CONFERENCE On Demand: Cyber AI & Automation Summit - Watch Now
Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Malware & Threats

Fake ionCube Malware Hits Hundreds of Sites

Hundreds of websites have been infected with malware that masquerades as legitimate ionCube-encoded files, SiteLock warns.

Hundreds of websites have been infected with malware that masquerades as legitimate ionCube-encoded files, SiteLock warns.

The malicious files were initially discovered in core directories of a WordPress site, featuring naming patterns usually associated with malware, namely “diff98.php” and “wrgcduzk.php.” Because the obfuscated files appear as if they had been encoded with ionCube, the researchers named the threat ionCube malware.

ionCube is an old and powerful PHP obfuscation technology that can be used to scramble text-based PHP files to hide the intellectual property. Due to licensing costs, ionCube isn’t usually used for malicious purposes.

Malicious attackers, however, found a way to pack their malware in a manner that resembles that of ionCube-encoded files, and started targeting various websites. Although the infection was initially spotted on a WordPress site, SiteLock’s researchers discovered that Joomla and CodeIgniter sites have been infected as well. 

According to SiteLock, the malware is likely to run on any web server running PHP, and could hide in plain sight by using filenames such as “inc.php” and “menu.php.” Overall, the researchers discovered over 7,000 infected files and say that over 700 sites were compromised. 

Once decoded, the fake ionCube files turn into the malware itself, which still contains some obfuscation, along with some sort of access control, researchers discovered. 

“While there’s still some degree of obfuscation, the presence of the $_POST and $_COOKIE superglobals and the eval request at the end of the file reveal its true purpose: to accept and execute remotely supplied code. It looks like the remote code supplied to this file is further obfuscated and there may be some sort of access control implemented, judging by the GUID-formatted string present,” SiteLock says. 

Site administrators who haven’t specifically and intentionally installed ionCube-encoded files but do find such files on their servers were likely infected. If an infection is detected, the scanning of the entire site is recommended, to completely eliminate the threat. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

According to SiteLock, differentiating between the fake and legitimate files can be very difficult as well, given the large number of malware variations out there. The researchers say it is common to see up to 100 slightly different variants of the malware on a single site. 

Related: Backdoor Masquerades as Popular WordPress Plugin

Related: Backdoored Captcha Plugin Hits 300,000 WordPress Sites

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

Click to comment

Daily Briefing Newsletter

Subscribe to the SecurityWeek Email Briefing to stay informed on the latest threats, trends, and technology, along with insightful columns from industry experts.

Join us as we delve into the transformative potential of AI, predictive ChatGPT-like tools and automation to detect and defend against cyberattacks.


As cybersecurity breaches and incidents escalate, the cyber insurance ecosystem is undergoing rapid and transformational change.


Expert Insights

Related Content


The changing nature of what we still generally call ransomware will continue through 2023, driven by three primary conditions.


A recently disclosed vBulletin vulnerability, which had a zero-day status for roughly two days last week, was exploited in a hacker attack targeting the...

Malware & Threats

The NSA and FBI warn that a Chinese state-sponsored APT called BlackTech is hacking into network edge devices and using firmware implants to silently...


No one combatting cybercrime knows everything, but everyone in the battle has some intelligence to contribute to the larger knowledge base.

Application Security

Virtualization technology giant VMware on Tuesday shipped urgent updates to fix a trio of security problems in multiple software products, including a virtual machine...

Malware & Threats

Unpatched and unprotected VMware ESXi servers worldwide have been targeted in a ransomware attack exploiting a vulnerability patched in 2021.


The recent ransomware attack targeting Rackspace was conducted by a cybercrime group named Play using a new exploitation method, the cloud company revealed this...

Malware & Threats

Threat actors are increasingly abusing Microsoft OneNote documents to deliver malware in both targeted and spray-and-pray campaigns.