WordPress Security Explained

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

WP SecurityIn April 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack struck WordPress installations on almost every host server in existence.

These attacks were caused by computer networks infected with viruses and programmed to attack other computers (called “botnets”).

WordPress often is targeted by hackers, due to its popularity

(WordPress is often the target of attacks by hackers)

In March 2014, many technology sites began reporting that over 162,000 WordPress websites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites and blogs are attacked every year! Will yours be one of them?

(Over 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)

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

When brute-force attacks on WordPress sites happen on a global scale, it’s natural for website owners to ask just how safe and secure WordPress is as a software for building and running their sites.

WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system making it a target for hacker attacks. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as being a secure web platform?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely choose 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 hacked every year … not just WordPress sites!

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and things are 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 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 when before your website is targeted by hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

”How Can Open Source Programs Keep Hackers Away?”

Some people argue that WordPress is not a secure platform for building and running websites because having open source code means that anyone can view how the software application runs.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can examine the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of the code and study every single line in detail, searching for vulnerabilities that can be exploited …

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

(It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone will attempt to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

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

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of a global community comprised of hundreds of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a global community of developers.

(A community is responsible for building, maintaining and updating the WordPress platform. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

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

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

(The WordPress core software is built and maintained by an open community of volunteer web developers. Screenshot source: WordPress.org)

As soon as security holes are identified by developers or users, the WordPress developers are then made aware of it …

WordPress is continually being improved by an open community of users and web developers

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

The WordPress community support system is solid and formidable and anybody can contribute to the process of getting vulnerabilities plugged.

For example:

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

This is the reason why the WordPress community is constantly releasing new version updates, and why you continually need to keep your site regularly maintained …

WordPress frequently releases new version updates to plug security weaknesses

(WordPress continually releases new version updates to plug security exploits)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

Contrast what we have just discussed above with proprietary technologies where often a much smaller team with limited time and resources is responsible for developing, monitoring and maintaining software security, fixing bugs, etc., and you will quickly realize the value and advantages of using WordPress to power your websites and blogs on a secure platform.

The WordPress CMS is 100% free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve 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 include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications

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

Other research shows that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and to update, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, sites built with WordPress had less exposure to risk …

WordPress is more secure than other CMS applications

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

Don’t Blame The Platform

If someone compromises the security of your WordPress site, don’t be too quick to blame WordPress.

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” published by a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises called StopBadware and security vendor Commtouch, many webmasters are not fully aware of the threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with compromised web security.

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

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

(Many webmasters don’t know how their sites got hacked. Source: StopBadware.org)

Of more immediate concern for WordPress users, however, is the fact that many security issues seem to be related to site owners forgetting to upgrade their CMS software to a newer version …

Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions.

(Many WordPress sites use outdated versions. Image source: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only between 25% – 30% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WP Security Issues

(WP Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like many modern software applications, WordPress is regularly updated in order to deal with new security threats that could arise. Improving software security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress software, plugins, and themes updated to the latest version.

WordPress Is Secure – Even Banks Are Using It!

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

In a blog 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, including banks, leading brands and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Factors That Can Affect WP Security

Other studies on issues that play a role in WordPress security point to areas such as:

  • No platform is completely protected from hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The biggest security risk in all content management systems seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security systems need to be regularly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting servers are only as safe as the least secure site on the grid, so if someone else has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on your shared server becomes vulnerable to hacking also.

There’s No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there’s no reason why you should not choose WordPress.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute-force attacks see this article:  How To Protect Your WordPress Site Or Blog From Brute Force Attacks

A vulnerable website offers malicious users with a valuable resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your website to steal information from innocent people. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and bots. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are currently using an older WordPress version make sure you back up your WordPress website fully before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore.

If you don’t want to back up your data manually, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your backup process here: Backup, Copy & Protect Your WordPress Website With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Useful Information

Article References

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

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress please click on links to visit other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are published.

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"This is an awesome training series. I have a pretty good understanding of WordPress already, but this is helping me to move somewhere from intermediate to advanced user!" - Kim Lednum

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.