The risk of unpatched software is one that WordPress understands well and is taking aggressive steps to mitigate.
WordPress is a popular open-source content management and blogging system that is available in a hosted model on WordPress.com and as a self-hosted application that users can choose to host wherever they want. WordPress.com also offers the Jetpack plug-in for self-hosted WordPress users, which provides multiple services to help users manage and secure sites.
WordPress is now beginning to disconnect self-hosted sites that have not updated the Jetpack plug-in.
"Last spring, we discovered a vulnerability in Jetpack and have been hard at work helping users update their sites to a secure version," WordPress wrote in an email sent to affected site administrators. "Your site has been running an old, highly insecure version (1.9.2) of the Jetpack plugin. To keep your site secure, we have disconnected it from WordPress.com."
The Jetpack 1.9 plug-in was first released in October 2012 and has been updated multiple times since. In April 2014, the Jetpack 2.9.3 update was released, providing a critical security update that fixed a vulnerability that impacted all versions of Jetpack from 1.9 and up. The vulnerability could have potentially enabled an attacker to bypass access controls and publish unauthorized posts.
WordPress.com didn't just leave its Jetpack users own their own and at risk after the 2.9.3 update. Instead of allowing self-hosted users to remain vulnerable to attack, WordPress made sure users were automatically protected, even if they didn't know it.
"Until recently, your site was secured by temporary blocks put in place by your host to protect all sites until each individual Jetpack installation was updated," WordPress stated in its email to impacted site administrators "These blocks are not intended to be a long term solution, and may no longer be maintained. Please stay updated and stay safe."
Jetpack is a particularly valuable plug-in for self-hosted WordPress users in that it provides statistics, social media and site management features. More specifically on the security front, the Jetpack 3.3 update, which was released on Dec. 16, 2014, enables users to manage plug-in updates automatically. That is, with Jetpack 3.3 installed on a self-hosted WordPress CMS, a site administrator can choose to enable a feature that will automatically keep the self-hosted site's plug-ins updated.
The risk of outdated WordPress plug-ins is nontrivial. In December 2014, more than 100,000 WordPress sites were infected with the SoakSoak malware by way of an unpatched vulnerable plug-in.
WordPress has taken steps to help keep the core WordPress application updated as well. Starting with the WordPress 3.7 update that came out in October 2013, self-hosted WordPress sites are automatically updated to fix critical security vulnerabilities in WordPress.
The risk of unpatched and out-of-date technology is not unique to WordPress; it is an issue that plagues nearly all forms of software. The actions taken by WordPress to protect users by way of automatic updates and even to protect Jetpack users when they didn't update are admirable. The fact that WordPress is now disconnecting older Jetpack users from the system, nine months after a critical security update, should serve as further proof of how far WordPress goes to protect its users.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.