WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security OverviewIn April 2013 a global brute force attack hit WordPress installations across virtually every web host in existence around the world.

These attacks were caused by infected computer networks programmed to attack other sites (called “botnets”).

Powering millions of websites and blogs worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for hacker attacks

(WordPress powers millions of sites around the world, making it a target for attempted hacking attacks)

In March 2014, technology sites began reporting that 160,000+ WordPress sites had been hacked.

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

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 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)

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

When global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to question just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for running an online presence.

WordPress is the world’s most used CMS making it a frequent target for attacks by malicious users. But do you need to 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 consider using 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 around the world is increasing on a daily basis, and the situation is getting worse.

It’s probably safe to assume that if your website or blog hasn’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 not a matter of if, but when before someone attempts to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Is “Open Source” Safe From Hacking?

Some people will often try to argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running websites and blogs because having open source code means that anyone can view how the software program runs.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can study the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily download the code and study every single line, searching for security weaknesses in the code that they can exploit …

It's no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website is targeted by hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s not a matter of if, but when before a malicious user tries to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is free to download and hackers can easily access it and study the code searching for security holes and vulnerabilities they can exploit (hackers can do the same with any software program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source software platform actually makes it a lot more secure in several ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress is supported by a huge community that consists of thousands of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help to improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a global volunteer community of developers is responsible for keeping the core application maintained and updated.

(With WordPress, a community of hundreds of developers around the world is responsible for keeping the code updated. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves because of the effort of hundreds of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix issues. Everyone benefits from hundreds of web developers, designers and users who, at any one time, are focused on improving the code, fixing bugs and making it safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built by a global community of experienced web developers

(WordPress is built by a large community of experienced web developers. Image: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as any security holes are identified by developers or users, the WordPress core development team are then notified …

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

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

The WordPress community support system is quite formidable and anyone can contribute to the process of getting bugs fixed.

For example:

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

This is why WordPress is constantly releasing new security updates, and why you need to keep your site updated and maintained …

WordPress continually releases new updates to address any security exploits found

(WordPress frequently releases new version updates to plug any security weaknesses found)

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

The WordPress CMS is free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the technology. Can a proprietary technology 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 CMS Vs Other Open Source Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, here is one study showing how many security vulnerabilities were found in each of these CMS platforms …

WordPress experiences fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS platforms

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

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

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

(WordPress users are less exposed to security risks than other CMS platform users. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The Technology

If someone hacks into your WordPress site, don’t be quick to blame WordPress.

According to security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, most webmasters are not fully aware of the threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly 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 were compromised by hackers after an attack …

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

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

Of more immediate concern for WordPress users, is the fact that most security-related issues result from website owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions.

(Many WordPress users have not updated their WP software. Image: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only between 20% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are found in the WordPress CMS core, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WordPress Security Issues

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

Like all robust web applications, WordPress is updated regularly to deal with new security risks that could arise. Improving software security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress software, plugins, themes, etc..

WordPress Is Secure – Just Ask Any Bank Using It!

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

In a post 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, including banks, large organizations and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their websites, not just bloggers.

Other Areas That Can Affect WP Blog Security

Other studies on issues that affect website security point to things like:

  • No platform is completely 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 threat of all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security systems need to be constantly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting are only as secure as the least safe site on the hosting grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then all sites on the server become vulnerable to hacking as well.

There’s No Reason Why You Shouldn’t Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you continue to implement basic web security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) updated, there is no reason why you shouldn’t choose WordPress.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

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

An unsecured web site offers hackers with a valuable resource to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and use your site to steal information from innocent people. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress Blogs makes your WordPress site invisible to bot and hacker attacks. Learn more about it here:

If you are using older versions of WordPress remember to back up your website fully 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 site to its former state.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of free and paid plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Clone And Keep Your WP Sites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress

Important Info

References Used In This Article

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues 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 please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.

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Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.