say whether changes have been made to customers' wp-config.php file, so users should check to make sure it's set to private by running the command "chmod 750 wp-config.php." ®

Update

A representative for some WordPress developers wrote in to take issue with Dede's claim that at least some blame rested with developers of the blogging software.

"WordPress, like all other web applications, must store database connection info in cleartext," wrote Paul Kim VP User Growth at Automattic Inc., which employs some of the core developers for WordPress. "Encrypting credentials isn't an option because the keys have to be stored where the Web server can read them in order to decrypt the data. If a malicious user has access to file system -- like they appeared to have in this case -- it is trivial to obtain the keys and decrypt the information. When you leave the to the door in the lock, does it help to lock the door?"

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