5 Security Tips: Why WP-VCD Is the Most Prevalent WordPress Malware Infection

Last we covered about WP-VCD scam we warned our readers that if you install pirated themes or plugins you unintentionally create a backdoor to  your website to become a hacking and malware trojan horse. Thus you end up risking the safely of your site visitors.

See our past covered of WP-VCD scam:

WP-VCD: Have you Malware infected your WordPress site using pirated plugins and themes?

We at WP Chase thus always encourage you to only install plugins and themes on their WordPress sites from legit sources, that means you can either purchase or use free themes or plugins from the WordPress main site or purchase from known developers.

Why WP-VCD Is the Most Prevalent WordPress Malware Infection

According to a recent report by WordFence who we thank for being consistent about their work on WordPress security, WP-VCD scam, remains the most prevalent malware campaign affecting the WordPress ecosystem in recent memory.

They write that:

Our data shows that WP-VCD is still infecting more new sites per week than any other active malware campaign. Even after publishing a paper on the campaign, we have yet to identify any meaningful change in the rate of new infections.

How WP-VCD malware infection works

WP-VCD is a malware infection that designed to target WordPress sites by hiding in nulled, or pirated, plugins and themes. Its controllers exploit their victims to boost search engine rankings for the sites that distribute the infected code. The attackers then monetize the campaign with malvertising scripts, which trigger potentially dangerous popups and redirects for the victim sites’ visitors.

It’s a sophisticated campaign. It preys on unaware WordPress users looking for a way to get free access to paid content. Then, by using newly infected sites to draw more victims in, it can maintain a reliable base of compromised sites even as earlier victims clean up the mess. Lastly, the campaign is resilient. In the event that one of WP-VCD’s command and control (C2) domains are taken down, it can quickly rotate in a new one.

WordFence tips for remaining vigilant against scams

  1. Be responsible with the third-party code you add to your website. While WP-VCD is simple enough to avoid by steering clear of nulled plugins and themes, recent history has shown that even ostensibly-legitimate developers are capable of adding questionable code to their products.
  2. If you are not personally handling the development of your website, ensure you fully trust the people you’ve assigned the task. Less-than-reputable “gig” developers, who claim to offer full custom site builds for a price that’s too good to be true, frequently cut corners that will cost you headaches at minimum. Even if they’re not intending to infect your website, they’re still interested in cutting costs by getting commercial themes for free, and they’re not sticking around your site long enough to make sure it’s clean.
  3. As a general rule, never trust a page you didn’t intend to visit. WP-VCD and other recent attack campaigns have been identified injecting malvertising scripts. These scripts redirect a site’s visitors to unwanted locations. These pages attempt to trick you into giving them what they want. This includes phishing for logins with claims like “You must log in to your Google account to view this content”, or prompting you to engage in a tech support scam by claiming your device is corrupted or infected. They’ll also ask mobile users for permission to receive push notifications, which can be used to send further spam notifications.
  4. Periodically visit your sites from new devices and locations without logging into them. WP-VCD’s malvertising code attempts to hide itself from administrators by storing a cookie on their device and logging the IP address they connected from. That way, even if the admin logs out, it can still hide until they clear their cookies and connect from a new IP address. This technique is not unique to WP-VCD, and can be useful in identifying other malicious activity that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
  5. If your site was a victim of WP-VCD or another malware infection, you should inform your users as quickly as possible. Responsible site ownership means being forthright about the fact that your site’s visitors may have encountered dangerous code. Plus, depending on the way browsers cache your site, some of your visitors may still see an infected version for a while after you’ve cleaned it. Giving your users a heads-up isn’t just the ethical thing to do, it demonstrates to them that their security is a priority.

How to prevent infection to your site

Preventing your site from falling victim to WP-VCD scam is simple: don’t install nulled plugins or themes. Not only does it take money from the folks who built the content, but sourcing code from untrustworthy sources has clear negative implications for the health of your website.

Because awareness is the most effective defense against infecting your own site, WordFence recommends that you can help spread this defense across the WordPress ecosystem. Share the WP-VCD whitepaper, inform, and educate less technical users so they’re empowered against the malicious actors that prey upon a lack of awareness. WordPress is stronger because of the community, and our educational efforts make us all stronger.

If you’re curious for more detail about WP-VCD scam and haven’t read it already, check out our report: WP-VCD: The Malware You Installed On Your Own Site.

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