WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security BasicsIn April 2013 a global brute-force attack hit WordPress installations on almost every host server in existence.

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

WordPress is the world's most popular content management system which makes it a frequent target for hacking

(WordPress often is targeted by hackers)

On March 11, 2014, many technology sites began reporting that over 160,000+ legitimate WordPress-powered web sites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites 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: 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)

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

When global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to start questioning just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for building and running their sites.

WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system which makes it an obvious target for malicious attacks by hackers. But do you really need to be concerned about WordPress as a secure platform for building your business web presence?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely consider using WordPress if you are concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with some facts …

Thousands of websites 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 getting worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’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 you use!

Since it’s not a matter of if, but when before someone will try to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Is “Open Source” Secure?

Some people often argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running a business online because it is “open source” and freely available software program.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can view the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily download the code and go through every line, looking for security vulnerabilities in the code that they can exploit …

It's not 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 someone tries to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is a free program and hackers can easily access it and study the code searching for weaknesses or vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any software), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it a lot more secure in a number of ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of an open community of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a community of hundreds of developers is responsible for keeping the software platform maintained and updated.

(With WordPress, a large community of hundreds of developers worldwide is responsible for keeping the code updated. Image: WordPress.org)

WordPress evolves largely through the effort of a huge community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from thousands of minds dedicated to improving the application, identifying and fixing security issues and making it safer for every user …

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

(WordPress is built and maintained by an open community of contributors. Screenshot image: WordPress.org)

As soon as any security holes are discovered by developers or users, these are immediately reported in user forums and addressed by the WordPress core developers …

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug any security vulnerabilities found

(WordPress frequently releases new version updates to plug security vulnerabilities)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

We’ve just seen that one of the security advantages of using an open source technology like WordPress is that users benefit from a large community of developers who continually contribute to improve software security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS application would normally be built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, maintenance services, bug fixes and software fixes.

WordPress is 100% free to download, use and modify, and hundreds 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 users a completely free software that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

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

For example, here is one study showing how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in popular open source platforms during a certain period …

WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other CMS applications

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

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

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

(Blog Defender – CMS Tests. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

It’s Easier To Blame Technology When Things Go Wrong

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

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

In fact, over sixty percent of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t even know how their sites had been compromised after an attack …

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

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

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that many security problems seem to be related to users forgetting to upgrade their WordPress software to a newer version …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their software.

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

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only between 20% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are actually found in the WordPress core software, while 70% – 75% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WordPress Security Issues

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

Like all robust web platforms, WordPress is updated regularly to deal with new security vulnerabilities that can arise. Improving software security is always a 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 That Uses It!

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

In a 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, large organizations and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their presence online, not just bloggers.

Other Factors That Can Affect Security

Other research on issues that affect website security point to factors like:

  • No platform is 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 security weakness in all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security systems need frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting are only as secure as the least safe site on the hosting grid, so if someone else has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on the server are potentially vulnerable to hacking also.

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

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic website security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their chosen web platform) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) updated, there is no reason not to use WordPress.

Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute-force attacks see this article:  10 Security Measures That Can Help To Prevent Brute-Force Attacks On WordPress

A vulnerable site offers malicious users with a resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your site to steal information from others. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and botnets. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an outdated version of WordPress remember to back up your 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 site manually, there are a number of plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Back Up, Copy & Keep Your WP Web Sites Protected With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Important Info

References

The above statistics were referenced from various sources, including those listed below:

Hopefully, the above information has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using the WP CMS software please see other articles published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.

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"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.