WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress SecurityIn 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack struck WordPress installations on almost every WP hosting server in existence around the world.

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

WordPress is the world's most popular CMS which makes it an obvious target for hackers

(WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system making it a frequent target for hacking)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com reported that 160,000+ legitimate WordPress-powered sites 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. Screenshot: Blog Defender)

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 attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever brute force attacks on WordPress sites seem to increase, it’s natural for people to ask if WordPress really is a secure 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 definitely consider choosing WordPress if you have any concerns 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 around the world is rising, and it’s only going to get worse.

You can safely assume that if your website or blog hasn’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 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?

How Secure Is “Open Source” Software?

Many people argue that WordPress is not a safe platform for running websites and blogs because it is “open source” and freely available software application.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can access the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of the code and go through every line in detail, looking for holes and weaknesses they could exploit …

It's no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by 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 program and hackers can easily access it and study the code looking for holes and weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it more secure in a number of ways.

This is because WordPress has the support of an open volunteer community of thousands of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

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

(With WordPress, a global volunteer community of thousands of developers is responsible for keeping the platform code maintained and updated. Source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves because of the effort of a global community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. It benefits from hundreds of individuals who, at any one time, are focused on improving the software, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

WordPress is built by an open community of volunteers

(WordPress is built and maintained by a large community of volunteers. Screenshot: make.wordpress.org)

The moment any security issues are identified by developers or users, these are logged in user forums and addressed by the WordPress developers …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by a global community community of developers and users. Source: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anybody can contribute to securing the software.

For example:

  • If you find bugs or security holes, you can report these by sending an email to security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WordPress plugin, you can report these by notifying plugins@wordpress.org.

This is one of the reasons why the WordPress team releases new updates so often, and why you need to keep your WordPress sites and blogs regularly updated …

WordPress frequently releases new version updates to address any security issues found

(WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug security issues)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

We’ve just seen that one of the security advantages of using an open source platform like WordPress is that users benefit from a large community of developers who continually contribute to make the software more secure. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS platform would normally be developed 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 hundreds of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the software. Can a proprietary CMS company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver you a completely free platform that you can download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source CMS Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, there is valid research showing that the WordPress CMS is safer than other leading Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, here is one study showing how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in each of these platforms during a certain period …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

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

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

WordPress is safer to use than other CMS platforms

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

WordPress Should Not Be Blamed

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

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” which is published by a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises called StopBadware and security vendor Commtouch, a large number of website owners 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, 63% of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t even know how their websites had been hacked after an attack …

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

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

Of more immediate concern is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to site owners running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many WordPress sites use outdated versions.

(Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions. Screenshot image: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only around between 20% – 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 …

WP Security Issues

(WP Security Issues. Source: WebDesign.org)

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

WordPress Is Used By Many Security-Conscious Organizations!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even caused Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, 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 around the world choose WordPress to build their websites, including banks, leading brands, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Issues That Can Affect WordPress Security

Other areas that can affect site security include issues such as:

  • No platform is safe from 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 main security weakness in all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. All security systems require constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as safe as the least safe site on the hosting grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on the server can potentially become vulnerable to being hacked also.

There’s No Reason Not To Use WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you remember to implement basic website security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their chosen technology platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) up-to-date, there’s no reason to avoid using WordPress.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

A compromised blog offers malicious users with a platform for distributed attacks, spreading malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to malicious attacks from hackers and botnets. Learn more about it here:

If you are using older versions of WordPress remember to back up your WordPress site fully 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 your web site or blog to its former configuration.

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

Useful Information

Article References

The facts quoted in this article were referenced from various online sources, including those listed below:

Hopefully, the above information 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 using WordPress please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are published.

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"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.