WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security BasicsIn early 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to a global-scale brute-force attack.

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

WordPress powers millions of websites around the world, which makes it a target for hacker attacks

(WordPress often is targeted by hackers, due to its global popularity)

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

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

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 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 reported by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a flaw to attack unsuspecting WP web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When worldwide attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to ask if WordPress really is a secure application for running an online presence.

Powering millions of sites around the world makes WordPress a target for malicious attempts by hackers. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as a secure web platform?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should consider using WordPress if you are 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 sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is increasing on a daily basis, and this is getting worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’t been hacked yet, then it’s inevitable that at some point in time someone will attempt to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform your website has been built with!

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

”Isn’t Open Source Software Unsafe?”

Some people argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for building and running web sites 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 entire underlying code.

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can access the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily download all of the code and study every single line in detail, looking for vulnerabilities that they could exploit …

It's no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before a malicious user will try 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 access it and study the code looking for security holes or weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source software platform actually makes it a lot more secure in many ways.

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

WordPress is built, maintained and updated by an open community of developers around the world.

(With WordPress, the platform is built, maintained and updated by an open community of hundreds of web developers around the world. Image source: WordPress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of hundreds of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix issues. Everyone benefits from hundreds of minds committed to improving the code, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

WordPress is built by a global community of users

(WordPress is built by a large community of experienced web developers. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as any security weakness is discovered by developers or users, the WordPress developers are then made aware of it …

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

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

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is very responsive and anyone can contribute to the process of addressing vulnerabilities.

For example:

  • If you find bugs and a security vulnerability, you can report these by emailing security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WP plugin, you can report these by sending an email to plugins@wordpress.org.

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

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug security holes

(WordPress continually releases new updates to plug security weaknesses)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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 platform security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS application is developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, software maintenance, bug fixes and software fixes.

The WordPress CMS is 100% free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the platform. 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 Vs Other Open Source CMS Applications

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, here is one study showing the number of security vulnerabilities discovered in each of these open source platforms during a given period …

WordPress experiences fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS platforms

(National Vulnerability Database – Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms. Image source: National Vulnerability Database)

Other studies indicate that, because WordPress is easy to use and update, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, WordPress sites had fewer exposure to risk …

WordPress is more secure than other CMS applications

(WordPress is safer to use than other CMS applications. Screenshot: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The WordPress CMS

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 vendor Commtouch and StopBadware, a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises, a large number of website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or deal with security compromises.

In fact, over 60% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t even know how their websites were hacked after an attack …

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

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

Of more immediate concern is the fact that many security problems seem to be related to site owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many WordPress users have not updated their WordPress software.

(Many WordPress users have not upgraded their WP software. Screenshot 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 found in the WordPress CMS core, while 65% – 75% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WP Security Issues

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

Like many software platforms, WordPress is updated regularly in order to address new security vulnerabilities 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, themes, plugins, etc..

WordPress Is Used By Many Security-Conscious Businesses!

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

In a blog 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 websites, including banks, global corporations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting WP Blog Security

Other factors that can affect website security include:

  • No platform is completely immune to security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The biggest security risk of all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security processes require constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting 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’s No Reason Why You Shouldn’t Use WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you remember to implement basic web security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use WordPress to drive your website or blog.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  Protecting Your WordPress Site Or Blog From Brute Force Attacks

A compromised blog provides malicious users with a valuable resource to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and use your website to steal information from online users. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and bots. Learn more about it here:

If you are using outdated WordPress versions remember to back up everything before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security risks. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore.

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

Important

References

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

Hopefully, the above article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.

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"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum