How To Protect Your WordPress Site From A Brute-Force Attack

Learn how to protect your WordPress site from being brute-force attacked, or having its security compromised by hackers or bots.

WP SecurityPowering millions of websites and blogs around the world makes WordPress an obvious target for hacking.

In 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to global-scale brute-force attacks.

These attacks were caused by botnets (infected computer networks programmed to attack other computers with security vulnerabilities).

How To Protect Your WordPress Site From A Brute-Force Attack

Brute Force Attacks – Definition

A brute-force attack is a technique used to break an encryption or authentication system by trying all possibilities.

(Source: Chinese University Of Hong Kong)

There are many ways hackers try to break into a WordPress site. One of these is by trying to guess the site admin’s login username and password. To attempt this, hackers use scripts and tools that automatically tries to guess hundreds of possible logins in minutes.

If you’re not using strong usernames or unguessable passwords, your website could be easily hacked by persistent attempts to work out your site’s login details.

This is called a “brute force” attack.

Botnet – What Is This?

A botnet is a number of Internet-connected computers communicating with other similar machines in an effort to complete repetitive tasks and objectives. This can be as mundane as keeping control of an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, or it could be used to send spam email or participate in distributed denial-of-service attacks. The word botnet is a combination of the words robot and network.

(Source: Wikipedia.org)

A “Botnet” is a network of computers that have been infected with malicious software, which are then controlled remotely as a group, often without the unsuspecting computer owners’ knowledge.

Botnets are regularly used to send mass spam emails from computers of unsuspecting users.

The screenshot below was taken from an online security monitoring site showing the locations of the command centers of ZeuS – a botnet that has been actively infecting computer networks all around the world since 2009 …

The Zeus botnet has been actively compromising computer networks all around the globe since 2009.

(ZeuS is a botnet that has been actively infecting computer networks all around the globe since 2009. Screenshot source: SecureList.com)

These were highly distributed and well organized attacks on WordPress sites. Over 90,000 IP addresses were identified by a number of webhosting companies just in the initial attack, when the web was flooded with millions of attempts to force their way into WordPress users admin areas. The large-scale attack continued after this, with over 30,000 WordPress blogs being hacked every day.

Coverage of this large-scale brute-force botnet attack was widely reported in all the major webhosting companiesand leading technology publications, such as TechNews Daily, Forbes, PC Magazine, BBC News, Tech Crunch, and even on the official US Department of Homeland Security website …

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers, due to its global popularity

(WordPress is often the target of attacks by hackers)

Does This Mean WordPress Is Not Secure And We Should Stop Using It?

No. In fact, there are many good reasons why you should use WordPress if you are concerned about the security of your web presence.

To understand what makes WordPress a very secure platform for websites, read this article: Can You Build A Secure Business Online Using WordPress?

Info

It’s important to note that, in the case of April 2013 brute-force botnet attack described above, no specific WordPress vulnerability was being exploited (the same script was also targeting sites built using other web applications like Joomla).

Mike Little, the co-founder of WordPress, said this about the brute force attacks:

It is a “simple” script that attempts to login using the admin login and a generated password. So if your password is too short or based on dictionary words it will be guessed and then the script can login legitimately and do whatever it wants including installing scripts (as plugins) or editing files. The attack tries to guess your password, if it succeeds, the most secure site in the world is wide open because they have your password.

(MikeLittle.org)

Protecting Your WordPress Website From Brute Force Attacks – 10 Security Points

You may think that your website or blog offers no value to hackers, but the reality is that to a hacker, all websites provide an opportunity to gain some benefit at your expense.

If hackers can discover a web security flaw, that blog can then be employed to target larger and more valued websites.

Additional undesirable consequences of having your site hacked include getting blacklisted by Google, having spammy links promoting things like gambling, cheap offers on brand names, etc. in your content, redirecting visitors to phishing sites and other websites, drive-by downloads (adding malicious software on your visitors’ computers), and lots of other nasties.

The truth is that malicious bots are very likely scouring for exploits and trying to hack into your blog at this very moment. Whether they will hack in successfully or not, will depend on how hard or easy you can make it for hackers or botnets to keep persisting until they either can discover a way to get in, or give up and go look for a more vulnerable target.

How Much Information Are You Broadcasting To Hackers About Your WordPress Site?

Does your website run on WordPress? If so visit Hackertarget.com and run your site through their WordPress security scan …

Website Security Check(Hackertarget – WP Security Scan Image source: https://hackertarget.com/wordpress-security-scan)

You will see that the check will display various results and information about your website …

Hackertarget - WordPress Security Scan

(WP security scan results. Product image source: Hackertarget.com)

It should be obvious after using the above tool that if you can access all of this information, so can hackers.

Hackertarget - Website Security Check(Screenshot source: BlogDefender website)

Being able to see what version of WordPress you are using, which plugins and themes you have installed on your site, and which files have been uploaded to certain directories on your server are all potentially valuable information to hackers, as this informs them about any security weaknesses, especially in older versions.

If your site or blog is driven by WordPress and you’re not taking steps to toughen up your site, then we can practically guarantee that, at some point, your site will be hacked, or at least targeted by bots, because these brute-force attacks are systematically hitting WordPress sites worldwide!

When a website gets compromised, webmasters can find themselves completely “locked out” of their own site, or notice that their files have been interfered with or even that their content has been completely wiped out. Often, most compromised sites will be infected with malicious scripts without the owner even being aware that this has occurred.

To avoid the heartache of having your site being hacked into, we have listed below 10 essential and effective security checks that will help to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks.

Important Info

Note: A few of the steps listed below require some technical understanding of how to modify core WordPress and server files. If you have no technical skills, or don’t want to mess around with file code, then ask your web host or a professional WordPress technical provider for help.

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Security Measure #1 – Contact Your Web Host

Contact your hosting service provider and ask them what measures they have put in place to protect your site from botnet attacks, and what they are doing to ensure that your server files get backed up.

Check that your web host backs up your server files and that, if anything goes wrong, you can easily get back your files.

Security Measure #2 – Back Up Your WordPress Data And Files And Keep Your Website Frequently Maintained

You should never rely just on your host for your site backups. Instead, learn how to manage your WordPress site or get this done for you and develop a habit of performing a full site maintenance routine on a frequent basis (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly, etc …)

A proper WordPress maintenance routine ensures that:

  • All unnecessary files and data are deleted,
  • All data and files are free of errors, optimized and backed up,
  • All themes, plugins and software components are up-to-date,
  • etc …

A full WordPress site maintenance routine looks like this …

Maintaining your WP site backed up and up-to-date is vitally important for WordPress security.(Maintaining your WordPress website backed up and updated is vitally important for WordPress security. Image source: WPTrainMe.com)

Again, we cannot stress enough how important maintaining your WP site regularly backed up and up-to-date is. WP site maintenance is not hard to do or time-consuming, but it must be done to ensure the security of your website or blog. If you don’t want to learn how to do WordPress maintenance yourself, get someone else to do it but make sure it gets done. Backing up your website is the next most important thing you should do after making sure that you are still breathing!

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are many free and paid WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your site backups here: Backup, Clone & Keep Your WordPress Websites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress

Security Measure #3 – Make Sure That Your Username Is Not “Admin”

The brute force botnet attack on WordPress sites was mostly attempting to compromise site administrator panels by exploiting sites using “admin” as the account name.

For website security reasons, avoid installing a WordPress site with the username “admin”. This is the first area of potential vulnerability hackers will test. If your blog’s user name is admin, change this immediately.

For a step-by-step tutorial for non-technical WP admin users that shows you how to change your login username, go here: Changing Your WordPress Admin Username

Security Measure #4 – Use Strong Passwords

A “brute force” attack occurs when a malicious script continually hits a login or password field with different strings of characters trying to guess the right login combination that will unlock your website.

Unless some measure is put into place to stop the brute-force attack (see further below for a couple of effective suggestions for doing this), the “bot” will just keep attacking your site until it eventually gets access.

Weak passwords, therefore, make really easy targets for bot attacks. Make sure that you change your password to something that contains at least eight or nine characters long, and that includes upper and lowercase letters, and “special” characters (e.g. ^, #, &, etc).

Practical Tip

Roboform is a password software that lets you easily generate strong login passwords …

Roboform is a password tool you can use to create secure login passwords(You can use a password management tool like Roboform to help you generate hard-to-crack passwords)

For a tutorial for WP admin users on how to change your WordPress admin password, go here: What To Do If You Need To Change Your WordPress Password

Security Measure #5 – Deny Access To Your WP Config File

The wp-config.php file allows WordPress to communicate with the database to store and retrieve data and is used to define advanced WordPress options.

wp-config.php file

(wp-config.php)

If a hacker breaks into your website, they will try to access the wp-config.php file, because this is the file that contains important information about your site’s database, security keys, etc. Getting access to this information would allow them to change anything in your database, create a user account, upload files and take control of your site.

In order to protect your WordPress site from attacks and even being used as part of a bot net, therefore, prevent your wp-config.php file from being easily accessed. This requires knowing how to edit database information, move files around in your server and changing access permissions.

Security Measure #6 – Rename Or Delete Unnecessary Installation Files

Rename or delete the install.php, upgrade.php and readme.html files from your server.

These files are not required after installation and can be removed. If you don’t want to delete these files, just rename them.

Security Measure #7 – Update Your WordPress Installation, Themes And Plugins To Their Latest Version

Hackers search for vulnerabilities in outdated versions of WordPress that they can exploit, including outdated versions of WordPress themes and plugins.

Make sure to always keep your WordPress software files, plugins, themes, etc. up-to-date.

Security Measure #8 – Disable Your Theme Editor

WordPress installations come with a built-in editor that lets site administrators edit theme and plugin files from the dashboard area.

In WordPress, you can access the WordPress Theme Editor by selecting Appearance > Editor in your main menu …

WordPress Theme Editor Menu

(The WordPress theme editor is accessible using the WP admin menu)

This allows anyone accessing your blog to see and edit your WordPress theme templates, or create havoc on your site.

If you want to prevent people from being able to access the WordPress Theme editor, you will need to disable it. This can be done by editing your wp-config.php file.

Security Measure #9 – Secure Your WordPress Uploads Directory

The “uploads” folder stores all the media that gets uploaded to your WordPress site.

By default, this folder is visible to online users. All a person needs to do to view all of the contents stored in your site’s “uploads” directory is visit your directory using a web browser …

(WordPress has an uploads folder where all of your media files are stored)

(WordPress has an uploads directory where media content is stored)

If any files stored in his folder have weaknesses or vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers or malicious users, anyone can upload unauthorized file types to your site.

Protecting your directories will prevent unauthorized people from accessing your ‘uploads’ folder and other important directories. This can be done using plugins, setting file permissions, adding a blank index.php file (this is literally a blank file called “index.php”) to your uploads directory, and so on. Again, it’s best to seek professional help if you are unsure about what to do.

Security Measure #10 – Security Plugins

There are a number of WordPress security plugins available that will address most common security issues faced by WordPress website owners, such as preventing unauthorized users from gaining access to vital areas of your site, protecting your files from brute-force attacks, preventing injections of code into files, etc.

Many WordPress plugins address some but not all areas of WordPress security. One plugin that seems to do a comprehensive job of scanning, fixing and preventing potential issues that could lead to hackers accessing your site files and causing irreparable damage to your site is SecureScanPro.

SecureScanPro - WP total security plugin

(SecureScanPro – complete security software for WordPress)

SecureScanPro is easy to install and easy to use, and does a great job of addressing most of the security areas that WordPress users need to address.

Another great plugin you may want to look at using is BlogDefender.

Blog Defender WordPress Security Solution

Blog Defender Security Suite For WordPress Sites(Blog Defender)

Blog Defender is a suite of WordPress security video tutorials, WordPress plugins and tools, plus a WordPress security PDF/DOC file.

BlogDefender shows you where potential security holes in your web site are …

Blog Defender WordPress Security SolutionAnd then shows you how to fix these quickly and easily …

Blog Defender WordPress Security Product SuiteIf you don’t want to invest in a premium security plugin like SecureScanPro or BlogDefender, then use various free WordPress plugins, such as Limit Login Attempts

Limit Login Attempts - WordPress Security Plugin

WordPress is a very secure web platform, but neglecting simple maintenance tasks like updating your WordPress software, WP plugins and WordPress themes, tightening file and data protection and taking other necessary precautions can expose your website to malicious by hackers and bots.

Regardless of the type of business you run or plan to run online and how small you think your web presence is, securing your site is something you simply cannot afford to ignore.

As one last reminder, below is the advice given by a website security expert to all WordPress users after the worldwide brute-force attacks by botnets on WordPress in April 2013 …

Owners of websites based on WordPress CMS must improve at least basic security settings and implement best practices such as the use of robust passwords and the accurate management of “admin” accounts.

Pierluigi Paganini, Chief Information Security Officer, Security Affairs

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As you can see, WordPress security is very important if you run a WordPress site. Hopefully, the information in this article has shown you what to do to prevent brute-force attacks on your WordPress site. If you need any further help or assistance with WordPress security, please seek help from a professional WordPress security specialist, or search for a professional WordPress technical provider in our WordPress Services Directory.

Also, please subscribe to WPCompendium.org to be notified via email when we publish new articles and tutorials on WordPress security and reviews of new WordPress security plugins.

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"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)

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