Yesterday, a friend emailed me about her Wordpress site acting crazy. For some reason all the site assets weren’t loading and were returning 500 errors.


I had her check the usual things: .htaccess is there, the asset actually existed, some plugin wasn’t busting the site. Each one was throwing a 500 error, so it was something else.

Eventually she gave me her log in, which had a super simple password, and I logged in to see what was up. Nothing seemed to be wrong, no crazy plugins or weird issues.

I then logged into the FTP server to sniff around. Checked the .htaccess, nothing was wrong. I checked the index.php, didn’t see anything weird.

I opened the wp-config.php and added all the debugging constants, here there are for laziness:

// Enable WP_DEBUG mode
define('WP_DEBUG', true);

// Enable Debug logging to the /wp-content/debug.log file
define('WP_DEBUG_LOG', true);

// Disable display of errors and warnings
define('WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY', false);
@ini_set('display_errors', 0);

// Use dev versions of core JS and CSS files (only needed if you are modifying these core files)
define('SCRIPT_DEBUG', true);

I then navigated around the site. The content (text, database data) was loading fine, but all the assets were busted. There was a map plugin that was hitting Google Maps and that loaded fine. I then knew it was this specific site.

After poking around some more, I noticed an index.php and a .htaccess in the root of /wp-content.

The Fix

Well, I have come across this problem before. Wordpress was hacked. Hacked might be a strong word, since the password was really weak. A bot probably had that password in it’s script and guessed it without issue.

The “hacker” then uploaded a file to /wp-content/.htaccess and /wp-content/index.php. These files were intercepting request to the wp-content folder.

When I removed the files, the site came back to life!

So if your Wordpress site is suddenly getting 500 errors, check for rogue index.php or .htaccess files.

Create A Better Password

If you are looking to create a strong (but human readable) password, you should take a look at Diceware. In short, it is a huge list of uncommon words that get randomly combined to give you a strong password you can read.

Here is the definition from Wikipedia:

Diceware is a method for creating passphrases, passwords, and other cryptographic variables using an ordinary die from a pair of dice as a hardware random number generator. For each word in the passphrase, five rolls of the dice are required. The numbers from 1 to 6 that come up in the rolls are assembled as a five-digit number, e.g. 43146. That number is then used to look up a word in a word list.

Here is an online tool that can generate passwords for you. This site has the default set to word count set to 5. As of today, you should probably use 6 words to generate your password.

Has Your Wordpress Been Hacked?

Do you know any common Wordpress hacks that occur?