Last September we published a series of three blog posts exposing a threat actor who had purchased a number of WordPress plugins as part of an elaborate supply chain attack. This ownership enabled him to inject SEO spam into hundreds of thousands of websites, boosting search engine rankings for various illicit online businesses.
In the first post we reported that a backdoor had been placed in the Display Widgets plugin by its author. We demonstrated how the backdoor worked and its purpose. We also found evidence that the plugin had recently been sold.
In our second post the following day, we were able to identify the man behind the plugin spam, Mason Soiza. We were also able to tie him to another plugin we had written about back in August of 2016, 404 to 301, which had also been used to inject SEO spam into websites. With the aid of the original plugin authors we were able to gather comprehensive information about the purchases. We were also able to tie Soiza to some of the illicit businesses the SEO spam was benefitting.
We continued our research and published a third and final post a week later. In it we were able to tie together a 4.5 year campaign impacting 9 WordPress plugins, all used by Mason Soiza to serve SEO spam on victim websites. These WordPress supply chain attacks caught the community by surprise.
The Times and BBC Take Things Further
Last week The Times published an article focused on the website UK Meds, which is owned by none other than Mason Soiza. According to The Times, the site is under investigation by regulators for selling prescription medications, including highly addictive opioid painkillers, to customers without a prescription. Customers need only complete a free “online consultation”, which is reviewed by a doctor in Romania.
A spokesman for Mason Soiza who was referenced in The Times article, “[…] accepted that he had bought WordPress plugins and inserted code but disputed that this was malicious code and denied he was a spammer.” The article also suggests the business has been profitable enough to allow Mr. Soiza to purchase a £215,000 Lamborghini and a £100,000 watch.
On Monday, the BBC Panorama series covered the topic of online pharmacies in the UK (linked content only accessible from the UK). Mason Soiza’s site UK Meds is among the four online pharmacy sites profiled.
In the episode, five volunteers order prescriptions, most of which could prove fatal for them. Three of them ordered opioid-based painkillers, one diet pills and another antibiotics. All five were able to successfully place their orders online by answering online questions dishonestly and receive the medications. In the most touching part of the episode, a mother whose son died as the result of a drug overdose is interviewed. Dependent on the drugs, he was able to buy them online for two years after his doctor had cut him off.
They also go undercover to talk to the owner of EuroRX, who explains how online pharmacies can leverage doctors in Romania to circumvent prescription requirements.
Protect the Community by Keeping Your Site Secure
We were happy to see both The Times and BBC take this story further. What they uncovered serves as an important reminder that the people behind the attacks on our websites are generally up to no good. It might just be a website to you, but to a criminal it’s an important resource they can use to further their agenda. Unfortunately, that agenda sometimes includes potentially deadly activities. We can all do our part to help keep the community safe by keeping our sites secure and out of the hands of criminal actors.