Understanding WordPress’s xmlrpc.php File and Navigating Potential Misuse

by | Jul 7, 2023 | Phishing, Scams and Spoofs, Technical Help, WordPress

Hey there, fellow WordPress users! Today, we’re going to dive into a feature of WordPress that’s been causing a bit of a stir lately – the xmlrpc.php file. If you’ve been running a WordPress site for a while, you might have heard about this file and the potential security concerns surrounding it. Let’s break it down and see what’s really going on.

The xmlrpc.php file

First off, what is this xmlrpc.php file? It’s a part of the WordPress core that allows for remote procedure calls (RPCs). In simpler terms, it lets external services interact with your WordPress site. This can be super handy for things like publishing posts from mobile or desktop apps, sending trackbacks and pingbacks between blogs, and interacting with certain plugins like Jetpack. So far, so good, right?

However, like any powerful tool, it can be misused. The potential issue arises when this feature is exploited for malicious purposes, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks or brute force attacks. But it’s important to note that this is not a vulnerability in the traditional sense, but rather a potential misuse of a legitimate feature.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, any publicly accessible file on my website could theoretically be used to carry out a DDoS attack, right?” And you’d be absolutely correct! The xmlrpc.php file is often singled out because it can be used to amplify such attacks, but the same could be said for many other features of a website that respond to user input.

Enter the “Bug Bounty”

Recently, there’s been a trend of individuals reporting this potential misuse of the xmlrpc.php file and asking for a “bug bounty” in return. A bug bounty is a reward offered by many websites and software developers to individuals who identify and report bugs, especially those pertaining to exploits and vulnerabilities.

However, in this case, the “bug” that’s being reported is not a bug in the traditional sense. It’s actually a legitimate feature that, like most, has the potential of being misused. My opinion is that this “reported bug” is up there with calling it a bug that I have a login page that one can put usernames and passwords into until they break into the site (which could easily happen if someone had very weak passwords).

While it’s important to be aware of how features like xmlrpc.php can be misused, this is more a matter of proper configuration and security practices than a software bug.

Here’s where things get a bit fishy. These “bug bounty” requests are being sent to individual website owners, rather than to the WordPress development team. If there was a genuine vulnerability in the xmlrpc.php file, it would be a matter for the WordPress team to address not YOU as the website owner.

This raises the question: are these “bug bounty” requests a form of scam? It’s possible. It seems that some individuals are trying to capitalize on a well-known feature of WordPress and its potential misuse. This doesn’t align with the typical practices of responsible security research.

So, what can you do to protect your site? Good security dictates to turn off any functionality you aren’t using. So, if you’re not using any features that require xmlrpc.php, you can disable it entirely. There are plugins available that can do this for you, or you can manually disable it by adding a few lines of code to your .htaccess file. Here’s how:

    • Connect to your website using an FTP client or through control panel’s File Manager.
    • Locate the .htaccess file in the root directory of your WordPress installation – usually in the public_html folder.
    • Open the .htaccess file and add the following lines of code at the end:
      # BEGIN Block WordPress xmlrpc.php requests
      <Files xmlrpc.php>
      order deny,allow
      deny from all
      # Sample line to allow an address if needed once "#" symbol removed
      # allow from
      # END Block WordPress xmlrpc.php requests
    • Save and close the .htaccess file.

Remember: blocking access to the xmlrpc.php file might break certain features of your site if its use is required. It’s important to test your site thoroughly after making this change. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to consult with your web developer.

If you need to use xmlrpc.php, but want to limit who can access it, you can use a security plugin to restrict access to certain IP addresses or make an adjustment in the code as indicated above.

CharlesWorks can do this!

And here’s the best part – if you’re not comfortable making these changes yourself, we at CharlesWorks are here to help! We’ll be glad to install this fix for you, and it only takes us a few minutes, which is all you are charged for.

Beware of Bug Bounty Requests

In conclusion, while the xmlrpc.php file is a powerful feature of WordPress, it’s important to understand its potential misuse and to take appropriate steps to secure your site. However, it’s just as important to be wary of “bug bounty” requests that capitalize on well-known features rather than reporting genuine vulnerabilities. For more about the “not so real” bug bounties, check out this article:

As always, maintain good security practices, keep your WordPress installation and plugins up to date, and consult with your web developer if you’re unsure about any potential vulnerabilities.

Stay safe out there, WordPress users!

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