It happens. It happens to almost everyone at some point. Usually the bigger the target and the higher the reward the more likely you are to be hacked. Or, if you are hosting on a community site which serves large numbers of people. It also happens to sites with very little traffic but low site security including old widgets which may be running on the site.
Last week my friend Danny Brown had his Facebook page hijacked and there was a lot of buzz about that in the social sphere but that’s not what I’m writing about today. In Danny’s case someone, someone he knew obviously, guessed his Facebook login and proceeded to have their way. What I am writing about today is the anonymous hacker who uses your platform to launch their attack. That attach may be a vicious attack or simply spam. Either way it’s bad for you and bad for all netizens.
When you think of hackers in this case don’t think of some pimple faced post-teen cowarded in his parent’s basement surrounded by pizza boxes and Dr. Pepper cans. In this case think about sophisticated programmers who have written automated scripts to dig for vulnerabilities and seize on them automatically when found. There is no human involvement other than turning on the application and letting it do it’s work. The target? Installations of big scripts like WordPress or Joomla with outdated plugins, themes and widgets which provide an easy hole to walk right in and take over.
What is a URL redirect hack?
The most common attack these days are URL redirects where the script finds the vulnerability and leverages that to re-write something called the .htaccess file. This file tells the browser of any visitor, human or bot, how they can interact with the server. It contains directives about the site including where clicks are directed to and how quickly. It’s very simple to write a replacement .htaccess file if you have access to the server which can be gained by finding a plugin which opens the file for writing. So happened, and is still happening, with a particular version of the timthumb.php script which is widely used in hundreds if not thousands of themes and plugins.