WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security BasicsIn 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to worldwide brute-force attacks.

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

WordPress is often the target of attacks by hackers

(WordPress is the world’s most used content management system which makes it a frequent target for attacks by hackers)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com reported that over 162,000 WordPress websites had been hacked.

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

(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 flaw to attack unsuspecting WP web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber-attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When worldwide brute force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to question just how secure WordPress is as an application for running their websites.

WordPress is the world’s most used content management system making it a target for hacker attacks. But should you really be concerned about WordPress as a secure platform for building your business website?

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 by looking at facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is massive, and things are getting worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s no longer a matter of if, but when before someone tries to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

The “Open Source” Argument

Many people argue that WordPress should not be used for running a website or blog because it’s an “open source” and freely available application.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can access the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily obtain the code and go through it, searching for holes and weaknesses that could be exploited …

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

(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!)

While it’s true that WordPress is free to download and hackers can easily access it and study the code looking for security vulnerabilities or weaknesses that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open platform actually makes it more secure in a number of ways.

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

With WordPress, a global community of developers is responsible for keeping the platform updated.

(A huge volunteer community maintain and update. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

WordPress evolves largely through the effort of hundreds of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix issues. Everyone benefits from thousands of individuals dedicated to improving the application and making WordPress safer for every user …

WordPress is built by a global community of volunteer members

(The WordPress core software is built by a large community of volunteer web developers. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

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

WordPress is continually being improved upon 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 developers. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is very responsive and anyone can help contribute to securing the software.

For example:

  • If you come across bugs or security issues, you can report these by notifying 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 WordPress community is constantly releasing new version updates, and why you continually need to keep your WordPress site up-to-date …

WordPress continually releases new updates to plug security exploits

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary Applications

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

The WordPress CMS is free to download, use and modify, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve 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 Platforms

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms include 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 like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in each of these platforms during a given period …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications

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

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

BlogDefender.com - CMS Tests

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

Don’t Blame WordPress When Things Go Wrong

When WordPress sites are attacked, don’t be too quick to blame the WordPress CMS platform.

According to security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, many webmasters are not fully aware of the threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

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

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

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

Of more immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to users running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions.

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

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

WP Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like all robust software applications, WordPress is regularly updated in order 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 Used By Many Security-Conscious Organizations!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security 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” 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, global corporations and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Areas Affecting Security

Other issues that can affect WP site security include areas like:

  • No platform is completely safe 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 of all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security systems need frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting accounts are only as safe as the least safe site on the grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on that shared server is potentially vulnerable to being hacked as well.

There’s No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is as secure as most of the leading web platforms being used by businesses to build their presence online. As long as you continue to implement basic security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their chosen web platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there is no reason not to choose WordPress.

Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  WordPress Brute Force Attack Prevention Measures

A vulnerable website provides malicious users with a valuable platform to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and use your site to defraud others. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to attacks from hackers and botnets. Learn more about it here:

If you are currently using an older WordPress version make sure to back up your WordPress site 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 everything to its previous settings.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Duplicate And Protect Your WP Sites With Backup Creator Plugin For WP

Important Info

Article References

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you expand your business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress please see other posts we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.

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"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.