WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security BasicsIn April 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack struck WordPress installations on virtually every web host in existence.

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

Powering millions of websites worldwide makes WordPress a target for attacks by malicious users

(Being the world’s most popular content management system makes WordPress a target for attacks by malicious users)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites began reporting that over 162,000 WordPress-powered websites had been hacked.

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

(Over 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 described by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a well-known flaw to attack unsuspecting WP web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyberattack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When global brute-force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to question if WordPress really is a safe application for running their websites.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers. But should you be concerned about WordPress as being a secure platform for building your business website?

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 with some facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and this is only going to get worse.

It’s probably safe to assume that if you haven’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 no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone will try 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 will often argue that WordPress should not be used for running a business online because having open source code means that anyone can view how the application runs.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can view the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of all of the code and study every line in detail, looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the code that could be exploited …

It's not a matter of if, but when before someone tries to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website is targeted by hackers … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is free and hackers can easily go through the code looking for holes or weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source platform actually makes it a whole lot more secure in several ways.

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

With WordPress, a community of hundreds of developers around the world is responsible for keeping the core application code up-to-date.

(With WordPress, a huge community of developers is responsible for keeping the platform code maintained and updated. Image source: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves because of the effort of hundreds of committed individuals working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from hundreds of individuals dedicated to improving the code, identifying and fixing security holes and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

WordPress is built by a global community of volunteer members

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

As soon as a security weakness is identified by developers or users, the WordPress core developers are then notified …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by thousands of committed individuals community of developers and users. Screenshot image: WordPress.org)

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

For example:

  • If you discover bugs or security vulnerabilities, you can report these by notifying security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find 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 is constantly releasing new security updates, and why you continually need to keep your sites and blogs updated and maintained …

WordPress continually releases new updates to address any security vulnerabilities found

(WordPress continually releases new updates to plug security holes)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary 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 make the software more secure. By contrast, proprietary or “closed-source” software applications are normally developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, maintenance services, bug fixes and updates.

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

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, the chart below shows the number of security vulnerabilities found in each of these CMS platforms …

WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

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

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

BlogDefender.com - CMS Tests

(BlogDefender.com – CMS Tests. Screenshot image: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Is Not At Fault

If someone breaks into your WordPress site, don’t be too quick to place the blame on 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 webmasters have no idea about the threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

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

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

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

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

Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions.

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

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are actually found in the WordPress CMS core, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally …

WP Security Issues

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

Like all robust software applications, WordPress is updated regularly in order to deal with new security vulnerabilities that may 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 software, plugins, themes, etc..

WordPress … Secure Enough For Banks To Use!

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

In a 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 around the world, including banks, large organizations and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Factors That Can Affect Security

Other areas that can affect blog security include:

  • No platform is immune to 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 biggest risk of all content management systems seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security systems require frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting are only as secure as the least secure website on the hosting grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on that shared server is potentially vulnerable.

There’s No Reason To Avoid Choosing WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you implement basic website security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their technology platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t use WordPress.

Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

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

A vulnerable website presents malicious users with a valuable resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your site to steal information from innocent people. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and botnets. Go here to learn more:

If you are using outdated versions of WordPress make sure you make a full site 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 everything to its former settings.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your backup process here: Backup, Duplicate And Protect Your WordPress Web Site With Backup Creator WP Plugin

Important

References Used In This Article

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

Hopefully, the above article has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress please see our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles or tutorials are published.

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