WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress SecurityIn April 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to a global-scale brute-force attack.

These attacks were caused by botnets (computers infected with malware and programmed to attack other installations with security vulnerabilities).

Being the world's most used content management system makes WordPress a target for hacking

(WordPress powers millions of sites worldwide, which makes it a frequent target for malicious attempts by hackers)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites began reporting that 162,000 legitimate 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 March 2014. Source: BlogDefender.com)

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 flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever brute force attacks on WordPress sites gain attention worldwide, it’s natural for people to start asking just how secure the WordPress platform is for running their sites.

Being the world’s most popular content management system makes WordPress an obvious target for attempted hacking attacks. But should you really be concerned about WordPress as a secure web platform?

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 facts …

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

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is massive, and this is only going to get worse.

It’s probably 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 you use!

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

Are “Open Source” Software Applications Secure?

Many people often argue that WordPress cannot be a safe platform for building and running a website or blog because it’s “open source” and freely available software program.

Open source CMS programs 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 view the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of the code and study every single line in great detail, searching for holes and weaknesses in the code that can be exploited …

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

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

While it’s true that WordPress is a free program and hackers can easily access it and study the code looking for holes and weaknesses that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open platform actually makes it more secure in a number of ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress is supported by a volunteer community that consists of thousands of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

A global volunteer community maintain and update.

(A large community of developers is responsible for maintaining and updating the WordPress software platform. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of thousands of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix issues. Everyone benefits from hundreds of individuals dedicated to improving the software, identifying and fixing security holes and making WordPress safer for every user …

WordPress is built by an open community of contributors

(The WordPress core software is built and maintained by an open community of WordPress users. Screenshot image: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as a security hole is identified by developers or users, these are then noted in user forums and addressed by the WordPress core development team …

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

WordPress continually releases new version updates to address security exploits

(WordPress continually releases new updates to address security weaknesses)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary Applications

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

The WordPress CMS is 100% free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the technology. Can a proprietary CMS company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver you software that is 100% free to download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source CMS Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, there is valid research to support the fact that the WordPress CMS is safer than other Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, here is one study showing how many security vulnerabilities were found in popular open source platforms during a given period …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications

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

Other research indicates that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and keep updated, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites run on WordPress had fewer exposure to risk …

BlogDefender.com - CMS Tests

(WordPress is more secure than other CMS platforms. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame WordPress

When WordPress sites are subjected to brute-force attacks, users shouldn’t be quick to blame WordPress.

According to security vendor Commtouch and StopBadware, a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, many webmasters have no idea about the threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with security compromises.

In fact, over sixty percent of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t know how their websites were hacked after an attack …

Most webmasters don't know how their websites were hacked.

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

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

Many WordPress users have not updated their WordPress software.

(Many security issues come from sites running an outdated version of WordPress. Image source: Sucuri.net)

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

WP Security Issues

(WP Security Issues. Screenshot source: WebDesign.org)

Like all robust software applications, WordPress is regularly updated in order to address new security issues that can arise. Improving software 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 – Just Ask Any Bank Using It!

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

In a blog post entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” published on April 15, 2015, Matt wrote the following about WordPress …

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 use WordPress to build their web presence, including banks, global corporations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Areas That Can Affect Security

Other areas that can affect security include:

  • No platform is completely safe from hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The main risk of all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security processes need to be constantly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Hosting setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting accounts are only as secure as the least safe website on the grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site hacked into, then all sites on your server can potentially become vulnerable.

There’s No Reason Not To Use WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you continue to implement basic web security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there is no reason not to choose WordPress.


WordPress Security – 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 site offers hackers with a valuable resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to malicious attacks from hackers and bots. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an older version of WordPress remember to make a complete backup before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security threats. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore things back to their previous state.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are many plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your backup process here: Back Up, Clone & Keep Your WordPress Websites And Blogs Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WP


Article References

For more information on the above, see the following sources:

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you expand your business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business website or blog please see other articles published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are published.


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