2FA should be built into WordPress core

Does email work with your WordPress installation? When someone leaves a comment on your blog or your WordPress installation automatically updates to a minor version number such as 4.4 to 4.4.1 do you get that email?

You did get those emails? Great! Now go,¬†install and activate the Two Factor Authentication plugin maintained by George Stephanis. I’ll wait.

Now that¬†you have done that, on the top right corner of your dashbaord is a “Howdy, User” link. Click that and select Edit My Profile. Scroll down on your profile page and enable the first two options. That’s “Email” and “Time Based One-Time Password (Google Authenticator)”.

2fa-setup-page

I made the Google Authenticator my primary means of logging in. I keep the app on my password protected iPhone, it’s a one-time password (OTP) generator and it doesn’t need access to Google to work. It’s time based after all.

What is two factor authentication (2FA)?

2FA is a means to increase the confidence when you log in that you are in fact who you say you are.

When you log into WordPress, you use an ID and password. The security is in the password and should be along the lines of “gHJjgbtjXa9FLyGkhaHR0o” which I got courtesy of my 1Password app. That password is one factor of authentication. Your password is something that you know.

The¬†second factor is what you have in your possession. In my case it’s my Google Authenticator app on my iPhone.

When I log into my WordPress site I am prompted for my username and password. Once that is successful I am then asked for my authentication code.

authentication-code

Which I get from my app. If that does not work then I click on the backup method and soon get a code via email. I enter that code and I am in, which is why I asked if mail works at the beginning of this post.

Mail needs to work. So does good time keeping.

My multisite installation is on a VPS and I run NTP. I have to because on a VPS the time will drift (on anything really) and if my server’s time is far enough out of sync then my OTP will not work. Or my phone could be dead but I still can access my email.

By configuring the email as a fallback I have another way to get into my installation. That email code is good till it’s used or is replaced and can get you out of a bind.

2FA needs to be built into core

Having 2FA in WordPress as a built-in¬†option moves the security bar farther. ¬†It increases the security posture for users and if it is an option, if it’s easy to setup then it will be adopted by users.

Yes, it will take some education for people to use it properly but that is not insurmountable.

In the past, users would install WordPress and forget to maintain them. The other day I came across a 3.5.2 installation. That was released in July 2013. In Internet years that’s ancient and there are several known exploits out there. The 3.5.x code isn’t maintained.

As of version 3.7 minor release updates are turned on automatically by default. If you installed 3.7 and did not do anything else then as of today you are or will be running 3.7.12 shortly. Major version upgrades are not automatic so 3.7.x will not update to 3.8 or even to the current 4.4.1. The major versions need to be updated by the user initiating that upgrade, although some forward thinking hosts will do it for you anyway.

Automatic updates are a result of the developers wanting the environment to become more secure. Unpatched WordPress installations were the cause of compromised sites that sent spam, spread spammy links and made the Internet neighborhood a worse place to be.

It also gave WordPress an unjustifiable reputation for being insecure because users did not maintain their code.

Having 2FA is similar to enabling TLS on your WordPress installation. If your server supports HTTPS just update your Site URL and WordPress Address, perform a little search and replace for the old http:// references to their TLS versions and you are done. More and more sites are defaulting to https because it’s easy.

2FA is like that, it’s a step in the direction of users taking their security into their own hands. It’s educational too, meaning that once it’s setup and working you’ve learned something new.

What about the Support Team’s concerns?

Mika Epstein, myself and others expressed reservations not about having 2FA built into WordPress. We like this idea. Our concerns were along the lines of “How can we walk the user through disabling 2FA if they bork it badly?”

The idea we expressed was that this should be enabled by editing the wp-config.php file by hand, just as you have to do when you enable multisite. If you can do that successfully then you are technical enough for 2FA. The words I used were “you need to be this tall to enable this feature”.

I don’t think that anymore. If someone’s email is working then they can get back into their installation with the emailed access code.

What I’d like to avoid is the situation that exists with password resets. If you look at the WordPress Codex article about resetting your password then you may understand.

For manual password resets I encourage users to add a line to their theme’s functions.php file but that¬†can be dicey. If they typo that file they can break their whole site. That’s still more appealing for me than trying to walk a user through using phpMyAdmin.

Manual password resets is difficult¬†for regular users. If they can enable 2FA¬†and have a not too difficult way to¬†disable it then any reservations I’ve had are gone. I know this is being worked on and I would really like to see this properly put into WordPress 4.5.

It’s something that can make the Internet neighborhood a more secure place to be.

Let’s Encrypt is all kinds of awesome

I had some time and did a git pull on the Let’s Encrypt github page. This is a project that makes it easy to install and maintain free X.509 certificates for web servers. The certificates are in PEM format and can be easily used for any server app but usually it’s just for HTTPS on web servers.

Requesting your own certs

The first time I ran the ./letsencrypt-auto command it used apt-get to download its dependencies. The integration with Ubuntu is nice and works well. A few minutes later of some prodding and poking, meaning I read the Let’s Encrypt User Guide, I gave it a shot.

On my VPS I selected blog.epyon-1.com and ran the following command as root.

./letsencrypt-auto certonly --webroot -w /var/www/vhosts/dembowski.net/ -m not@my-email.btw -d blog.epyon-1.com

The site blog.epyon-1.com is on my WordPress network so the directory is the same. The end result of that was to politely create and place these symlinked files.

/etc/letsencrypt/live/blog.epyon-1.com/cert.pem
/etc/letsencrypt/live/blog.epyon-1.com/fullchain.pem
/etc/letsencrypt/live/blog.epyon-1.com/privkey.pem

A quick update to my nginx config for

ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/blog.epyon-1.com/fullchain.pem;
ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/blog.epyon-1.com/privkey.pem;

I checked with “nginx -t” and “service nginx restart” and that was it.

Encryption has never been this easy

The certificate is valid for 90 days and is recognized by all browsers.

lets-encrypt-epyon-1.com

To renew it I’ve created a cron job for the first of every month to run this command.

./letsencrypt-auto certonly --webroot -w /var/www/vhosts/dembowski.net/ -m not@my-email.btw -d blog.epyon-1.com -d epyon-1.com --renew

Which is the same command with just --renew added to it. Easy. If you don’t renew the CA will send you a reminder at the email you specified via the “-m not@my-email.btw” command line argument.

I’m not directing the output to /dev/null because if that cronjob works or not I want to see that output. If the cronjob fails then I can always run the command by hand.

Will I switch all my domains to Let’s Encrypt?

Why not? The project is currently in a public beta and the Let’s Encrypt tools will change and continue to be developed. But for the next 90 days the certificate I obtained will work fine. Even better if they automatically renew.

What I am looking for is a reasonable expectation of privacy between my web server and my visitors. I do not use TLS for authentication and the Let’s Encrypt certificates work fine.

If I had an online store then I might consider getting an Extended Validation Certificate but that would be only to reassure visitors when they are making a purchase. EV certs are not cheap. Let’s Encrypt is free so it’s not a hard decision for me to make.

This helps protect the traffic from casual snoopers between my server and your browser. It’s not a magic bullet for security but the wide spread adoption of encryption will help promote privacy.

My oEmbed discovery links work (It was me)

I thought I¬†broke my oEmbed discovery links but I had a more fundamental problem. I had broken fancy permalinks on my nginx configuration for a while and didn’t realize it.

I¬†revisited the Nginx Codex page and did a stare and compare of¬†my configuration and the examples there. I am sure I read that page in¬†the past and¬†my mistake was the “try_files” line.

Here’s what I had for try_files.

location / {
	try_files $uri $uri/ /index.php;
}

Here’s what that line should have read.

location / {
	try_files $uri $uri/ /index.php?$args;
}

See the “?$args” part? With that in place the non-post URLs work. The permalinks worked fine but things that were not to a post or page didn’t. Due to my fancy permalink¬†settings¬†my oEmbed discovery links had this format.

https://blog.dembowski.net/wp-json/oembed/1.0/embed?url=urlencoded-data-here and that wasn’t being handled by my nginx configuration.

My plugin worked because I was replacing the fancy URLs with the regular non-fancy “?rest_route”¬†version which nginx passed along to my WordPress installation just fine.

https://blog.dembowski.net/?rest_route=%2Foembed%2F1.0%2Fembed&url=urlencoded-data-here

This¬†may have also broken other features as well.¬†I wonder what else I’m missing? I should check all the things. ūüėČ

oEmbed not working (I’m convinced it’s me)

One of the new WordPress 4.4 features is the ability for your installation to become an oEmbed provider. In plain English you can paste your post URL and get a result as if you were embedding a YouTube URL.

I could not get it to work for me. No way, no how. The json and XML discovery links were there in the post HTML but those links came back with “What? What? No. Go away, you’re bothering kid.”

It should have come back with a valid output and it did. It was a result, just not a functioning one.

For example, this post (which I’m not embedding) should provide via this link usable information. It doesn’t. I get this.

<link rel="alternate" type="application/json+oembed" href="https://blog.dembowski.net/wp-json/oembed/1.0/embed?url=https%3A%2F%2Fblog.dembowski.net%2F2015%2Fserver-admins-love-wp-cli%2F" />

That link results in this.

{"code":"rest_missing_callback_param","message":"Missing parameter(s): url","data":{"status":400,"params":["url"]}}

It doesn’t contain any useful data except to reply with “What? What? What?”

It should output this.

{"version":"1.0","provider_name":"Mostly Harmless","provider_url":"https:\/\/blog.dembowski.net","author_name":"Jan Dembowski","author_url":"https:\/\/blog.dembowski.net\/author\/jan\/","title":"Server admins love WP-CLI","type":"rich","width":600,"height":338,"html":"</pre>
<blockquote class="\&quot;wp-embedded-content\&quot;">
<a href="\&quot;https:\/\/blog.dembowski.net\/2015\/server-admins-love-wp-cli\/\&quot;">Server admins love WP-CLI<\/a><\/blockquote>\n<script type="text\/javascript">// <![CDATA[
\n<!--\/\/--><![CDATA[\/\/><!--\n\t\t!function(a,b){\"use strict\";function c(){if(!e){e=!0;var a,c,d,f,g=-1!==navigator.appVersion.indexOf(\"MSIE 10\"),h=!!navigator.userAgent.match(\/Trident.*rv:11\\.\/),i=b.querySelectorAll(\"iframe.wp-embedded-content\"),j=b.querySelectorAll(\"blockquote.wp-embedded-content\");for(c=0;c<j.length;c++)j.style.display=\"none\";for(c=0;c<i.length;c++)if(d=i,d.style.display=\"\",!d.getAttribute(\"data-secret\")){if(f=Math.random().toString(36).substr(2,10),d.src+=\"#?secret=\"+f,d.setAttribute(\"data-secret\",f),g||h)a=d.cloneNode(!0),a.removeAttribute(\"security\"),d.parentNode.replaceChild(a,d)}else;}}var d=!1,e=!1;if(b.querySelector)if(a.addEventListener)d=!0;if(a.wp=a.wp||{},!a.wp.receiveEmbedMessage)if(a.wp.receiveEmbedMessage=function(c){var d=c.data;if(d.secret||d.message||d.value)if(!\/[^a-zA-Z0-9]\/.test(d.secret)){var e,f,g,h,i,j=b.querySelectorAll('iframe[data-secret=\"'+d.secret+'\"]'),k=b.querySelectorAll('blockquote[data-secret=\"'+d.secret+'\"]');for(e=0;e<k.length;e++)k[e].style.display=\"none\";for(e=0;e<j.length;e++)if(f=j[e],c.source===f.contentWindow){if(f.style.display=\"\",\"height\"===d.message){if(g=parseInt(d.value,10),g>1e3)g=1e3;else if(200>~~g)g=200;f.height=g}if(\"link\"===d.message)if(h=b.createElement(\"a\"),i=b.createElement(\"a\"),h.href=f.getAttribute(\"src\"),i.href=d.value,i.host===h.host)if(b.activeElement===f)a.top.location.href=d.value}else;}},d)a.addEventListener(\"message\",a.wp.receiveEmbedMessage,!1),b.addEventListener(\"DOMContentLoaded\",c,!1),a.addEventListener(\"load\",c,!1)}(window,document);\n\/\/--><!]]>\n<\/script><iframe sandbox=\"allow-scripts\" security=\"restricted\" src=\"https:\/\/blog.dembowski.net\/2015\/server-admins-love-wp-cli\/embed\/\" width=\"600\" height=\"338\" title=\"Embedded WordPress Post\" frameborder=\"0\" marginwidth=\"0\" marginheight=\"0\" scrolling=\"no\" class=\"wp-embedded-content\"><\/iframe>","thumbnail_url":"https:\/\/blog.dembowski.net\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/2\/2015\/12\/wp-cli-rocks.png","thumbnail_width":600,"thumbnail_height":135}

Which is unreadable to you and I but to something looking to oEmbed your post it will look like this.

Server admins love WP-CLI

Nice huh? All neat in an iframe and easily embeddable. The output is customizable too and I plan to do that on my photo blog.

The oEmbed discovery links should just work but on my installations it doesn’t. I tried Apache2, nginx, clean installation with zero plugins and the Twenty Fifteen theme. Different servers too. I always got the wrong output and could not get oEmbed working.

During my troubleshooting I found a different URL that worked consistently for me. It’s the same information but with a filter I replaced the default output with one that worked for me.

Here’s the plugin code I used. The¬†oembed_discovery_links is filterable (filters are cool) and I toss out the old links and replace them with my own.

This works for me but I do not like this solution.

The problem I have is that the normal links are not being replied to correctly via my WordPress installation. I don’t know¬†why the default discovery links are not working. It bothers me, it really does. ūüėČ

I’m convinced that there is something I’m doing wrong in my setup. Once I figure it out I’ll I can remove this plugin and I’ll post what I was missing.

Server admins love WP-CLI

I’m more of a Network Monkey, but whenever I can provision something just using an ssh session I smile. Many hosts use WP-CLI¬†already and I’ve installed¬†it on my VPS too.

This morning I wrote up a small script to go to my test vhost directory and did the following.

  • Install a blank WordPress site
  • Update some settings
  • Fix my user display name
  • Make sure the plugins and themes are up to date (Akismet needed an update)
  • Delete the default post and page
  • Install, activate and configure the Wapuuvatar plugin
  • Install and activate the Baskerville theme
  • Imported the Theme Unit Test data
  • Cleaned up after the import
  • Used search and replace to make all my http URLs into https

All this was performed without using a mouse or web GUI. (Okay, I checked the avatar setting via /options.php, but I didn’t have to.)

Here’s the script with sensitive details changed.

#!/bin/bash
cd /my/notsecret/www/vhosts/bang.dn7.me

# Setup a new WordPress installation

wp core download

wp core config --dbname=tothemoon \
--dbuser=testuser \
--dbpass=3c962761afbf9ab40a2e75346809c8cf

wp core install --admin_user=jan \
--admin_password=Rea11y*ot7y^assWiRd \
--admin_email=example@example.com \
--url=bang.dn7.me \
--title="Bang! Boom! Pow!"

# Update some options and my account info

wp option update blogdescription \
"What could possibly go wrong?"
wp option update comment_moderation 1
wp option update comments_notify 0
wp option update moderation_notify 0
wp option update comment_whitelist 0
wp user update 1 --first_name="Jan" \
--last_name="Dembowski" \
--display_name="Jan Dembowski"

# Make sure plugins and themes are all up to date

wp plugin update --all
wp theme update --all

# Clean up the default post and page

wp post delete 1 --force
wp post delete 2 --force

# Wapuuvatar is cool. Install, activate
# and set to the default avatar

wp plugin install wapuuvatar --activate
wp option update avatar_default dwapuuvatar

# Let's play with the Baskerville theme

wp theme install baskerville --activate

# Now to import the theme unit test data

wp plugin install wordpress-importer --activate

curl -O https://wpcom-themes.svn.automattic.com/demo/theme-unit-test-data.xml

wp import theme-unit-test-data.xml --authors=create

# Clean up in aisle seven

wp plugin deactivate wordpress-importer
wp plugin delete wordpress-importer
rm theme-unit-test-data.xml

# My test site is also TLS so I'll fix 
# all the things to point to the encrypted URL

wp search-replace http://bang.dn7.me https://bang.dn7.me

# All done

I previously dropped the test installation’s database and created a new empty one.¬†A quick¬†“rm -rf *” (which wise people¬†never do) in the right vhost directory and I ran “bash install-bang.sh”.

It works like a charm. Smart web hosts can and do tie WP-CLI into their provisioning setup. I happened to setup my vhost with TLS and mysql in advance but with a little backend work this can be easily automated.

If you have a test server to play with then give WP-CLI a try. You’ll get a better understanding of both WordPress and the command line.

I can’t really get angry at him for solving a problem

Friday afternoon I called the house and got my then 13 year old son. He turned 14 a few days later.

Dad, the WiFi sucks. I’m trying to download an update to War Thunder and it’s taking almost an hour.

He was right, the WiFi adapter on his PC is garbage. The access point is in the same room less than 10 feet away. There’s no reason for wireless to suck.

I told him that I’ll get an Ethernet cable and hardwire him into the FIOS router. That will give him all the bandwidth he could ever use. I didn’t think much about it after that till I got home.

He really wanted that update to War Thunder.

He gave it some thought and enabled tethering on his iPhone. Via WiFi he connected his PC to the iPhone and began to download the update. In less than 2 hours he ate almost 3 GB out of my monthly 10 GB allotment.

This did not make Lily and I very happy. She got a text message saying we’d crossed¬†75% of usage. She asked him and he suddenly remembered what he’d done and quietly disabled tethering without ‘fessing up. Lily pulled up a pie chart of the usage and his phone was right behind mine.

I got home and it took me 0.0035 seconds to figure out what he did. I was angry and let him know that he was being¬†selfish. He should have told his mother what he’d done. And yet… I like how he figured out another way to connect to the Internet. He had a problem and quickly came up with an alternative to fix it.

He lost cellular data for the week and may lose it for the rest of December. I also deleted his games and YouTube app from his phone; enough already. But I’m glad he thinks to solve problems and I can’t be mad at him for that. Later on I told him I like that part of what he did.

If he does it again though, that phone is mine. ūüėČ

Tomorrow the WordPress Community Summit!

Last year I was fortunate to be invited to the 2014 WordPress Community Summit and this year in Philadelphia I’m going¬†again. Tomorrow morning Lily and I will wake up around 4 AM. She’ll drive me to the train station where I’ll take a 5 AM train to Penn Station. From there it’s an Amtrak ride to Philadelphia.

I’ll be a little late to the event. ūüėČ It can’t be avoided, I had too much going on at work to be there the night before. The 4 AM is rough on Lily but I’m often awake at that time waiting for 5:30 to get up. She’s much more sensible than I am and I wouldn’t be going but for her support and tolerating my hobbies.

I’m excited and it’s interesting to¬†me that I¬†explain why.

Everyday I go to work and with a great team of people and I deal with conflict. Projects that are in-flight, new commitments are made, deadlines are met or extended or flat-out missed (which is not good). Sometimes work is a disappointment and there’s always someone that’s upset or really pissed off. Sometimes I unintentionally let people down.

“Work sucks” or so the saying goes. It’s a challenge and it’s a constant test and conflict. How will I deal with this problem? Will someone or something piss me off and what drama will happen today?

I don’t think it¬†sucks at all.

I’m one of the people in the middle of that organized chaos. When the alarm bell rings and it’s on me to figure it out and make it all work, I am one of the best firefighters there is. I’ll find the problem, I’ll get to the solution, I’ll have a dozen eyes on me all talking at the same time. I’ll have the support of my boss and co-workers. I won’t have any fear or hesitation. I’ll stand there on the call and get the job done. And I’ll do it with my characteristic and occasionally inappropriate sense of humor.

It’s not really different from a lot of jobs.¬†My participation in the WordPress community is nothing like this at all.

Tomorrow I’ll be surrounded by developers, support people, designers and people I respect and admire and, most importantly, a number of friends.¬†This will be my fourth WordCamp. I’ll be having great fun.

I¬†will, once again, be intimidated. That’s not a bad thing.

You see, for me providing support for WordPress started out as therapy. Answering a topic in the forums and helping someone is¬†fun and addictive. I occasionally help people out of a hole and that’s always cool.

Later on getting more involved meant helping people as well¬†going behind the bar and moderating the forums. Cleaning out the spam queue, closing an occasional run away topic, stuff like that. I’m big on routines and I’m used to looking at the forums before the coffee set in.

My WordPress involvement went from being a form of therapy to using that involvement to becoming better at my job.

Collaborating with people in person and online improves me as a professional. The reason I’m intimidated is that, while I don’t think that my involvement is bad, I’m sure that I can improve. Or perhaps someone else can do it better than I do.

I’m comfortable with my intimidation. I don’t always have to be the one putting out the fires and I can learn more when I don’t have all the answers.

I’ll have a great time. I can’t wait to see the gang in person.

Fixing broken post_author IDs

In the long history of my of my blog (over 900 posts), I’ve done many things that were… ill-advised. I’m still recovering from messing up my media library somehow. All the images load but a couple of galleries disappeared.

While playing with the Wapuuvatar plugin I noticed that my recent 60 or so posts were showing my Gravatar photo but the older posts where showing a Wapuu. I thought I ran into some weird bug in the plugin. Ha! The plugin is fine. My old posts were set to post_author ID=0.

There is no such author ID but fixing it was straight forward. Here’s what I did.

WP-CLI is your friend

To get an idea of how bad the problem was I ssh’ed to my server, cd’ed to my installation and ran this command.

wp post list --fields=ID,post_title,post_name,post_date,post_author --url=blog.dembowski.net

This command outputs a neat table and the fields on the CLI include the post_author ID.

I wanted to see those fields and since I’m running on multisite I had to specify the URL. Yep, the recent posts were set correctly but almost all of the old ones were set to post_author=0. I probably could use wp-cli to fix it but I ended up using mysql commands.

wp db export ~/author-munging-save-me.sql

Backup your database, backup your database, backup your database. Don’t rely on your existing backup, just make a new one.

From my wp-config.php file I copied the mysql database name, user ID, password and table prefix. I then ran this command.

$ mysql -D mydbsitedbname -u mydbuser -p

Which put me on the mysql command line. The idea was to fix each post where the post_author=0. Easy!

And I promptly ran an update on the wrong table in my database.

A quick check showed me that nothing changed for what I was trying to fix. I’m not sure what I broke but I¬†am sure I would be sorry if I didn’t fix it pronto.

Backups are good but do you know how to use them?

I wasn’t worried because I had that backup and ran this command.

$ mysql -D mydbsitedbname -u mydbuser -p < ~/author-munging-save-me.sql

You see, I like to poke at my site and while I don’t always break it I have done horrible things in the past. Everyday I make a full automated backup and once a week backup all of my files and I know how to restore the full database. I¬†could rely on last night’s file but why bother? I just made a new one before working on the database.

I forgot that I was running multisite and that this blog is the second one in my site. The wrong post_author ID was 0, the correct ID is 1. I re-ran mysql on the command line and used this:

UPDATE myprefix_2_posts SET post_author=1 WHERE post_author=0;

A quick check and I’m good. The only thing that was updated was the post_author where I wanted it to be. I’m sure I would have caught this eventually but using the Wapuuvatar plugin pointed it out to me sooner.

Update: That broke things. The Gravatars on the front page went away. I rolled back the database and will look at being a little more selective on how I update the post_author.

Update for the update: When Twenty Sixteen only sees published posts from one author then the Gravatar isn’t displayed on the main list of posts. Nothing broke and I assigned Lily’s 3 posts to her account. ūüėČ

Featured image photo by masatsu