Two techniques to scan your WordPress installation and check if you’re hacked.

News [April 24th, 2012]: I’ve launched Wordfence to permanently fix your WordPress site’s security issues. Click here to learn more.

I just helped another target of the timthumb.php vulnerability to clean their machine. The method the hacker used to hide their tracks was a little different to what I’ve seen in the past. So I wanted to mention it here and let you know how to scan for it.

As I previously mentioned, the method I’ve seen hackers use to hide their source code is to encode it using base64 encoding and then use base64_decode and eval() in PHP to execute the code at runtime.

You can scan for base64 decoding by getting a shell on your WordPress server and running the following in the root of the WordPress installation directory:

grep -r base64_decode *

Keep in mind that some files that are not hacked will show up, like the newest version of timthumb.php which includes a base64 encoded image. But this is a good starting point to get a list of files that warrant further inspection.

The hack I saw today was different. The hacker used hexadecimal escaping to hide their tracks. They didn’t just encode hostnames and things that a security analyst would obviously search for. They also encoded individual javascript commands and strings containing HTML element names.

You can use this perl compatible regular expression to search for hex encoded data in your javascript. Again, run this in a shell in the wordpress root installation directory:

grep -rP “(?:\\\\x[A-F0-9]{2}){5}” *

This will search for strings of at least 5 sequential hex encoded digits. You may get some false positives like class-simplepie.php . But again, this will give you a list of files that require closer inspection.

The file that was infected today was wp-includes/js/l10n.js. The attacker had appended hex encoded javascript to it. You can see what a normal file looks like here.

If you’ve been hacked, or suspect you’ve been hacked, drop me an email at mmaunder at gmail. I charge a very reasonable consulting rate and it usually takes 1 to 3 hours to fix the system and harden up permissions to prevent future attacks.

138 thoughts on “Two techniques to scan your WordPress installation and check if you’re hacked.

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  59. Awesome! WordPress trouble shooting is difficult enough as it is. Using grep sure made this process easy for me. Thanks for the help!

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  63. hi, i have the vbs trojan malware, and this is my second clean install of wordpress, redoing all my passwords , ftp, passwords, how much do you carge for removal?

  64. How much to clean this website and strenghten security.( you give me a maximum cost for worst case senario.

    Had the timthumb script on an elegant themes theme. Have tried to fix it but since I have made a lot of small changes to the pages and styles over months I don’t want to have to figure that out again.


  65. Hi there, I have a question. my site (a word press blog on thesis theme) was hacked today. I contacted my web host, they told me to change all my passwords (I did) and they said they’d run a scan of my site files ( do not know the results). So in the meantime I began to back up everything that I know to back up: WP export, copy of FTP folders, SQL databases ( I also have other back ups of my sql databases and my WP export, which I performed last week). I am pretty sure this was a hack derived from breach of my WP password, and from what I have read, reinstalling wordpress from scratch seems to be the smartest option for people like me. The main things I am worried about are (1) whether I have done all the right/possible back ups, and (2) how to avoid restoring a backed up WP export file that that has a modified or hacked file or installing a virus. Am I worried about nothing? Any advice?

    • Sure, if you want to exclude something from the output of any unix command, simply add this at the end:

      | grep -v exclude-this

      that pipes the output to another grep command and the -v tells grep to exclude the string “exclude-this”.

  66. I tried using the second one

    “grep -rP “(?:\\\\x[A-F0-9]{2}){5}” *”

    But I get an error message saying the -P option is not supported.

    Is there another way to search for the hex code?

  67. I found similar code in the same file (wp-includes/js/l10n.js) and removed it; either I just got “lucky” that I was infected in the same was as your client, or else the attacker(s) aren’t particularly innovative or original.

    Either way, thanks for pointing out that file in particular; it proved to be an issue, and I have corrected it on my site. Hopefully, this means the issues I’ve been having are now gone…though I’m still running the grep searches anyway.

    • Sigh, sorry. Anyway, I site actually got hacked. People were seeing warning notes from certain browsers, and sometimes I’d get redirected when I tried to log into my dashboard. I updated my timthumb.php to the newest version, and my site is now showing up malware-free at However, I ran the base64 grep on my wordpress installation and there’s still code everywhere. It’s definitely the mnalware code…dozens of lines of gibberish. So, am I still vulnerable? What should I do about all the code that’s already been injected? Thanks!

      • That’s a tough one. I cleaned several sites that have been hacked like this but I charge for the service. I would contact your web dev and either clean each file by hand or the safest is to do a full reinstall of WordPress. Best of luck!

        • Thanks Mark! I actually emailed you about rates, but…I think I might be ok. I dug into the grep results, and it injected code into the footer of a bunch of themes I had, that I wasn’t using. I deleted all those themes, and reran the grep, and don’t find anything suspicious. LOTS of timthumb.php files that I’ll need to manually replace though. I will ping you back if I get stumped and decide to hire an expert. BTW…I didn’t read your site before, but you’ve got a new reader now!

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