Proof of concept

What is proof of concept?

Proof of concept is a general term that refers to an actual demonstration that shows how a previously untested idea can work in a real-life scenario. In WordPress security, a proof of concept is often used to showcase how a particular security flaw can be exploited in a new, untested way.

How do proof of concepts work?

Proof of concepts can be carried out by both vendors and attackers. When vendors carry out a proof of concept, they do so in a controlled environment with the aim of confirming the vulnerability exists, how it can be exploited, and issuing a fix. The important thing here is for the proof of concept code or methodology to not be published until a fix is identified, developed, and distributed among customers.

Attackers, on the other hand, run proof of concepts to ensure a planned attack will work as expected. In such instances, a proof of concept may lead to a zero-day vulnerability.

A proof of concept is also used when a security researcher reports a particular vulnerability to a vendor. In such cases, the vulnerability is typically demonstrated through a proof of concept, thus proving it exists.

Why are attacks based on proof of concept dangerous?

A proof of concept is not dangerous in and of itself. How it’s used can make it dangerous. When a vendor runs a proof of concept, no danger is present since these are run in a controlled environment. As long as the information is not leaked and a patch is issued in a timely manner, vendor-run proof of concepts can help administrators stay secure.

An attack based on proof of concept is a different story. These are especially dangerous since they take advantage of zero-day exploits. With no fixes available, this can leave WordPress websites vulnerable to attacks. Attackers may also choose to make the details of their proof of concept public, alerting security professionals and other attackers about the vulnerability.

How to protect yourself from attacks based on proof of concept

It can be difficult to protect yourself against an attack based on a specific proof of concept since  whoever planned an attack based on a proof of concept most probably has not disclosed the details to the vendor, which means the software is vulnerable. As such, the best measure you can take against such attacks is to ensure you have a well-rounded WordPress security policy that addresses the various elements of a WordPress setup.

The better secured your WordPress environment is, the more protected it will be against different types of attacks, increasing the chances that the proof of concept attack remains a theory the attacker cannot put into practice.

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