WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security OverviewIn early 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack began hitting WordPress installations across virtually every WP host server in existence around the world.

These attacks were caused by computers infected with viruses and programmed to attack other installations, also commonly known as “botnets”.

WordPress powers millions of sites around the world, making it an obvious target for hacking attacks

(Being the world’s most popular content management system makes WordPress a target for attempted hacking attacks)

In March 2014, many leading technology sites began reporting that 160,000+ WordPress-powered websites had been hacked.

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Screenshot image: 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)

According to leading security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress websites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber-attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When brute-force attacks on WordPress sites take place on a worldwide scale, it’s natural for people to start questioning just how safe and secure WordPress is as a platform for building and running their sites.

WordPress is frequently the target of attacks by hackers, due to its popularity. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as being a secure platform for building your business website?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely consider using WordPress if you have any concerns about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at facts …

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

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

You can safely assume that if your website or blog hasn’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

”How Can Open Source Applications Prevent Hacking?”

Many people argue that WordPress should not be used for running web sites because it’s an “open source” and freely available software application.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can examine the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily obtain the code and go through every line, searching for holes and weaknesses in the code that can be exploited …

It's not a matter of if, but when before a malicious user tries to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before someone tries to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

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

This is because WordPress has the support of an open community that consists of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help to improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a huge community of web developers worldwide is responsible for keeping the core application code maintained and updated.

(With WordPress, a large community of hundreds of developers is responsible for keeping the software platform maintained and updated. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves because of the effort of a global community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. It benefits from thousands of web developers, designers and users committed to improving the software, identifying and fixing security issues and making it safer for every user …

WordPress is built by a global community of web developers

(The WordPress core software is built by a global community of contributors. Image: make.wordpress.org)

The moment any security vulnerabilities are identified by developers or users, these are then noted in user forums and addressed by the WordPress core developers …

WordPress is continually being improved upon by thousands of committed individuals community of users and web developers

(WordPress is continually being improved by a global community community of developers and users. Image source: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is quite formidable and anybody can help contribute to the process of getting bugs fixed.

For example:

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

This is why the WordPress team releases new security updates on a regular basis, and why you need to keep your sites and blogs frequently up-to-date …

WordPress continually releases new version updates to address security weaknesses

(WordPress frequently releases new updates to address any security holes found)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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 code more secure. By contrast, proprietary or “closed-source” CMS platforms are normally developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, support, bug fixes and software fixes.

The WordPress CMS is free to download, use and modify, and hundreds of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the software. Can a proprietary technology company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver users software that is 100% free to download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source CMS Applications

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, there is valid research to support the fact 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 found in each of these platforms during a given period …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

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

Other studies also show that, because WordPress is easy to use and to maintain, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security issues, sites run on WordPress had a significant degree of less exposure to risk …

WordPress is more secure than other CMS platforms

(WordPress users are less exposed to security exploits than other CMS platform users. Screenshot image: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Should Not Be Blamed

If someone compromises the security of your WordPress site, don’t be quick to blame the WordPress CMS platform.

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

In fact, 63% of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t know how their sites were compromised by hackers after an attack …

Many webmasters don't even know how their sites get hacked.

(Most webmasters don’t even know how their sites get hacked. Source: StopBadware.org)

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security problems seem to be related to site owners simply not upgrading their CMS software to a newer version …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their WP sites.

(Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions. Screenshot source: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only between 20% – 30% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while 65% – 80% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by third-party developers …

WordPress Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like many web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated in order to address new security vulnerabilities that could arise. Improving software security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress software, plugins, and themes up-to-date.

WordPress … Good Enough For Banks To Use!

The amount of misinformation about how secure WordPress is has even led the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime in and reply to posts online.

In an article entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” posted 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 around the world, including banks, global corporations and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their websites, not just bloggers.

Other Issues That Can Affect WordPress Website Security

Other factors that can affect security include:

  • No platform is protected from hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to using outdated software.
  • The main security threat in all web platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security systems require constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Hosting server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting are only as safe as the least secure website on the hosting grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on that server becomes vulnerable.

There’s No Reason Why You Should Not Use WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) up-to-date, there’s really no reason to avoid choosing WordPress to run your website or blog.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Useful Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  Ten Things You Can Do To Help Prevent Brute-Force Attacks On Your WordPress Site Or Blog

A compromised site offers malicious users with a valuable resource for launching distributed attacks, spreading malware and engaging in information theft. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to botnets and hackers. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are currently using an outdated WordPress version make sure to back up everything before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security threats. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore everything to its previous settings.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Copy & Keep Your WP Sites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress

Important Info

References

For more information on the above, refer to the sites below:

Hopefully, the above post has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress please see other posts we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new content is published.

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