WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress SecurityIn 2013 a global brute force attack began hitting WordPress installations across almost every WP hosting server in existence around the world.

These attacks were caused by networks of infected computers programmed to attack other vulnerable installations, also commonly known as “botnets”.

WordPress is frequently the target of malicious attempts by hackers

(Powering millions of websites worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for hacking attacks)

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

Thousands of websites and blogs are attacked every year! Will yours be one of them?

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Source: Blog Defender)

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 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 brute force attacks on WordPress sites seem to increase, it’s natural for people to ask just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for running websites.

WordPress is often the target of malicious attacks by hackers, due to its popularity. But should you really be concerned about WordPress as being a secure web platform?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should choose WordPress if you have any concerns 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 worldwide is increasing on a daily basis, and this is getting worse.

It’s safe to assume that if your website or blog hasn’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time before someone attempts to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform your website has been built with!

Since it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone will try to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Is “Open Source” Safe?

Some people will often try and argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running a business online because it’s “open source” and freely available program.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can study the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily obtain the code and go through every single line in great detail, looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the code that they could exploit …

It's no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before a malicious user will attempt to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by hackers … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is a free application and hackers can easily go through the code searching for security weaknesses and vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any software), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source platform actually makes it a whole lot more secure in a number of 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 constantly help to improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a large community of hundreds of web developers.

(A huge volunteer community of hundreds of web developers build and maintain. Screenshot: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress continually evolves through the effort of thousands of committed individuals working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from hundreds of individuals who are dedicated to improving the software, identifying and fixing security vulnerabilities and making it safer for every user …

WordPress is built by an open community of users

(WordPress is built by a global community of experienced web developers. Source: WordPress.org)

The moment that any security hole is identified by developers or users, these are then logged in user forums and addressed by the WordPress core developers …

WordPress is continually being improved upon by an open community of users and developers

(WordPress is continually being improved by a huge community community of users and developers. Source: make.wordpress.org)

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is solid and formidable and anyone can contribute to the process of addressing security issues.

For example:

  • If you discover bugs and security exploits, you can report these by sending an email to security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WordPress plugin, you can also report these by sending an email to plugins@wordpress.org.

This is the reason why WordPress is constantly releasing new version updates, and why you need to keep your site updated and maintained …

WordPress frequently releases new version updates to address security vulnerabilities

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary 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 improve platform security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” software application is normally built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, support, bug fixes and updates.

WordPress is free to download, modify and use, and hundreds of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the platform. Can a proprietary technology company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver users a free CMS application that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were found in each of these platforms during a given period …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

(National Vulnerability Database – Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications. Screenshot: National Vulnerability Database)

Other studies also indicate that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and to keep up-to-date, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, sites built with WordPress had fewer exposure to risk …

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

(WordPress is safer to use than other leading CMS platforms. Screenshot source: BlogDefender.com)

It’s Not WordPress’ Fault

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

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” published by security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware, most website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

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

Many webmasters don't even know how their websites got hacked.

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

Of immediate concern is the fact that most security problems seem to be related to users running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions.

(Many WordPress users have not upgraded their software. Image: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are actually found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WordPress Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Screenshot: WebDesign.org)

Like many software platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to address new security problems that may arise. Improving security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress software, plugins, themes, etc..

WordPress Is Secure – Just Ask Any Bank Using It!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even caused the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime into the debate.

In a post 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 presence online, including banks, global corporations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Areas Affecting Security

Other research on issues that affect WordPress security point to areas such as:

  • No platform is completely protected from hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The biggest security vulnerability in all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. All security processes need to be regularly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as secure as the least safe website on the hosting grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on your shared server becomes vulnerable.

There Is No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly updated, there’s no reason not to use WordPress to power your web site or blog.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Useful Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  How To Protect Your WordPress Website From Brute Force Attacks

A vulnerable web site provides hackers with a valuable platform to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and use your website to defraud innocent people. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to botnets and hackers. Learn more about it here:

If you are using outdated WordPress versions remember to back up your WordPress website fully before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security risks. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore.

If you don’t want to back up your files manually, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Copy & Keep Your WordPress Web Site Protected With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Important Info

References

For more information on the above, refer to the sites 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 the security benefits of using WordPress please see other articles published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles or tutorials are published.

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"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now