A Good Example of What is Wrong With The Management of the WordPress.org Plugin Directory

Through the work we do for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service we spend a lot of time on the Plugin Directory, dealing with issues in plugins on it (mostly security issues), and interacting with the people running it. Our experience is … Continue reading

Through the work we do for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service we spend a lot of time on the Plugin Directory, dealing with issues in plugins on it (mostly security issues), and interacting with the people running it. Our experience is that things are not really handled well by the people running it. Something we ran across today seems like a good example of the poor state of the people managing it, which we thought would be good to share to help expose the bad state of things.

Since we have several plugins in the Plugin Directory, prior to the release of a new version of WordPress we get an email asking us to test our plugins with compatibility with the new version of WordPress and then update them to indicate they are compatible with the new version. Here is the email we got prior to 4.5 (the plugin listed as only being tested up to 3.6 is due to the fact that the plugin’s functionality was integrated into the next version of WordPress):

Hello, WhiteFirDesign!

WordPress 4.5 is scheduled to be released on April 12. Are your plugins ready?

After testing your plugins and ensuring compatibility, it only takes a few moments to change the readme “Tested up to:” value to 4.5. This information provides peace of mind to users and helps encourage them to update to the latest version.

Here are the current “tested” values for each of your plugins:

* https://wordpress.org/plugins/automatic-plugin-updates/ (tested up to 4.5)
* https://wordpress.org/plugins/https-updates/ (tested up to 3.6)
* https://wordpress.org/plugins/no-longer-in-directory/ (tested up to 4.4)
* https://wordpress.org/plugins/plugin-vulnerabilities/ (tested up to 4.5)

For each plugin that is compatible, you don’t need to release a new version — just change the stable version’s readme value.

Looking to get more familiar with 4.5? Check out this roundup post on the core development blog: https://make.wordpress.org/core/2016/03/30/wordpress-4-5-field-guide/

Thank you for all you do for the WordPress community, and we hope you will enjoy 4.5 as much as we do.
WordPress core contributors

So clearly the Plugin Directory wants people to be testing their plugins for compatibility and then updating the compatibility information.

Based on that you would think that the person described as the “WordPress.org Tech Dude”, who is involved in managing the Plugin Directory, would be setting an example by making sure to do that, but as we noticed today that isn’t the case. For one of their plugins PHP Code Widget, which has 100,000+ active installs, it is still only listed as being compatible up to WordPress 4.4. WordPress 4.5 was released in April and WordPress 4.6 getting closer to release, with the third beta released a week ago.

It isn’t a situation where the plugin is no longer supported, hasn’t been tested, or the developer just forgot to update the compatibility. As a couple of forum threads show, the developer is instead just refusing to update the compatibility listing. If that sounds strange to you, you are no alone, but that is inline with the type of attitude we have seen when dealing with those people.

SiteGuarding.com’s WordPress Security Plugin Touts Its Use For Those That Pirate Software, While Charging For Its Services

When it comes to security plugins for WordPress, we don’t think to highly of most of them. But we have continued to be surprised how low things can go with them. Take for example the WP Antivirus Site Protection (by SiteGuarding.com) … Continue reading

When it comes to security plugins for WordPress, we don’t think to highly of most of them. But we have continued to be surprised how low things can go with them. Take for example the WP Antivirus Site Protection (by SiteGuarding.com) plugin, which on it’s description page on the Plugin Directory it states near the top:

This plugin will be especially useful for everybody who downloads WP themes and plugins from torrents and websites with free stuff instead of purchase the original copies from the developers. You will be shocked, how many free gifts they have inside ?

Their touting its use for those that pirate WordPress themes and plugins is kind of incredible on its own (note the lack of past tense in terms of downloading that software or lack of suggestion not to do that). But more incredible is the fact that at the same time the plugin is really just a connection for a mostly paid service, so they think you should pay them, but are okay with people not paying the developers of software.

What makes that dichotomy more striking is the comments from the developer on some of the negative reviews of the plugins.

One review reads:

If your website contains a file larger than 25MB, the plugin will abort and ask you to upgrade rather than just skipping it and warning you. The plugin is just a leadgen ploy. Uninstalled. Further more, of all the wordpress hacks I’ve ever seen, files affected are NEVER large or over a few kb.

That seems like reasonable complaint, which gets this response from the developer:

free version has limits. if you are not ready to pay for the security enjoy and live with the viruses.

As part of their response to another review the developer wrote in part:

If you installed it again. It means plugin is good, you just dont want to pay for good plugins and services and want everything for free.

It is also worth noting that there are a lot of rather fake looking reviews for the plugin.

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 … Continue reading

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.

and

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.

iThemes Security Plugin Has “One-Click Secure” Button That Does Nothing Except Claim The Website Has Been “Secured”

We are frequently asked what about various broad based WordPress security plugins and which ones should be used. Our answer to the second part of that is none of them. These plugins generally provide little protection against actual threats and have been … Continue reading

We are frequently asked what about various broad based WordPress security plugins and which ones should be used. Our answer to the second part of that is none of them. These plugins generally provide little protection against actual threats and have been found to have security vulnerabilities themselves fairly often. That second part might sound odd, you would think that someone developing a security related plugin would be very careful about the security of their plugin, but people that actually know about security would be unlikely to be involved in developing one of these due to the first part of that, that they don’t provide much protection against actual threats.

So what you are left with is products generally developed by people that don’t have much concern for real security and in a lot of cases seem to be mainly interested in making money by taking advantage of the public that understandably lacks strong security knowledge. That results in lots of plugins and related services that end up scaring people based on bad or false information and that collect information from users under false pretense.

If you are looking for some particular security feature you would be better off finding a plugin that doesn’t also include a kitchen sink of other features with it, since that reduces amount of code that could be harboring security vulnerabilities. The important things you need to do to keep your website secure are listed here.

The iThemes Security Plugin And Trust

That all brings us to something we just ran across with one of those plugins, iThemes Security (formerly Better WP Security), which is listed as having 700,000+ active installs.

One important element of any security product is trust, since the average user can’t verify that a product does what it says, they are trusting the developers in a major way. Any abuse of that trust should be a major red flag. That trust is something the developers of the iThemes Security plugin don’t seem to care about.

When you install and activate the iThemes Security plugin a notice is displayed at the top of the page with a button to “Secure Your Site Now”:

ithemes-security-1

Clicking on that brings up this page:

ithemes-security-2

The most important part of that would seem to be the section Titled “Secure Your Site”:

Use the button below to enable default settings. This feature will enable all settings that cannot conflict with other plugins or themes.

When you click on the One-Click Secure button, you get a message that it is “Working…” for a moment:

ithemes-security-4

Then it will tell you that “Site Secured. Check the dashboard for further suggestions on securing your site.”:

ithemes-security-5

Based on that you would think that the website has been secured in some way after doing that. It turns out that nothing actually has happened, something we found about when ran across a post on a thread on the WordPress.org support forum for the plugin that stated

Please note that since the 5.2.0 release (5.2.1 included) clicking on the One-Click Secure button in the First Important Steps modal window will not do anything despite the fact that it still reports:

Site Secured. Check the dashboard for further suggestions on securing your site.

which is also kind of lame as there is no longer a Security Status section on the Dashboard page …

Note this is not a bug, since iThemes knowingly removed the code that was normally executed behind this button …

If you want to see that for yourself you can see the changes made in version 5.2.o here (doing a search on the page for “Register one-click settings” will take you to parts of the page where that is shown). What makes this even more incredible is how long ago this happened, version 5.2.0 was release on January 18 and the post pointing that out is now two months old, and yet it is still that way now.

When they don’t care about misleading people with something that visible, then you have to wonder what else they might be misleading people about. We already spotted one other thing, but you will have to wait for a future post to hear about that.