WordPress Security Explained

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

WP SecurityIn 2013 a global brute-force attack hit WordPress installations across virtually every WP hosting server in existence around the world.

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

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

(WordPress is the world’s most used CMS making it a target for hacking attacks)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites reported that over 160,000+ legitimate WordPress-powered sites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites are attacked every year! Could yours be next?

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Image 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)

According to leading security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a flaw to attack unsuspecting WP websites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever attacks on WordPress sites take place on a global scale, it’s natural for people to start questioning just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for running a business web presence.

Being the world’s most popular CMS makes WordPress a target for hacker attacks. 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 use WordPress if you are 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 sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and it’s 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 your website will be targeted by malicious hackers, 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 running websites because its “open source” code is freely available.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can access the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of all of the code and study all of it in detail, searching for security weaknesses in the code that they could exploit …

It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website is targeted by malicious hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

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

While it’s true that WordPress is free to download and hackers can easily go through the code searching for holes or vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source platform actually makes it a lot more secure in many ways.

This is because WordPress has the support of a huge volunteer community that consists of thousands of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, an open volunteer community of developers is responsible for keeping the platform code maintained and updated.

(A large community of developers around the world build, maintain and update. Screenshot image: WordPress.org)

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

The WordPress core software is built and maintained by an open community of volunteer members

(The WordPress core software is built and maintained by a global community of experienced web developers. Source: WordPress.org)

As soon as any security vulnerability is identified by developers or users, these are then reported in user forums and addressed by the WordPress core developers …

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

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

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anybody can contribute to securing the platform.

For example:

  • If you find bugs or a security exploit, you can report these by sending an email to security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find any issues in a plugin, you can report these by sending an email to plugins@wordpress.org.

This is one of the reasons why the core development team releases new updates regularly, and why you continually need to keep your WordPress sites and blogs updated and maintained …

WordPress frequently releases new version updates to address any security weaknesses found

(WordPress continually releases new updates to address any security weaknesses found)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary Platforms

Contrast what we have just discussed above with proprietary technologies where often the responsibility for maintaining software security, fixing bugs, etc. falls to a small team of developers with limited resources and you will very quickly understand the value of using WordPress to run your website or blog on a secure platform.

The WordPress CMS is free to download, use and modify, and thousands 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 completely free CMS software that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in popular open source CMS platforms …

WordPress has less security vulnerabilities than other CMS applications

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

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

WordPress is safer to use than other leading CMS applications

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

WordPress Is Not Always To Blame

If someone compromises the security of your WordPress site, don’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 vendor Commtouch and StopBadware, a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises, many website owners have no idea about the threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

In fact, over 60% of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t even know how their websites were compromised after an attack …

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

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

Of immediate concern for WordPress users, 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 sites use outdated versions. Image 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 70% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WordPress Security Issues

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

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

WordPress Is Secure – Even Banks Are Using It!

The amount of misinformation online about how secure WordPress is has even caused the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime in and reply to posts online.

In an article entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” posted 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 choose WordPress to build their presence online, including banks, large organizations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors Affecting Security

Other issues that can affect site security include areas such as:

  • No platform is protected from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to software that is out of date.
  • The main risk in all web platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security systems need frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Hosting setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as secure as the least safe website on the grid, so if someone else on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on the server can potentially become vulnerable to being hacked also.

There Is No Reason Why You Shouldn’t Choose WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you implement basic website security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there’s really no reason why you should not choose WordPress.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Useful Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute-force attacks see this article:  Preventing WordPress Brute Force Attacks

A compromised site provides malicious users with a valuable resource to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and use your website to defraud online users. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to attacks from hackers and botnets. Go here to learn more:

If you are using older WordPress versions make sure to back up your WordPress site files and data before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore your site to its former settings.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are many plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Back Up, Clone & Keep Your WordPress Web Sites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WP


Article 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 grow your business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are published.


"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