Labnol: Our Theories On What Happened

labnol hackedLabnol, (or Digital Inspiration) and all of Amit’s blogs and websites were recently taken down by hackers (Fortunately, they’re back now).

Here are few theories on how hackers gained access, and how you can be safe.

What we know –

  • All sites by Amit were deleted
  • The hacking happened before 30 June 11:32PM, most probably in a 24 hour timespan.
  • They were up and running around 1st July, 9 – 10 PM.

You can refer Amit’s Tweet here: https://twitter.com/labnol/status/219317563564367872

How did the hackers get in?

There are many theories on this. Here are few of them, ordered by plausibility –

  • 1. Bruteforce attack on cPanel – If Amit Agarwal had a weak cPanel password, there are chances that his password was bruteforced. Bruteforcing is a technique, in which the person uses as many combinations of letters as he can. The hacker usually starts out with dictionary words, then include numbers, names, birthdates, and so on. If the sites were hacked using bruteforce, it could’ve taken around 1 – 25 hours for the hacker.
  • 2. Learning Amit’s password elsewhere, then trying it on cPanel/WordPressIf Amit has same passwords on every site he used, Hackers could’ve cracked a smaller, weaker site he might have registered on, got his credentials, then tried it on his cPanel/WordPress. If they worked there, they were lucky, or else they might have figured out a pattern in the password, which they then tried applying to his cPanel/WorPpress. LinkedIn was recently hacked. Could it be that hackers got Amit’s password from there, and then used it on his blog?
  • 3. Exploiting a WordPress plugin – If Amit installed a plugin recently, it could be that the plugin was vulnerable, and hackers got access exploiting it’s vulnerability.
  • 4. Exploiting WordPress’ Vulnerability(ies) – Now, this may seem the least likely to you, but there’s still a small chance that one WP’s loophole’s were exploited.

If you believe that WP doesn’t HAVE any loopholes, think about this:

What are those “fixes” that are done on every version of WordPress?

Uh-oh! What can I do?

  • 1. Try to change your cPanel username. You have to contact your host for this, most hosts don’t entertain this change, but if your’s do, you’re a lucky person :D.
  • 2. Increase your password strength. Your password should be at least 12 characters long. Preferably, having a few numbers, and special characters mixed in (!, 1, 7, *). The way this comic shows is okay too. Below I mentioned some useful resources for a secure password.

    – Tips For Creating Secure And Strong Passwords

    – Is Your Password Hackable? [INFOGRAPHIC]

  • 3. Change your WordPress username. If the people know your username, they already have a puzzle piece in place. Your name shouldn’t be the username, while the generic “admin” is the worst. Changing your username sure gives a extra level of security. (Also, make sure your nickname, which is shown on comments and posts, is different)
  • 4. Keep different passwords everywhere. If Amit’s blog was hacked using #2, it’s a good indication that you too have to have different passwords. For example, if the password to your Facebook account and that shady site you were suspicious of are same, that’s certainly not a good thing.
  • 5. Keep making regular backups. Backup your database, your wordpress posts, everything. Some useful posts about “WordPress backup”.

    – Using phpMyAdmin To Backup WordPress Database

    – Solid Tips For WordPress Backups [Simple Guide]

Conclusion

I hope that hacking of a big site like Labnol gives a lesson to everyone, you are never to secure. Be sure to follow the above tips, and you’ll (most likely) be safe.

USEFUL: 20+ Basic Tips To Protect Your WordPress Blog

This article is written by Namanyay Goel. He’s a freelance web and graphic designer. He blogs at Mos Le Tech, where you can find design articles, tips and tricks, and tutorials.

Published by

Namanyay Goel

Namanyay Goel is a freelance web and graphic designer. He blogs at Mos Le Tech, about SEO, Technology News, and Design.

54 thoughts on “Labnol: Our Theories On What Happened”

  1. Lablo is very good blog of technology. It had been some time since I visited website with such quality information.

  2. Reason 2 also seems likely… that many people often lose their accounts because of that!
    Whatever the reason was, I just stopped at the tips you provided for account safety in a few words… excellent! They are alarming before it’s too late. Thanks for sharing! I also like the way you take time to respond to most of your readers’ comments. Keep it up! Keep writing.

  3. It is probably a case of the same password being used on many accounts. Because, at least for me, the theory of brute force on cPanel is not an option. It would be extremely difficult. 

  4. Thats a nice piece of information.. Making Strong Password helps if the attack is only via BruteForce.. The remedy to BruteForce is using ‘Login Lockdown’ WordPress Plugin… works good for me.

  5. WP has become too vulnerable to hacker attacks now. Amit was quick enough to reinstate his blog. It’s a must learn lesson by one that WP blog backup is must. If not attacked by hacker there are other ways your blog can be down. If a proper back up has been made, the blog can be back again..

    1. Disagree. WP is, and always will be secure. It’s not vulnerable. Vulnerable is the CPanel, or any plugin. 

      I agree to rest of your points, that backups are essential.

      Thanks for commenting. 

  6. I’m glad that he got his business back, he feeds his family with those websites.
    If someone needed money, he/she need to work hard, Amit didn’t get everything by being lazy, but from his hard work. Really, I will never understand those kind of people that breach into someone life and try to destroy it.

     Great post Namanyay, thank you for sharing this information.

    1. Yup, good the hacker spared the database.

      Maybe he just wanted attention..? Many hackers don’t have anything to gain from this.

      You’re welcome! Thanks for commenting. 

  7. I’ve wondered for a while just how secure is wordpress once you do the obvious such as ensuring there is no account called admin 

  8. This news was too shocking for me because Amit is one of my favorite blogger. Thank God he had the backup. Nice tips.

    1. SQL is to hack database. Amit said his database was left untouched.
      It’s sure thing that his cPanel was hacked.

  9. Its very disgusting to face such type of situations. Once I have faced this situation but it is limited only to my wordpress. And got back it easily.
    Nice post thanks for sharing it………

  10. Well the thing is that if the Blogging Guru can get hacked then we are not safe :O time for more security.

    1. Thanks for the info! 

      Hmm… Weird he didn’t get other blogs back.. But as said on his blog, due to the unfortunate and untimely death of his grandfather, he isn’t paying much attention to those blogs. 

  11. A complete backup is very much helpful in this situations. We can get the site working back as soon as possible. Every wordpress user must take a complete back up of their websites or blogs.

  12. It doesn’t seem right in first instance “Bruteforce attack on cPanel”…Why would anyone think that Amit has a week password combination…Isn’t he aware of all this…

    He has written on his blog regarding “Strong Google Password Combinations, after his Google Apps account was hacked”…The possible chances can be “WordPress Vulnerability or any of it’s plugin…

    Amit wrote on his blog “this fellow was kind enough to spare my databases and hence the main site is at least up and running now”…Why would that fellow spared his databases when he deleted every single file /website that was hosted his server…

    It could be anything now…any theory 😛 

    1. It was just a guess! It COULD be that he has a weak password, we can’t be sure 🙂

      Maybe he was just stupid, or didn’t want permanent harm to labnol. Hackers can be kind too! 😛 

        1. For bruteforcing cpanel… hackers should know the username. So i don’t think it was bruteforce attack on cpanel, or there are chances, they just guessed the username.

      1. Hacker was kind enough when he hacked Amit’s Google Apps account “Leaving a message for some amount of money and didn’t harm anything” and this time “he didn’t do anything to databases”…

        Amit has got luck with these kind hackers 🙂 Anyway Curse those hackers…

        1. You also have to think the motive of people.. Who would want to just blow away a number 1 site? Nobody, right? It’s obvious that hackers need either attention, or money.

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