[wp-hackers] WordPress plugin inspections

Harry Metcalfe harry at dxw.com
Thu Feb 20 17:24:28 UTC 2014

Hi John,

This - more or less - is exactly how we operate.

We have a look. If we see indications of badness, but no specific 
vulnerabilities, we write that up and publish the inspection.

If we see vulnerabilities, we write up an advisory and disclose it 
responsibly, exactly as you suggest (details: 

I don't think it is necessary to disclose in advance for an inspection, 
because we're not announcing that the neighbour's shed is broken. We're 
announcing that neighbour's shed's looking a bit old and tatty, and that 
people might not want to keep their stuff in it until it's fixed.

Quite a few people have suggested that we should reach out to plugin 
authors, though. I am, in principle, happy to do that. But such a 
mechanism would have to be at least partly automated, and we have no 
private contact details for plugin authors. So, the best we could do is 
probably to have a bot that posts on people's forums. But that's more 
notification than notice, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea 
of such a bot in any event.

If you have an idea for how we can reliably, semi-automatically give 
authors notice, and then publish after some predefined time - I'm all ears.


On 20/02/2014 16:50, John wrote:
> The community would be better served if you first contacted plugin authors
> and the maintainers of the WP plugin repo regarding security issues.
> If the door on your neighbor's shed was broken, making it easy for thieves
> to enter, would you first announce it to the whole community in a letter to
> the editor alongside an ad for your door repair services, or would you be
> Dudley Do-Right and tell your neighbor directly?
> If you've reviewed enough code to make the claims, you can certainly reveal
> specific vulnerabilities to the plugin authors and allow them to fix them.
> This is pretty much the way any open source community handles security
> issues. If you do enough of that, the money will come - if that's what you
> want.
> After a reasonable period of time after security updates have been released
> (or not in cases where plugin authors are unresponsive), the public service
> announcement could follow.
> On Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 3:37 AM, Harry Metcalfe <harry at dxw.com> wrote:
>> Disappointingly, we'll perhaps have to agree to disagree.
>> I think the site is a positive contribution to WordPress's security.
>> Hopefully, in time, we'll earn some trust. I'm not expecting that to be
>> instant. I don't think we're condemning anybody: we're pointing out issues
>> which are widely accepted to be indicative of problematic code.
>> In the mean time, people are - of course - free to vote with their feet
>> and not visit the site. Or set up a better one.
>> Harry
>> On 20/02/2014 01:05, Chris Williams wrote:
>>> Let's see if I can summarize: you are using arbitrary criteria
>>> administered by people of unknown skill/experience and using the results
>>> to publicly condemn other people's work with an overly broad brush, and
>>> without any mechanism for recourse.  The result has no positive benefits.
>>> It demeans the plugin authors and their work, and by reflection your firm
>>> and its work, raises alarm in the community you claim to support, and
>>> garners you no goodwill.
>>> I'm sorry, but given the train wreck this has become, my best advice is
>>> precisely that: stop doing it.
>>> On 2/19/14 1:32 PM, "Harry Metcalfe" <harry at dxw.com> wrote:
>>>   But I do value the points you've made
>>>> and we will make some changes based upon then. I'd be keen to hear any
>>>> other feedback you might have later (short of "stop doing it"!)
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