WordPress Security Explained

Learn why WordPress is a secure web platform for building and running your business online …

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

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

Powering millions of websites and blogs around the world makes WordPress an obvious target for hacker attacks

(WordPress is often the target of attacks by hackers)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites began reporting that over 162,000 WordPress-powered web sites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites are hacked every year! Could yours be next?

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Image source: BlogDefender site)

According to the Cnet report,

“With some old-fashioned trickery, hackers were able to get more than 162,000 legitimate WordPress-powered Web sites to mount a distributed-denial-of-service attack against another Web site.”

(Source: cnet.com/news/ddos-attack-is-launched-from-162000-wordpress-sites)

As described by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a well-known flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When worldwide brute force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to question if WordPress really is a secure platform for building and running a business web presence.

WordPress powers millions of websites and blogs worldwide, which makes it a frequent target for hacking attacks. But should you really be concerned about WordPress as being a secure platform for building your business web presence?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely consider choosing WordPress if you are at all concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at some facts …

Thousands of websites are hacked every year … not just WordPress sites!

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is increasing on a daily basis, and the situation is only going to get worse.

It’s safe to assume that if you haven’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time before someone does attempt to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

”How Can Open Source Software Programs Be Kept Safe From Hackers?”

Some people will often try and argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for building and running a business online because its “open source” code is freely available.

Open-source CMS programs like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are free to use and anyone can have access to the software code.

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can study the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily obtain all of the code and go through all of it in detail, looking for holes and weaknesses in the code that could be exploited …

It's no longer a matter of if, but when before your website is targeted by malicious hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone will try to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is free to download and hackers can easily go through the code looking for holes and weaknesses that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any software program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it more secure in several ways.

This is because WordPress has the support of a global community of thousands of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help to improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a large community of volunteers worldwide.

(With WordPress, a community of hundreds of volunteers worldwide is responsible for keeping the platform maintained and updated. Source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves because of the effort of thousands of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from thousands of minds who are dedicated to improving the software and making it safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built by a global community of volunteers

(WordPress is built by a large community of WordPress users. Screenshot source: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as a security vulnerability is identified by developers or users, the WordPress core development team are then notified …

WordPress is continually being improved by a global community community of users and developers

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by an open community of developers and users. Image: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is solid and formidable and anybody can help contribute to securing the platform.

For example:

  • If you notice bugs or security issues, you can report these by notifying security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WP plugin, you can also report these by notifying plugins@wordpress.org.

This is why the core development team is constantly releasing new version updates, and why you continually need to keep your WordPress sites and blogs regularly updated …

WordPress continually releases new version updates to plug security weaknesses

(WordPress continually releases new updates to address security holes)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

We’ve just seen that one of the security advantages of using an open source technology like WordPress is that users benefit from a large community of developers who continually contribute to make the software more secure. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS application is normally developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, support, bug fixes and updates.

WordPress is 100% free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the platform. Can a proprietary technology company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver you a completely free CMS platform that you can download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, there is valid research showing that WordPress is safer than other leading Open Source CMS platforms such as Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows the number of security vulnerabilities discovered in each of these open source CMS platforms …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

(WordPress experiences less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications. Image source: National Vulnerability Database)

Other studies show that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and maintain, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security issues, WordPress sites had significantly less exposure to risk …

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

(WordPress has significantly less exposure to risk than other CMS platforms. Screenshot image: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame WordPress When Things Go Wrong

If someone compromises the security of your WordPress site, don’t be too quick to place the blame on WordPress.

According to security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, a large number of webmasters have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or how to deal with compromised web security.

In fact, over sixty percent of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t even know how their sites had been compromised after an attack …

Most webmasters don't know how their sites got hacked.

(Most webmasters don’t even know how their sites got hacked. Image source: StopBadware.org)

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to users running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many security issues come from sites running an outdated version of WordPress.

(Many WordPress sites use outdated versions. Image: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only around between 20% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are found in the WordPress CMS core, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by third-party developers …

WordPress Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Screenshot: WebDesign.org)

Like all robust software platforms, WordPress is regularly updated in order to deal with new security threats that could arise. Improving security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress.

WordPress Is Secure – Even Banks Use It!

The amount of misinformation about how secure WordPress is has even led the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime into the debate.

In an article entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” published on April 15, 2015, Matt wrote the following about WordPress security …

There’s a thread on Quora asking “I am powering a bank’s website using WordPress. What security measures should I take?” The answers have mostly been ignorant junk along the lines of “Oh NOES WP is INSECURE! let me take my money out of that bank”, so I wrote one myself, which I’ve copied below.

I agree there’s probably not a ton of benefit to having the online banking / billpay / etc portion of a bank’s website on WordPress, however there is no reason you couldn’t run the front-end and marketing side of the site on WordPress, and in fact you’d be leveraging WordPress’ strength as a content management platform that is flexible, customizable, and easy to update and maintain.

Matt then goes on to provide a couple of security tips, before stating the following …

For an example of a beautiful, responsive banking website built on WordPress, check out Gateway Bank of Mesa AZ. WordPress is also trusted to run sites for some of the largest and most security-conscious organizations in the world, including Facebook, SAP, Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, eBay, McAfee, Sophos, GNOME, Mozilla, MIT, Reuters, CNN, Google Ventures, NASA, and literally hundreds more.

As the most widely used CMS in the world, many people use and deploy the open source version of WordPress in a sub-optimal and insecure way, but the same could be said of Linux, Apache, MySQL, Node, Rails, Java, or any widely-used software. It is possible and actually not that hard to run WordPress in a way that is secure enough for a bank, government site, media site, or anything.

Millions of businesses use WordPress to build their websites, including banks, global corporations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors Affecting WP Site Security

Other research on issues that play a role in website security point to things like:

  • No platform is protected from hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The main vulnerability of all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security processes require constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Hosting setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting accounts are only as safe as the least secure website on the grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on your server are potentially vulnerable.

There Is No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you implement basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there is no reason why you shouldn’t choose WordPress.


WordPress Security – Practical Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  Preventing WordPress Brute Force Attacks

An unsecured web site presents hackers with a platform to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your website to steal information from online users. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to malicious attacks from hackers and bots. Go here to learn more:

If you are using older versions of WordPress remember to make a full site backup before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security threats. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore.

If you don’t want to back up your data manually, there are many free and paid plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Back Up, Clone & Keep Your WP Web Site Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress


References Used In This Article

The above statistics were referenced from various online sources, including those listed below:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better business results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.


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