Content Management Systems: Friend or Foe?

A all white puzzle with one piece out of place

The downside of open source affordability and flexibility

More than 7,000 ecommerce sites were shut down this past weekend due to malware infiltrating the open source or community version of Magento, a popular content management system. Unfortunately, this type of revenue-impacting event has become all too common with similar attacks affecting WordPress, Joomla and Drupal within the past 12 months. As thousands of online merchants have just learned, taking advantage of the affordability and flexibility offered by an open-source website vendor requires investment in continuous site security.

Start-up savior

Millions of small and medium-sized merchants rely on open source content management systems (CMS) to support their initial foray into online commerce. These platforms provide a “plug-n-play” infrastructure that pulls together basic design schema, content delivery features and shopping cart capabilities—critical cost-saving tools for a start-up operation. Platform providers make these tools available in the hopes that as the retailer grows it will seek more features and eventually upgrade to a more robust, enterprise version. But, these supposedly “free” tools come with a price.

When free isn’t free

Open source is a great resource; however, it is not supported by the vendor. Open source platforms rely on a passionate community of users to build plug-ins and extensions which extend the capability of the free tool. A major shortfall is that open source lacks the protection users expect—there’s no accountability for the developer community should something go horribly wrong. In fact, the very nature of open source suggests that the “source” is “open” to all who wish to contribute.

Bad actors easily infiltrate these communities and cause considerable harm. From compromising an existing extension to creating a flawed one, bad actors can quickly penetrate thousands of ecommerce operations and execute a host of crimes—mine for credit card data, trigger malware downloads onto shopper browsers, deface the site with inflammatory language or completely disable site operations, to name a few. Whatever the action, the merchant suffers serious damaging consequences from which it may not ever recover.

To protect an ecommerce operation, online merchants need to invest in security measures to ensure the open source environment is safe from compromise. This means a thorough review of all code and vendors used to render the site on consumer browsers—both front-end services, like image library and product recommendation, and back-end services, like CMS and content delivery networks. In effect, open source is not really free, as the money saved from licensing needs to be poured back into IT to secure the site.

Preparing for the worst

Considering that an open source platform can bring an ecommerce site to its knees, online merchants must keep abreast of industry news and take immediate action to locate and fix compromised code. In addition, merchants should also adopt basic security best practices such as: Regular participation in the open source community to know when issues are detected and how to resolve

  1. Careful screening of plug-ins and extensions before using in your environment
  2. Limited use of un-vetted extensions
  3. Continuously monitoring of the third-party vendors executing on the site

The best way to secure revenue continuity is to constantly monitor the site for anomalies and unexpected vendor behavior. Upon detection, these issues can be immediately resolved thereby keeping your ecommerce operation alive and kicking.

For those not planning to upgrade to a licensed, vendor-supported platform, an effective security program will be your best friend. The Media Trust can make the introduction.