WordPress Security Explained

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

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

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

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers

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

In March 2014, technology sites reported that 160,000+ legitimate WordPress sites had been hacked.

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

(Over 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 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 attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever attacks on WordPress sites seem to increase, it’s natural for people to question just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for running their sites.

WordPress often is targeted by hackers, due to its global popularity. But should you 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 choose WordPress if you are at all concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at some 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 the situation is getting worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’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 no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone will attempt to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

How Secure Are “Open Source” Software Applications?

Many people often argue that WordPress should not be used for running websites or blogs because it is a freely available open source software.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can study the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily download all of the code and study all of it in detail, searching for vulnerabilities that could be exploited …

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

(It’s no longer 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 a free application and hackers can easily access it and study the code looking for security vulnerabilities or weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it a lot more secure in several ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by a large volunteer community consisting of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help to improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

A community of developers worldwide build, maintain and update.

(WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a large community of thousands of developers. Source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress continually evolves through the effort of hundreds of committed individuals working around the clock to fix issues. Everyone benefits from thousands of minds dedicated to improving the application, 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 global community of WordPress users. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

The moment any security vulnerabilities are discovered by developers or users, the WordPress core developers are then made aware of it …

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

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

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anyone can help contribute to the process of getting vulnerabilities plugged.

For example:

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

This is the reason why the WordPress team is constantly releasing new updates, and why you need to keep your WordPress site up-to-date …

WordPress continually releases new updates to plug any security holes found

(WordPress continually releases new version updates to address security weaknesses)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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

WordPress is 100% free to download, use and modify, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the platform. Can a proprietary CMS company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver you software that is 100% free to download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, research shows that WordPress is 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 platforms during a given period …

WordPress has less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

(WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other CMS platforms. Screenshot image: National Vulnerability Database)

Other research indicates that, because WordPress is easy to use and keep up-to-date, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites run on WordPress had less exposure to risk …

BlogDefender.com - CMS Tests

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

WordPress Is Not Always To Blame

Whenever WordPress sites are subjected to brute-force attacks, 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 are not fully aware of the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or deal with security compromises.

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

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

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

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security-related problems result from users simply not updating their CMS software to a newer version …

Many WordPress sites use 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% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WordPress Security Issues

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

Like many software applications, WordPress is updated regularly in order to address new security vulnerabilities that could arise. Improving security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress software, plugins, and themes up-to-date.

WordPress Is Secure – Even Banks Are Using It!

The amount of misinformation about WordPress security 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 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 use WordPress to build their web presence, including banks, large organizations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors Affecting WordPress Site Security

Other areas that can affect WordPress website security include issues like:

  • No platform is completely immune to security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The biggest security weakness 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 processes need frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting servers are only as secure as the least secure website on the hosting grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site hacked into, then all sites on the server are potentially vulnerable.

There Is No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you implement basic security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their technology platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly updated, there’s no reason why you should not use WordPress to power your website or blog.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Practical 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 web site offers malicious users with a resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your website to defraud online users. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to botnet and hacker attacks. Learn more about it here:

If you are currently using an outdated version of WordPress make sure to back up everything before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore your web site or blog to its previous configuration.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are many plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Copy And Protect Your WP Website With Backup Creator Plugin For WP

Useful Info

References Used In This Article

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you improve your business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business website please click on links to visit other articles published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles or tutorials are published.

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the owner of WPCompendium.org and the author of The WordPress User Manual. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.