WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security OverviewIn April 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack struck WordPress installations across virtually every WP host server in existence.

These attacks were caused by botnets (computers infected with viruses and programmed to attack other vulnerable computers).

WordPress is often the target of attacks by hackers, due to its popularity

(WordPress is often the target of malicious attacks by hackers, due to its popularity)

In March 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com reported that 160,000+ WordPress websites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites and blogs are attacked every year! Could your website be next?

(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 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.

Whenever global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to ask just how secure the WordPress platform is for running their sites.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as being a secure platform for building your business presence online?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely consider choosing 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 worldwide is massive, and it’s only going to get 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 … regardless of the web platform your website has been built with!

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

Is An “Open Source” Software Really Safe?

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

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can view the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily get hold of the code and go through every single line, looking for security holes that could be exploited …

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

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

While it’s true that WordPress is a free application and hackers can easily access it and study the code searching 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 platform actually makes it a lot more secure in several ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by an open community that consists of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, an open community of hundreds of web developers around the world is responsible for keeping the code updated.

(WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a community of web developers. Screenshot source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of a global volunteer community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. It benefits from thousands of minds who, at any one time, are focused on improving the code and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

WordPress is built and maintained by a large community of users

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

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

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

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

The WordPress community support system is quite formidable and anybody can help contribute to fixing the platform.

For example:

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

This is the reason why the core development team releases new updates so often, and why you continually need to keep your sites and blogs updated and maintained …

WordPress continually releases new version updates to plug security issues

(WordPress frequently releases new version updates to plug security issues)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

Compare the benefits of using an open source CMS platform like WordPress with proprietary technologies where often the responsibility for improving software security, fixing bugs, etc. falls to a smaller team of developers with limited resources and you will very quickly understand the value and advantages of using WordPress to power your web presence on a secure platform.

The WordPress CMS is 100% free to download, use and modify, 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 completely free platform that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

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

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

WordPress experiences fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS platforms

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

Other research indicates that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and to keep updated, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security issues, sites built with WordPress had fewer exposure to risk …

WordPress is safer to use than other leading CMS applications

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

Don’t Blame The Platform

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

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” which is published by security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware, most webmasters are not fully aware of the threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or deal with security compromises.

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

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

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

Of immediate concern for WordPress users, however, is the fact that many security problems seem to be related to site owners running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their WordPress software.

(Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions. Screenshot: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only around between 25% – 35% percent 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 developed externally for WordPress …

WP Security Issues

(WP Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like all robust web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated 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 software, themes, plugins, etc..

WordPress … Secure Enough For Banks To Use!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even caused Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, 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 …

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

Other Issues That Can Affect Security

Other research on issues that play a role in WordPress security point to things such as:

  • 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 software that is out of date.
  • The main security 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 system monitoring. All security processes require regular monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Hosting server setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting accounts are only as secure as the least secure site on the grid, so if someone else on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on your server is potentially vulnerable.

There’s No Reason Why You Should Not Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is as secure as most of the leading web platforms being used by businesses of all sizes to build their presence online. As long as you commit to implementing basic web security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly updated, there is really no reason why you should not choose WordPress to drive your web site or blog.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

An unsecured site provides hackers with a platform for distributed attacks, spreading malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to bot and hacker attacks. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are currently using an older WordPress version remember to back up everything 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.

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

Important Info

References

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues 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 the WordPress content publishing software please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are published.

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