WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security OverviewIn April 2013 a worldwide brute force attack hit WordPress installations on virtually every WP hosting server in existence around the world.

These attacks were caused by networks of infected computers programmed to attack other sites, also commonly known as “botnets”.

Being the world's most popular content management system makes WordPress an obvious target for malicious attacks by hackers

(Being the world’s most used CMS makes WordPress a target for malicious attempts by hackers)

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

Thousands of websites are attacked 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.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)

According to leading 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 brute force attacks on WordPress sites take place on a worldwide scale, it’s natural for people to start asking if WordPress really is a secure platform for building and running their sites.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers, due to its popularity. But should you be concerned about WordPress as a secure web platform?

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

Let’s start with some facts …

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

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and it’s getting worse.

You can safely assume that if your website or blog hasn’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time before someone does attempt to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s no longer a matter of if, but when before your website will be targeted by hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

How Secure Are “Open Source” Applications?

Some people will often try to argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running websites because it’s a freely available open source software program.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can study the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily get hold of the code and go through it in great detail, looking for vulnerabilities in the code that they could exploit …

It's no longer a matter of if, but when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s not a matter of if, but when before your website is targeted by malicious 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 or vulnerabilities they can exploit (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source software platform actually makes it a lot 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 program and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a huge community of developers is responsible for keeping the core application code up-to-date.

(With WordPress, a large volunteer community of developers is responsible for keeping the core application code maintained and updated. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress continually evolves through the effort of hundreds of committed individuals working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from hundreds of individuals committed to improving the application and making it safer for every user …

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

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

The moment any security holes are discovered by developers or users, these are then recorded in user forums and addressed by the WordPress development team …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved by a huge community community of developers and users. Screenshot source: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system is solid and formidable and anybody can help contribute to fixing the platform.

For example:

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

This is why the WordPress team is constantly releasing new version updates, and why you need to keep your site up-to-date …

WordPress continually releases new version updates to address any security exploits found

(WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug any security weaknesses found)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

We’ve just seen that one of the security advantages of using an ”open” platform like WordPress is that users benefit from a large community of developers who continually contribute to make the code more secure. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS platform is normally 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 free to download, modify and use, and hundreds of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the software. 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 Platforms

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, there is valid research to support the fact that the WordPress CMS 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 discovered in popular CMS platforms …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

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

Other studies also indicate that, because WordPress is easy to use and to keep up-to-date, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, sites built with WordPress had a significant degree of less exposure to risk …

WordPress is safer to use than other CMS platforms

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

It’s Not WordPress’ Fault

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

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, most 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, over 60% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t even know how their sites had been compromised after an attack …

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

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

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

Many security issues come from sites running an outdated version of WordPress.

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

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only between 20% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress CMS core, while 70% – 75% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by third-party developers …

WP Security Issues

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

Like all robust software platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to address new security vulnerabilities that can 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.

WordPress … Good Enough For Banks To Use!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even caused the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime into the online 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 use WordPress to build their websites, including banks, global corporations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting WP Blog Security

Other studies on issues that play a role in website security point to areas like:

  • No platform is immune to hacking. 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 biggest security weakness in all web platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security processes require frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared hosting servers are only as secure as the least safe website on the hosting grid, so if another user 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 Not To Choose WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you continue to implement basic website security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there’s no reason to avoid choosing WordPress to power your web site or blog.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

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

An unsecured site provides hackers with a resource for launching denial of service attacks, spreading malware and engaging in information theft. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to bot and hacker attacks. Go here to learn more: How To Prevent Malicious Intrusions On Your WP Website From Hackers And Bots

If you are using older WordPress versions remember to back up everything before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore things back to their former state.

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


References Used In This Article

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

Hopefully, now you have 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 WordPress for a business website or blog please see other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.


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Author: Martin Aranovitch

WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for beginners. Our detailed step-by-step tutorials will save you money and teach you how to start, manage, and grow a website or blog using WordPress that puts you in complete control and delivers results with no coding skills required!