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Compromised for weeks: GoDaddy breach impacts 1.2 million WordPress users


GoDaddy reveals that a hacker gained access to the personal information of more than 1.2 million customers in breach.

In documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission earlier today, GoDaddy said it discovered the breach last week, on November 17, after noticing “suspicious activity” on its Managed WordPress hosting environment.

The subsequent investigation found that a hacker had access to its servers for more than two months, since at least September 6.

WordPress is far more than just blogs. It powers over 42% of all websites. So whenever there’s a WordPress security failure, it’s a fairly big deal.

Based on current evidence, GoDaddy said the hacker gained access to the following information:

  • Up to 1.2 million active and inactive Managed WordPress customers had their email addresses and customer numbers exposed
  • The original WordPress Admin password that GoDaddy issued to customers when a site was created
  • For active customers, sFTP and database usernames and passwords were exposed
  • For a subset of active customers, the SSL private key was exposed

GoDaddy said it already reset sFTP and database passwords exposed in the hack. It also reset the admin account password for customers who were still using the default one that GoDaddy issued when their sites were created.

The company said it’s still in the process of issuing and installing new SSL certificates for affected customers, a process that is a little bit more complicated than resetting passwords.

GoDaddy has warned users that this exposure may put them at greater risk of phishing attacks. The web host also said that the original WordPress admin password, created when WordPress was first installed, has also been exposed. If you never changed that password, hackers may have had access to your website for months.

This is the company’s second breach in the past two years, after a hacker accessed SSH accounts for some customers in early 2020, according to a letter filed with state officials in May 2020.

GoDaddy not following best practice?

WordFence, a WordPress security company, says in their report, “It appears that GoDaddy was storing sFTP credentials either as plaintext, or in a format that could be reversed into plaintext. They did this rather than using a salted hash, or a public key, both of which are considered industry best practices for sFTP. This allowed an attacker direct access to password credentials without the need to crack them.”

What may have happened to affected websites

With ten weeks in hand before getting spotted, criminals in this attack could have used the compromised sFTP passwords and web certificates to pull off cybercrime activity against MWP users.

In particular, threat actors who know your sFTP password could, in theory, not only download the files that make up your site, thus stealing your core content, but also upload unauthorised additions to the site.

Those unauthorised website additions could include:

  • Backdoored WordPress plugins to let the crooks sneak back in again even after your passwords are changed
  • Fake news that would embarrass your business if customers were to come across it
  • Malware directly targeting your site, such as cryptomining or data stealing code designed to run right on the server
  • Malware targeting visitors to your site, such as zombie malware to be served up as part of a phishing scam.

What to do if you have been impacted

The following are our top tips for what you should do if impacted, or if you have a WordPress account that you think may have been impacted:

  • Watch out for contact from GoDaddy about the incident. You should check that your contact details are correct so that if the company needs to send you an email, you receive it
  • Turn on 2FA if you haven’t already. In this case, the attackers apparently breached security using a vulnerability, but to get back into users’ accounts later using exfiltrated passwords is much harder if the password alone is not enough to complete the authentication process
  • Review all the files on your site, especially those in WordPress plugin and theme directories. By uploading booby-trapped plugins, the attackers may be able to get back into your account later, even after the all the original holes have been patched and stolen passwords changed
  • Review all accounts on your site. Another popular trick with cybercriminals is to create one or more new accounts, often using usernames that are carefully chosen to fit in with the existing names on your site, as a way of sneaking back in later
  • Be careful of anyone contacting you out of the blue and offering to “help” you to clean up. The attackers in this case made off with email addresses for all affected users, so those “offers” could be coming directly from them, or indeed from any other ambulance-chasing threat actor out there who knows or guesses that you’re an MWP user.
Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji is the CEO of Gridware, a leading cybersecurity consultancy based in Sydney, Australia. An emerging thought leader in cybersecurity, Ahmed is an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and regularly contributes to cybersecurity conversations in Australia. As well as his extensive background as a security advisor to large Australian Enterprises, he is a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer on offensive cybersecurity topics and blockchain.


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