WordPress 5.2 finally gets the security features a third of the Internet deserves. The WordPress content management system (CMS) is set to receive an assortment of new security features today that will finally add the protection level that many of its users have desired for years.
These features are expected to land with the official release of WordPress 5.2.
Included are support for cryptographic-ally-signed updates, support for a modern cryptography library, a Site Health section in the admin panel back-end, and a feature that will act as a White-Screen-of-Death (WSOD) protection –letting site admins access their back-end in the case of catastrophic PHP errors.
With WordPress being installed on around 33.8 percent of all internet sites, these features are set to put some fears at ease in regards to some attack vectors.
Probably the biggest and the most important of today’s new security features is WordPress’ offline digital signatures system.
Starting with WordPress 5.2, the WordPress team will digitally sign its update packages with the Ed25519 public-key signature system so that a local installation will be able to verify the update package’s authenticity before applying it to a local site.
Adding support for cryptographic-ally-signed updates is an important step in preventing threat actors from carrying out a supply-chain attack on all WordPress sites, something that security firms have warned for more than two years now.
“Before WordPress 5.2, if you wanted to infect every WordPress site on the Internet, you just had to hack [the WordPress] update server,”
said Scott Arciszewski, Chief Development Officer at Paragon Initiative Enterprises, and one of the developers involved in securing the WordPress update system.
“After WordPress 5.2, you would need to pull off the same attack and somehow pilfer the signing key from the WordPress core development team.”
WORDPRESS GETS A MODERN CRYPTOGRAPHIC LIBRARY
But Arciszewski’s work on the WordPress CMS did not end here. He also contributed to WordPress replacing an aging cryptographic library with one that’s fit for modern times.
Starting with WordPress 5.2, the CMS will support the Libsodium library for all cryptographic operations, instead of the now-deprecated and removed mcrypt.
Libsodium is now part of the WordPress CMS source code, along with Arciszewski’s sodium_compat library that works as a polyfill for older PHP servers that don’t support Libsodium.
WordPress now joins the ranks of modern web-dev tools that natively support Libsodium, such as PHP 7.2+, Magento 2.3+, and Joomla 3.8+.
Furthermore, with Libsodium’s addition to the WordPress CMS core, this also means plugin and theme developers can start supporting it as well.
Arciszewski published today a blog post with basic advice for WordPress plugin and theme developers on how to replace old mcrypt cryptographic functions with libsodium ones.
NEW SITE HEALTH SECTION
But the first WordPress 5.2 security features that users will spot in today’s release are not the changes to the CMS’ code, but the new “Site Health” section in the admin panel’s Tools menu.
This section includes two new pages –namely Site Health Status and Site Health Info.
The Site Health Status page works by running a set of basic security checks and delivering a report with the findings, along with recommendations to fix any discovered issues.
This section comes with a series of bundled tests, but site owners and developers of security plugins can also write their own to expand security checks to more areas of a WordPress site.