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 began hitting WordPress installations on virtually every WP hosting server in existence.

These attacks were caused by computers infected with viruses and programmed to attack other computers, also commonly known as “botnets”.

Being the world's most used content management system makes WordPress a target for hacking attempts

(Being the world’s most popular content management system makes WordPress an obvious target for hackers)

On March 11, 2014, many technology sites reported that over 162,000 WordPress web sites had been hacked.

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Image source: BlogDefender site)

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 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 website owners to ask just how secure the WordPress platform is for running their sites.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers, due to its popularity. But should you really be concerned about WordPress as being 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 have any concerns about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with the facts …

Thousands of websites and blogs are hacked every year … not just WordPress sites!

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is increasing on a daily basis, and this is only going to get 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 no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

The “Open Source” Argument For Security Vulnerabilities

Some people will often try to argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for running websites or blogs because its open source code means that anyone can view how the program was built.

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

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

It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone will attempt to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

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

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

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of an open 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 program and make WordPress more secure …

A community is responsible for maintaining and updating WordPress.

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

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

WordPress is built and maintained by an open community of WordPress users

(WordPress is built by a global community of volunteer web developers. Screenshot source: WordPress.org)

As soon as security weaknesses are identified by developers or users, these are then noted in user forums and addressed by the WordPress developers …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by an open community of users and web developers. Source: make.wordpress.org)

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

For example:

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

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

WordPress continually releases new updates to plug any security weaknesses found

(WordPress frequently releases new version updates to address security exploits)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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 platform security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” software application is typically developed 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 thousands 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 software that is 100% free to download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

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

WordPress has less security vulnerabilities than other CMS applications

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

Other studies also show that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and to update, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, sites run on WordPress had significantly less exposure to risk …

WordPress is safer to use than other CMS applications

(WordPress has less exposure to risk than other leading CMS applications. Image: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Is Not At Fault

When WordPress sites are attacked en masse, users shouldn’t be too quick to blame WordPress.

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” published by security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware, most website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or how to deal with web security compromises.

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

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

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

Of immediate concern for WordPress users, is the fact that many security issues seem to be related to users running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their software.

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

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only between 25% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress core software, while 70% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WordPress Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Source: WebDesign.org)

Like many web applications, WordPress is regularly updated to deal with new security problems that may arise. Improving 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 online about WordPress security has even caused the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime into the online debate.

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 presence online, including banks, leading brands, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Areas That Can Affect WP Site Security

Other issues that can affect site security include:

  • No platform is protected from hacking. 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 in all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security systems need to be constantly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting accounts are only as safe as the least secure website on the grid, so if someone else has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on the shared server can potentially become vulnerable to being hacked as well.

There’s No Reason Why You Should Not Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is as secure as most other leading web platforms being used by businesses of all sizes to build their presence online. As long as you implement basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there’s no reason to avoid choosing WordPress.

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 vulnerable website provides malicious users with a valuable resource for distributed attacks, spreading malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to bots and hackers. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an older WordPress version remember to make a complete backup before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore.

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

Useful Info

Article References

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

Hopefully, the above information has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website please see other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles or tutorials are published.

***

"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.