When it comes to the poor state of website security we have a situation where basic security measures often are not taken but security products of questionable value are proliferating. What we see in dealing with websites that have been hacked is that it is harder to get someone to make sure that proper security practices are being taken then it would be to sell them on these questionable security products. One of the things we see that really sells people on these security products is that they will highlight that they have stopped numerous attempts to exploit a website. It sounds impressive, but in reality they may not be stopping anything at all. Let’s take look at an example of why this information doesn’t mean much.
JCE is a popular extension for Joomla. Older versions had a serious security vulnerability that was fixed in August of 2011. For people that used JCE the simple way to protect themselves against the vulnerability was to keep their software up to date. For anyone not running JCE they didn’t need to do anything since it wouldn’t impact them at all. We would fall in to that second category as we haven’t used Joomla on our website, so there is no chance that we would be running JCE. That hasn’t stopped hackers from attempting to exploit the vulnerability on our website. In March for example our logs recorded 16365 attempts (or about 528 attempts per day) to exploit the vulnerability. Here are the numbers of attempts our logs show for the last six months:
Even in the month with the lowest attempts we had an average about 9 attempts a day. If you are not familiar with the vulnerability and the fact that unless a website was running a fairly out of date version of JCE there is no chance of being exploited then it would certainly sound scary that there were so many attempts. It also wouldn’t seem unreasonable that you would recommend the product to others.
While we wouldn’t recommend security products for most websites (those basic security measures are all that you will need), what you should look at when considering these products is if they have independent testing results showing that they do in have fact protect against vulnerabilities that wouldn’t be stopped by taking basic security measures. You should also consider if they will even protect against threats you face. For example a product designed to protect against exploiting software on your website isn’t going to stop someone from getting in via FTP or from exploiting a web host’s poor security.