If you're running a WordPress site, it's important to be aware of the possibility of malware in your plugins. Malware can cause your site to be hacked, and if you're not careful, it can cost you money. Web designers use different plugins to create an efficient website design with excellent functionalities. While they can be easy to use and helpful, most users are not looking to validate the authenticity of these plugins.
Researchers have identified many paid WordPress plugins that contain malware.
What are plugins?
Plugins are additional pieces of a program that gets plugged with a content management system (CMS-based website). Plugins act as a building block for the website. With their help, one can customize programs, browsers, or apps. WordPress is a CMS tool that comes with tons of plugins.
According to reports, by 2025, almost half of the websites will be WordPress driven. It also offers a wide range of plugins. The research highlighted that the CMS plugin marketplaces generate over a billion dollars annually. But not all of them are legitimate. Some of the plugins people pay for could well be WordPress malware.
Researchers found that more than 47,300 malicious plugins are live, and (approx.) 25,000 WordPress-based websites are using them. Researchers also highlighted that nearly 94% of the malicious plugins are still active.
Further, third-party providers develop and upload plugins to the marketplace. These plugins are a replica of the paid ones called Nulled Plugins. Many developers find such plugins cheap and convenient (seeing the ratings and reviews of other users) to use without a background check. Such acts can compromise the business and customer data.
Researchers performed a global measurement of the WordPress plugins containing malicious intent in collaboration with CodeGuard. They found malicious WordPress plugins in 400,000 web servers since 2012. Worse, nearly 3,685 plugin instances were sold on legitimate plugin marketplaces.
What cyber threats can these malicious plugins cause?
Businesses use CMS tools like WordPress to build a website as a precursor to branding. They add additional functionalities to the website using plugins. The widespread use of WordPress has created a great market for cybercriminals to exploit. Using malicious programs endangers a business' branding and poses a grave threat to customer data.
Here are some security threats associated with malicious WordPress plugins:
Backdoors: Attackers leverage WordPress malware or malicious plugins to create backdoors. These backdoors allow attackers to access the system or WordPress site via various methods and open logical ports (FTP, SFTP, etc.) in the future.
Malicious redirect: When a website uses WordPress driven by malicious plugins, it becomes easy for attackers to redirect victims to malicious sites or phishing pages. They use malicious plugins to render cross-site contamination where the attackers replace legitimate download links or redirection links with malicious or phishing pages.
Drive-by-download attack: Cybercriminals leverage malicious plugins to taint legitimate links with malicious ones so that if the user clicks them, they will download malware into the system.
Information stealing: Most WordPress plugins get permission to access the web servers and databases associated with the website. WordPress malware can pose a security threat to customers' Personal Identifiable Information (PII) stored by the organization. The attackers use malicious plugins to sneak into the database and steal sensitive customer information.
Preventing these threats
A breach can have far-reaching consequences, causing damage to a company’s financials and brand image. It also opens organizations to regulatory audits, fines, and lawsuits. The best way to prevent malicious plugins from causing damage is to stop using random plugins. Creating functionalities from scratch is the best option. Also, business owners should steer clear of plugins that do not provide security patches and regular updates.
Additionally, researchers recommend developers use Web Application Firewalls and disable unauthorized script execution.
WordPress malware is a pressing concern for developers and business owners using WordPress as their CMS. Malicious plugins offer backdoor entry to attackers, who can wreak havoc to cause widespread disruptions. Regular penetration testing is an excellent way to identify plugins that evaded security checks. Contact Packetlabs to strengthen your security posture today!