misc. supernaut-ing


Yesterday, I updated to WordPress 3.6 then realised all the Post Formats stuff had been pulled from Core, and mediaelements.js was now in Core, so all my video was borked. Fixed that; discovered supernaut had been hacked back in April. Fixed that; made new favicons. Got annoyed by wp-admin slowness so spent an hour going through database cleaning out the options table (a curse on old plugins which don’t clean up after themselves when deleted). Realised some plugins weren’t working properly, deleted them, unexpectedly seeming to solve months of horribly slow/timing out wp-admin. Wrote a quick function to filter by Post Format in wp-admin. Felt rather pleased with self and taking that as a sign I’ve done something horrible which I’ll only notice in three months when supernaut farts itself and all backups out of existence.

A bit of a Mess, (continued)


… supernaut has been one-columnised. Most of the index page is done. Older stuff is broken (Oh! Images, why do you hate me?). Things have been lost/misplaced/sorted into piles for later use or discarding. Looking forward to hand-grepping the database.

(This is trying to be an aside but breaks things … Trying to use supernaut differently.)

A bit of a Mess, Really …

I was planning on slowly flopping supernaut over to a newer look … well, mostly the same old look but wrapped around WordPress’ default theme, so I could a) take advantage of all the fun new things like post formats, b) deal with some irritations of having slung supernaut through two or three platforms (WordPress, MovableType, and I think something else), and the general cruft of 8 years blogging and z) just because …

Slowly became quick because supernaut got hacked again. Not looking at you, DreamHost, too hard, but it’s getting kind of irritating lately. It’s probably not the very old theme supernaut is running on which is responsible for this, but having looked through the logs, gah! Keine ahnung!

So I swapped over to the new theme early. Severely unfinished. Much mess everywhere. Embarrassment? Yes! It’s going to take a long time before it looks all proper, like.

And this post was written using the Aside new post format. More of a Status really.

Fuck it, I’ve got six opened bottles of wine by me feet and a … what am I doing sitting all alone in the darkness in Alte Kantine Wedding?

wordpress security (in many small steps)

Yeah, I’d really suggest searching for newer ways of doing all this, it’s from 2010 (edited on 2015-10-08)

(This is for people who like reading code, cross-posted at thingswithbits.info)

Earlier this year supernaut got hacked. Many other of my WordPress installs did also, perhaps because they occupy the same shared hosting space. I learnt a lot about website and WordPress security very quickly – even to the point of inadvertently vanishing all but my index page for quite some time. Nothing if not clever, I am.

Because I am doing all my projects in WordPress at the moment, and also seem to have turned quite a few people over to using it also, I thought to document my approach and methods. The first thing I do then, is read. A lot.

I have a subjective and not-too carefully analysed approach to learning, especially when it comes to finding out information on a topic I know nothing about and need to know much quickly. It applies to everything, not simply limited to web design or computer stuff. I search and read and search and read and keep repeating until the same stuff starts to come up over and over again. Then I start to think I might be on the right path. So I might try a few things then. The key here is easiness. Anything requiring more than a few clicks, a few lines of text or modifications is not a reasonable solution.

Things that break this early get thrown away. A plug-in that asks for stupid things, or doesn’t perform without me rewriting some line in php.ini is not going to stay installed long. I wondered often if this was the wrong approach, but really, basic, effective security should be as simple to understand as a household door key. You shouldn’t have to build a lathe in order to cut the key yourself.

So, having done some research and playing, I slowly put together something useful. This is a mix of things I’ve been using for a while, and new things I’m adding at the moment, in response to pissy annoying php exploits, sql injections and other clever irritations.

Installing WordPress.

The first thing to change during an install is the database table prefix wp_. If you’ve already installed WordPress, it’s possible to also change this either using a plugin, or by editing wp-config.php and changing the table prefixes in phpMyAdmin.

Once logged in, make a new user with administrator privileges and suitably complex password (OSX Keychain Access has a very good password generator), log in with the new user and delete the user, ‘Admin’.

Now is also a good time to delete the default theme (after uploading your new one of course). As with the user named ‘Admin’, the wp_ table prefix and other defaults, botnet code injection methods look for these defaults as an easy place to start.

To avoid messiness, I think it’s better to leave installing plugins till last, though because information is sent in the clear unless using SSL or SSH, it’s probably a good idea to change the password again when it’s all finished.

Get rid of install.php

After your installation is finished, you don’t need this file, located in wp-admin. Delete it, or change the name, or even better log attempts to access it with this (just change the email address to receive notifications):

// install.php replacement page: http://perishablepress.com/press/2009/05/05/important-security-fix-for-wordpress
header("HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable");
header("Status 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable");
header("Retry-After 3600"); // 60 minutes
mail("email@domain.tld", "Database Error", "There is a problem with teh database!");

Error Establishing Database Connection
Error Establishing Database Connection
We are currently experiencing database issues. Please check back shortly. Thank you.

Dealing with wp-config

Every time I open this file and see the database name, user, password and host all in plain text, I get a little queasy. There are several ways to make this less painful, firstly using htaccess, which I’ll cover later. A quite elegant solution is to put all the sensitive information in a separate php file outside the root web directory, and make a call to that in the wp-config file.

First make a new file, config.php stick it (on Dreamhost) in the /home directory, chmod to 644, and cut-paste the following from the original wp-config.php:

// ** MySQL settings - You can get this info from your web host ** //
/** The name of the database for WordPress */
define('DB_NAME', 'database-name');
/** MySQL database username */
define('DB_USER', 'username');
/** MySQL database password */
define('DB_PASSWORD', 'p@s5w0rD');
/** MySQL hostname */
define('DB_HOST', 'sqlhost.domainname.tld');
/** * WordPress Database Table prefix. * * You can have multiple installations in one database if you give each a unique * prefix. Only numbers, letters, and underscores please! */
$table_prefix = 'prefix_';
/** force ssl login and admin - might slow things down */
/** on dreamhost must pay for ssl cert, hence not used */
/** define('FORCE_SSL_ADMIN', true); */

Then in the original file, just put:


For those lucky enough to have SSL on their server, using FORCE_SSL_ADMIN is an excellent idea. Changing permissions to 640 also is a good idea.

Adding Unique Authentication Keys takes about 30 seconds, and gives four separate keys to be used with your password. Copy-paste from the Secret Key online generator, it will look like this:

define('AUTH_KEY', ' ;+ Xk*Kf:y3e1L?.,r[Hx<m;rV57d>2WL#<#3[ d]!#+$79/pSAF(HrGEAfS`a4');
define('SECURE_AUTH_KEY', '.k0zMi[@f&)E>~y=ZqO6~IfHS$S SP8d>C]S@:zhxh?H]VtXEpqV?p-OJV*O~3?v');
define('LOGGED_IN_KEY', '~:b*7/m+Lx|-irCxYAHQn1t2$sYA+2}+*2c@!_,9/D2-H5cJ_:wJ8X7|-p%W&xGh');
define('NONCE_KEY', '%#T+Y*|N>cq/2m3CRqR}SCM BodKio`<x+?nMAe6,qgU:YiyKgEu,%>qS$V');


Most themes have a functions.php file which does all sorts of exciting things, writing bits to the theme templates, interacting with WordPress admin interface… A couple of extra lines provide a little obscurity. WordPress puts its version number in the header in wp_generator, and also a link to xml-rpc.php, which for most people is unnecessary – unless they are using a blogging client like Marsedit – and a risk. This quickly removes both, as well as hiding information about failed login attempts through the browser:

//security stuff
add_filter('login_errors',create_function('$a', "return null;"));
function removeHeadLinks() {
remove_action('wp_head', 'rsd_link');
remove_action('wp_head', 'wlwmanifest_link');
add_action('init', 'removeHeadLinks');
function no_generator() {
add_filter('the_generator', 'no_generator');


.htaccess is a joyous little world unto itself, like finding a hole in your backyard that leads into a vast cave system. mmm spelunking.

Much of my learning about security has revolved around what can be done with htaccess, and in particular Perishable Press and their 4G Blacklist. And much of what I do for security takes place here.

Starting with denying access to all to read the htaccess file itself. Then there is the WordPress hook that allows the install to exist in a different directory location to the site url. For those again who have SSL on their server, forcing SSL can be done here for admin and login. Then there are a bunch of protections to stop access to certain important files, install.php, wpconfig.php, and the WordPress readme.html.

Using gzip compression to deliver files and adding content expires information doesn’t strictly have much to do with security, but really, the difference in load times the former can make to a site, and the general usefulness of expires tags make this one to automatically add.

For those on Dreamhost, the DH-PHP handlers is automatically added when using the site-specific php.ini installer, something I’ll cover a bit further down.

Hotlinking prevents leechers sucking images and other content off your site, one of the first things I ever learnt how to prevent, when supernaut suddenly had massive bandwidth use as my images turned up in all manner of places.

The no-referrer section is specifically to thwart spammers circumventing your site altogether and trying to inject comment spam directly into the comments php. It’s also possible to block access to xml-rpc here, and use login passwords via httpasswd for extra security on the login page, both not included here.

Then comes the Perishable Press 4G Blacklist, a cornucopia of amazingness, which I left out for sake of brevity (haha). I have included two lines that need to be commented out in order for the browser-based file manager AjaXplorer to function ok.

order allow,deny
deny from all

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

# === FORCE SSL ===
#RewriteRule !^/wp-(admin|login|register)(.*) - [C]

# === PROTECT install.php ===
Order Allow,Deny
Deny from all
Satisfy all

# === PROTECT readme.html
Order deny,allow
deny from all

# === PROTECT wpconfig.php ===
order allow,deny
deny from all

# === DH-PHP handlers ===
AddHandler fastcgi-script fcg fcgi fpl
AddHandler php-fastcgi .php
Action php-fastcgi /cgi-bin/dispatch.fcgi

SetOutputFilter DEFLATE
SetOutputFilter DEFLATE
SetOutputFilter DEFLATE
SetOutputFilter DEFLATE

#set expire dates
ExpiresActive on
# 60 seconds * 60 minutes * 24 hours * 7 days
ExpiresDefault A604800
# 60 seconds * 60 minutes * 24 hours
ExpiresByType text/html A86400

<FilesMatch "\.(ico|pdf|flv|f4v|m4v|jpg|jpeg|png|gif|swf|js|css|ttf)$">
# configure ETag
FileETag none
# max-age set to one week as above
Header set Cache-Control "max-age=604800, public, must-revalidate"
# if you use ETags, you should unset Last-Modified
# Header unset Last-Modified

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} \.(gif|jpe?g?|png|ico)$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^https?://([^.]+\.)?domainname\. [NC]
RewriteRule \.(gif|jpe?g?|png|ico)$ - [F,NC,L]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} .wp-comments-post\. [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !.*domainname\. [OR,NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^$
RewriteRule (.*) - [F,L]


# this line stops ajaxplorer working
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ - [F,L]

# RedirectMatch 403 \/\/ ajaxplorer again


Equally effective, and probably overkill, using robots.txt can grant or forbid access to a slew of places, particularly directories that you don’t want spidered, as well as any and all WordPress directories, using Disallow: /wp*.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /cgi-bin
Disallow: /lurking
Disallow: /phpsecinfo
Disallow: /wp-*
Disallow: /tag
Disallow: /author
Disallow: /wget/
Disallow: /httpd/
Disallow: /i/
Disallow: /f/
Disallow: /t/
Disallow: /c/
Disallow: /j/

User-agent: Mediapartners-Google
Allow: /
User-agent: Adsbot-Google
Allow: /
User-agent: Googlebot-Image
Allow: /
User-agent: Googlebot-Mobile
Allow: /
User-agent: ia_archiver-web.archive.org
Disallow: /
Sitemap: http://www.domainname.tld/sitemap.xml

php.ini and phpsecinfo

Getting deeper into the system still and further yet from WordPress, modifying php.ini, the file that sets up what php can do is another essential. Dreamhost doesn’t make it easy to edit the php.ini, but fortunately there’s a script which installs it locally. More excitement ahead.

As with htaccess, much can be done in php.ini to prevent messiness. The following seem to work rather well. I’ll leave this uncommented upon except to say AjaXplorer needs fopen to be on, and shall devote a future post to elaborating on php.ini security.

open_basedir = /home/site/folder:/home/site/tmp/folder
disable_functions = exec,passthru,system,proc_open,popen,curl_multi_exec,
expose_php = Off
error_reporting = E_ALL & ~E_NOTICE
register_globals = Off

; Whether to allow HTTP file uploads.
file_uploads = On
upload_tmp_dir = /home/site/folder/tmp/php
; Maximum allowed size for uploaded files.
upload_max_filesize = 200M

; Whether to allow the treatment of URLs (like http:// or ftp://) as files.
allow_url_fopen = On

; Whether to allow include/require to open URLs (like http:// or ftp://) as files.
allow_url_include = Off

In addition to editing php.ini, and making sure there isn’t a file lying around called info.php with phpinfo() inside, phpSecInfo is an invaluable tool for assaying the security of your website, the results from which can be directly used to edit php.ini.

FTP, or rather SFTP.

As with passwords being sent in the clear, so too is FTP on its own not so great. Dreamhost allows for shell plus SFTP access with FTP disabled, which is both sensible for using desktop FTP clients (such as the amazing Transmit), and for searching out code injections. Time to open Terminal.

Commandline access is essential for a number of reasons, and instead of using the username/password combination, create passwordless login using private keys.

//Generate a RSA private key
ssh-keygen -t rsa

// copy the key to your website
scp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub user@domainname.tld:~/

//ssh into your website
ssh user@domainname.tld

//Make a new folder, .ssh and copy the key to the authorized_keys file, then delete the key
mkdir .ssh
cat id_rsa.pub >> .ssh/authorized_keys
rm id_rsa.pub

//Set all permissions
chmod go-w ~
chmod 700 ~/.ssh
chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

Why might this all be useful? Going back to when I was hacked earlier this year, I could have gone though all the files on all my sites looking for base64 code, instead I opened Terminal, SSH’ed in and sent this command:

find . -name "*.php" -exec grep "base64" '{}' \; -print

Which searches through all files with the extension .php for the string base64 and dumps the results on screen. I found every instance of the hack in a matter of seconds.

Plugins for security.

Leaving aside all that code now…

WordPress is amazing because of its plugins and the community around its development. The problem though, for any plugin is twofold. Which one does the task you want the best (while integrating with the rest of your setup), and is updated frequently enough to not become a liability?

After the initial hack, I had many installed, which I then uninstalled because of small irritations and annoyances. After changing all my passwords to 16+ characters, including as many of type !@£$%^&_ as allowable, WordPress File Monitor has become an installation standard.

Rather than provide security, it lets you know when any modifications to files and folders have occurred, and in which. Notification via email and/or Dashboard alert, alterable scan intervals and directory path exclusions for me make this indispensable. When a new exploit emerges, instead of panicking and manually scanning all my installs for changes (which I do anyway out of nervous boredom), I can be fairly secure they will show up here. Of course, the idea is not to get hacked in the first place.

I’ve read a lot of good things about AskApache Password Protect, but I’ve never got it working, despite adding all the .htaccess files and even chmod up to 666. I would at least play with it otherwise, but for now don’t want to spend the time on it.

In general though (and said with a caveat that I don’t really know WordPress very well), much or all security that can be done with plugins can be done in other ways – .htaccess, robots.txt. php.ini, wp-config, sql changes and so on. Also, so many of the plugins haven’t been updated recently, which for me is worse than no protection due to the false sense of security.

During the course of the last two days, while I went through all the security stuff I could find, websites, pdfs, my own archives, I came across a couple of other plugins which I think are useful.

Semi Secure Login Reimagined provides about as good public and secret key encryption for passwords as possible if you don’t have access to SSL.

WP Security Scan I found useful for a post-install check to make sure all the settings were as minimally tight as could be. In the interests of not having hundreds of plugins, I uninstalled it after.

404 Notifier does just that, though I suspect getting off my ass and reading the logs (or ssh and then grepping them for 404s) would be a better idea.


Much of my information for this comes from a few places.

The WordPress Codex itself is a good place to start, and the Plugin directory also worth spending time in.
Perishable Press is invaluable, and not just for security.
Digging into WordPress, both the website and the book are the fundamental step-by-step guide for all things security and WordPress.
The WordPress community, across many blogs, forums, books, comments and bits and pieces.

Oh, and while this applies also to WordPress 2.9.x, I’m currently running the 3.0 beta on thingswithbits.info where I tested all this. (hopefully this all doesn’t add to confusion.)

You can create art & beauty on a computer

On the other side of the hemisphere in Berlin, the 22nd Chaos Communication Congress has hackers making the world a beautiful place through art, and artists making the world a beautiful place through hacking.

Art & Beauty is the central area (B01) at the ground floor of 22C3. It houses a list of interesting projects devoted to doing creative things with technology and is the central relaxation point of the Congress. You also find the catering facilities here along with good music day in day out. Furthermore you can buy congress shirts, pullover, jackets, poster and so on.

The VISUAL BERLIN association is responsible for sound and visuals at the 22c3 art & beauty area, in company with c-base.org, kulturtaikonauten.org and supported by the jfe.kleinmachnow. VISUAL BERLIN is a community of local video artists and VJs that gets involved with cooperative projects and mutual exchange with the local and international visualist scene and deals with the technological and cultural aspects of video art. In the course of organizing the 22c3 cultural program in the evenings, VISUAL BERLIN will present harmonic showcases of different audio- and video-artists – visual jam sessions during the day along with collaboration and communication. During the whole time there will be musical output from several DJs and Open Source Netlabels. Furthermore VISUAL BERLIN will organize the audiovisual program of the 22C3 Aftershowparty on the last day at the C-base.

If you want to participate or have any questions, please contact ST.

areas and activities:
AV-Node (visualberlin.org)
Go Lounge
— 22CCC

hackers reveal china’s forbidden words

Here’s why hackers are are an invaluable part of the internet. China Digital News has an amazing piece on what exactly you can’t say over the internet in China.

It is an open secret that all Chinese Internet hosting services, including wireless and instant messenger services, filter user communication through key word blocking mechanisms. But overly vague and broad Chinese internet laws and the internet police force never made the forbidden words explicit — Not until some Chinese hackers located a document within the installation package of QQ instant messaging software. The file contains over one thousand words, most of them in Chinese, which will be blocked by the service.

Owned by Tencent, QQ is China’s most popular Instant Messenger service. On a regular basis, tens of millions of users use their service. On one day, March 13 , there were more than six million users online using QQ at the same time. Because of its high traffic volume, it is technically much harder to build in the key word filtering mechanism on the server’s end. Instead, Tencent sneaked in a filtering program file in their installation package at the client end. When a client installs the QQ2003 software on their own computer desktop, a program file, called COMToolKit.dll, is automatically included. This file contains all the forbidden keywords, which will be automatically blocked when the client runs QQ. The full list is below.

Recently, some Chinese hackers located this file and released it on the Internet. The censored key words list is commonly used not just for QQ, but also for all websites, BBS and text messaging services. One Internet user did a rough breakdown of the list: About 15% of the words are sex related, the rest are all related to politics. About 20% of the words are Falungong related, including “师父” (master) and “弟子” (disciple); about 15% are names of current officials and their relatives; about 10% are words used in the liberal political discourse such as “democracy”, “freedom”, and “dictatorship”; and about 5% are related to certain nationalistic issues, such as “保钓” (defend Diaoyu Island),“中俄边界” (Sino-Russian Border) ,“卖国” (selling out the country) etc. About 15% of the forbidden words are related to anti-corruption, such as “走私”(smuggling, “公款”(public funds)etc. Other censored words include names of dissidents, writers, and intellectuals, and names of certain foreign publications.