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How It Is

Thimking About Security

No, that’s not a typo. I want you to THIMK

It's been a while since I last talked about security and WordPress plugins, so I thought it was a good time to do it again.

still don't use any. But we'll get to that in a minute.

Don't Be 'Stupid' Don't Be 'Stupid'

My mother is one of the few people I know who has almost completely conquered the will to be stupid.

Miles Vorkosigan on his mother, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan
Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Understanding what makes something secure or insecure is not as obvious as I wish it was. I often say that the trick to being secure is not being stupid. Of course that's easier said than done, and I know it.

Still, my record holds true that the one time I was hacked, it was from my own stupidity. I knew it was wrong and foolish and I did it anyway. And my guiding principal of security remains a constant reminder "Don't be stupid."

But what is stupid? Every time you leave your house, you lock your doors, right? You do the idiot walk, as my grandmother Taffy called it. Keys, wallet, phone? Is the gas off? Is the heat on? Are the windows closed? You check the normal things and then you lock the door and off you go.

Of course, we all have been an hour into an 8 hour drive and panicked "Did I close the garage!?" And for some people, even the simple act of locking the door is an arduous journey of 10 or 30 or 55 checks. In order to say 'don't be stupid' we have take ourselves honestly and seriously, and remember that 'stupid' just means 'don't not think.'

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THIMK THIMK

That was not a typo. Nor was the title of this post.

While we all make fun of IBM and MAD Magazine, I recall reading "Welcome to the Monkey House" by Kurt Vonnegut, and Ma Kennedy had the sign over her desk. At the time, I was unaware of the MAD magazine spoof on the matter. THINK was a sign folks at IBM had, and THIMK was the spoof.

When I read it in Vonnegut, and bear in mind I was young and naive, I found it far more compelling than the idea of telling someone to THINK. With the letter changed, it forced me to reassess my assumptions of what the meaning was. After all, telling someone to THINK means, well, think. But telling someone to THIMK is a different matter.

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Eating the Elephant Eating the Elephant

You know that old joke? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Well. That's security.

I've been a loud opponent of the TSA, the way it's implemented in the US currently. It makes us feel better by making us think (N) that something is being done. And, yes, the TSA has found problems. But their job is to look through a thousand small things and find the odd-one-out. They're looking for the weird.

When we perform a security audit over anything, be it a plugin or a server, or a door, we look for what we know is likely wrong. When I review a plugin, I look for the common issues. I skim for them, or grep for them, because I know what I'm looking for, and my eyes are trained to find it.

But then, once I see the major and common issues aren't there, I read the whole thing. I look at the plugin as a whole entity, and I think. What does the code mean? What is it's intent?

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Metaphysical Security Metaphysical Security

Without the ability to spy into the soul of the developer and glean an understanding of their raisons d'être, we're left with monitoring actions and making best guesses. And we're going to be wrong from time to time.

It's no secret that last year, the WordPress security world found a new villain in the despicable people who buy plugins and slip backdoors into them. I saw some complaints that this sort of vulnerability wouldn't exist in [insert your CMS here], except … it will. It can and it will.

We are all vulnerable because we choose to trust. We trust the developer to have good intentions. We trust the reviewers to be good people and care more about the security and sanity of code than themselves (which is a whole different ball of fish). We trust the ongoing development not to be handed over to evil people.

That last one is unavoidable. People trust me to review code and react in the 'best' way for the community. But what if someone found my asking price and bribed me? What if I let bad code like backdoors into the WordPress Plugin directory? It would probably get caught, eventually, but still. Even if we locked down plugins to specific users accounts and didn't let anyone but admins (like me and Otto) add users, we would still at the end of the day remain vulnerable to humanity.

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Security Is Ongoing Security Is Ongoing

The truth is this.

We are always, every day, insecure and vulnerable.

Having a website that is your 'life' or career or business or even just a passion-project is dangerous.

You should treat your website with as much thought and security as you do your own home. Check the gas. Check the lights. Make sure the door is locked. Get a security system. Hire someone to review the site and the server. But take it seriously. 

Your website is 'you' on the Internet. And it deserves as much care as locking your car and not parking it in a shady part of time.

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Summary? Summary?

Pay attention to what you put on your website.

Trust no one. Not even me.