Improving Plugin Security One Day at a Time

As a security-conscious developer, I like to inspect a WordPress plugin’s source code before I install it on one of my sites. I didn’t do this, formerly. But after the first time I did (and found a vulnerability), I believe more strongly in its importance.

I also keep tabs on WordPress related security reports on sites like Packet Storm, Secunia, Exploit Database, and Bugtraq. I use IFTTT for this:

IFTTT Recipe: Email me WordPress security reports from Packet Storm connects feed to email

IFTTT Recipe: Email me WordPress security reports on Secunia connects feed to email

IFTTT Recipe: Email me WordPress security reports on Exploit DB connects feed to email

IFTTT Recipe: Email me WordPress security reports from Bugtraq connects feed to email

Over the last year I’ve come to realize something: almost every plugin has vulnerabilities. Okay, all code has vulnerabilities. But almost every plugin has glaringly obvious vulnerabilities, or at least that can be found without a great deal of effort.

That seems a little bit scary. Of course, many of these aren’t particularly serious. But they demonstrate that the people creating the plugins often don’t understand basic WordPress security.

I know I’m not the only one who realizes this. Probably, most experienced WordPress developers come to this realization sooner or later. But just realizing it and thinking, “I wish it weren’t so,” isn’t going to make things any better. So I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m going to improve plugin security one day at a time. I’m going to try to do something, every day, that will make WordPress plugins more secure.

How will I do this? In many ways. I said that I’m not the only one who understands the situation, and I’m not the only one who’s doing things about it either. The folks on the plugin review team for WordPress.org try to catch the vulnerabilities when a plugin is first submitted to the repo. They also handle security reports and make sure they make it to the plugin authors. There are also the great folks on the WordPress docs team contributing to the plugin developer handbook. Hopefully the security-related things in there will help to educate the next generation of plugin developers about these issues better right from the start.

One of the greatest things I can do is to try to help educate plugin devs about security. I’ll also try to make sure that reports of vulnerabilities make their way to the plugin developer. And I’ll continue to review plugins that I use, and report vulnerabilities that I find. I might then move on to investigating other popular plugins as well. I have even pondered creating a PHP source code security scanner, but that would be quite a project. (There are many of these out there, but none of them are intelligent enough for me.)

Regardless of how, I want to try to do a little something every day to improve WordPress plugin security. If just a few folks did this, how different might things look in a few years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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