WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security BasicsIn early 2013 a global brute force attack struck WordPress installations across almost every host server in existence.

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 CMS makes WordPress a target for hacking

(Powering millions of websites around the world makes WordPress an obvious target for hackers)

In March 2014, technology sites began reporting that 162,000 WordPress sites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites are hacked every year! Will yours be one of them?

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 2014. Image source: BlogDefender website)

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 WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyberattack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to ask just how safe and secure WordPress is as a software for building and running their sites.

Being the world’s most used content management system makes WordPress a target for attempted hacking attacks. But do you really need to be concerned about WordPress as being 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 facts …

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

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and things are 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 Extremely Vulnerable?”

Some people often argue that WordPress is not a safe platform for running websites because having open source code means that anyone can view how the software program code works.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can view the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily obtain the code and study it, 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 your website will be targeted by hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

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

While it’s true that WordPress is a free program 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 application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source software platform actually makes it a whole lot more secure in a number of ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of a global community comprised of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a large volunteer community of developers is responsible for keeping the software platform updated.

(An open volunteer community of developers is responsible for building and updating the WordPress core application. Image: WordPress.org)

WordPress evolves because of the effort of a huge community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from thousands of minds who, at any one time, are focused on improving the code, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built and maintained by a global community of users

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

The moment any security weaknesses are identified by developers or users, the WordPress core developers are then notified …

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

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

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is quite formidable and anybody can help contribute to the improvement of the platform.

For example:

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

This is the reason why the WordPress community releases new updates so often, and why you need to keep your site up-to-date …

WordPress continually releases new updates to address any security exploits found

(WordPress continually releases new updates to plug security issues)

WordPress Vs Proprietary Applications

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

WordPress is 100% free to download, modify and use, 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 a free application that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

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

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in each of these open source platforms during a certain period …

WordPress experiences fewer security vulnerabilities than other CMS platforms

(WordPress has less security vulnerabilities than other CMS platforms. Image source: National Vulnerability Database)

Other research indicates that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and to maintain, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, WordPress sites had significantly less exposure to risk …

WordPress has significantly less exposure to risk than other CMS platforms

(WordPress users are not as exposed to risks as other CMS platform users. Screenshot: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The WordPress CMS

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

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“, a large number of webmasters are not fully aware of the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with compromised web security.

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

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

(Many webmasters don’t even know how their sites were hacked. Screenshot image: StopBadware.org)

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that many security-related issues arise from site owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many WordPress users have not updated their WordPress software.

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

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only around between 25% – 30% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are found in the WordPress CMS core, while 65% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WP Security Issues

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

Like many web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to deal with new security problems that may arise. Improving security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress site, plugins, and themes up-to-date.

WordPress … Good Enough For Banks To Use!

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

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 web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting WordPress Security

Other studies on issues that play a role in WordPress security point to areas 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 outdated software.
  • The main risk of all content management systems seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security processes need to be frequently monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Webhosting server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting servers are only as secure as the least safe website on the grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on your server is potentially vulnerable to hacking as well.

There Is No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their web platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) up-to-date, there is really no reason why you shouldn’t use WordPress.

Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute-force attacks see this article:  10 Security Measures That Can Help Prevent Brute Force Attacks On WordPress

An unsecured website provides hackers with a valuable resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress Sites makes your WordPress site invisible to botnet and hacker attacks. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an older version of WordPress remember to back up your website fully before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore.

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

Important

References Used In This Article

The above statistics were sourced from the following sites:

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of issues 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 the WP platform please click on links to visit other posts published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles or tutorials are published.

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