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Hackers Point Large Botnet At WordPress Sites To Steal Admin Passwords And Gain Server Access

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Gillmor Gang Live 04.12.13 (TCTV)

If you’re running a WordPress site, now would be a good time to ensure you are using very strong passwords and to make sure your username is not “admin.” According to reports from HostGator and CloudFlare, there is currently a significant attack being launched at WordPress blogs across the Internet. For the most part, this is a brute-force dictionary-based attack that aim to find the password for the ‘admin’ account that every WordPress site sets up by default.

HostGator’s analysis found that this is a well-organized and very distributed attack. The company believes that about 90,000 IP addresses are currently involved. CloudFlare, its founder and CEO Matthew Prince told me earlier today, thinks the hackers control about 100,000 bots. As for the scope of the attack, Prince says that CloudFlare saw attacks on virtually every WordPress site on its network.

If somebody guesses your WordPress password, that’s obviously a big problem, but attacks like this then open up ways for the hackers to take over your server – and that’s what whoever is behind this attack is clearly after. The CloudFlare team believes that the attacker is currently using a network of relatively low-powered home PCs, but the aim is “to build a much larger botnet of beefy servers in preparation for a future attack.” Home PCs can be the staging ground for a large denial-of-service attack, but servers have access to far more bandwidth and can hence push out far larger amounts of traffic.

This currently attack is similar to an attack in 2012 that was also aimed at WordPress sites. That attack, however, was looking for outdated versions of TimThumb, a popular PHP-based image resizer that is often used as the default by many WordPress templates.

Both CloudFlare and HostGator, as well as a number of other hosting providers, have taken measures to protect their customers. Besides choosing a very strong password – which is always a good idea – you can also install a number of WordPress plugins that limit the number of login attempts from the same IP address or network to put a stop to these brute-force attacks (though as WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg notes in a blog post this afternoon, changing your ‘admin’ username to something ab it more obscure may be your best defense given that the hackers do have 90,000 IPs at their disposal). If your site is hosted on WordPress.com, you can also turn on two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security.