WordPress Security Explained

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

WP SecurityIn April 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to worldwide brute force attacks.

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

WordPress is frequently the target of malicious attacks by hackers, due to its global popularity

(WordPress powers millions of sites worldwide, making it a natural target for malicious attempts by hackers)

In March 2014, many technology sites reported that over 160,000+ WordPress-powered sites had been hacked.

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Screenshot: 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 WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber-attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When global brute-force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to ask just how safe and secure WordPress is as an application for building and running their websites.

WordPress is often the target of attacks by hackers. But should you be concerned about WordPress as a secure platform for building your business presence online?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely use WordPress if you are at all 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 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 before someone does attempt to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s not 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?

”Isn’t Open Source Software Unsafe?”

Many people will often try to argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for running a web presence because it’s “open source” and freely available software.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If anyone can access the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily download all of the code and go through every line in detail, searching for weaknesses and vulnerabilities that they could exploit …

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

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before your website is 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 searching for vulnerabilities and weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it a whole lot more secure in many ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress is supported by a huge volunteer community that consists of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help to improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a huge community of web developers around the world is responsible for keeping the core application code updated.

(WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a global community of thousands of developers. Image: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves largely through the effort of a huge community working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from hundreds of individuals who are dedicated to improving the code, fixing bugs and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built by an open community of users

(The WordPress core software is built by a global community of WordPress users. Screenshot image: WordPress.org)

The moment that any security problem is discovered by developers or users, the WordPress core development team are then made aware of it …

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

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

The WordPress community support system is solid and formidable and anyone can help contribute to the process of addressing security issues.

For example:

  • If you find bugs and a security exploit, you can report these by emailing security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WP plugin, you can also report these by emailing plugins@wordpress.org.

This is the reason why the core development team releases new updates regularly, and why you need to keep your site regularly updated …

WordPress continually releases new updates to address security holes

(WordPress continually releases new updates to address security issues)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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 make the code more secure. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” software application would normally be built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, support, bug fixes and software fixes.

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

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, there is valid research to support the fact 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 each of these open source CMS platforms …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications

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

Other research shows that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and update, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, sites run on WordPress had fewer exposure to risk …

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

(WordPress is more secure than other CMS platforms. Screenshot: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The Technology

If someone breaks into your WordPress site, don’t be too quick to place the blame on the WordPress CMS platform.

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” published by security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware, many website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with compromised web security.

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

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

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

Of immediate concern is the fact that many security issues seem to be related to site owners forgetting to update their CMS software to the latest version …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their sites.

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

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only 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 …

WP Security Issues

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

Like many modern software applications, WordPress is regularly updated to address new security threats 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.

WordPress Is Secure – Even Banks Use It!

The amount of misinformation online about how secure WordPress is has even led the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime into the online 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 around the world use WordPress to build their websites, including banks, global corporations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors That Can Affect Security

Other factors that can affect site security include:

  • No platform is completely protected from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to software that is out of date.
  • The main vulnerability in all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security systems need to be constantly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting are only as secure as the least secure site on the hosting grid, so if someone else has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on that server are potentially vulnerable.

There Is No Reason Not To Choose WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic web security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there’s no reason not to use WordPress to drive your web site or blog.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

A vulnerable site offers hackers with a valuable platform to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your site to steal information from online users. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress makes your WordPress site invisible to malicious attacks from hackers and bots. Learn more about it here:

If you are using older WordPress versions remember to back up your WordPress site files and data 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 free and paid plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your backup process here: Backup, Duplicate And Keep Your WP Web Site 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 problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about using the WP CMS platform please see other articles published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.

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