WordPress Security Explained

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

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

These attacks were caused by botnets (networks of infected computers programmed to attack other vulnerable sites).

WordPress powers millions of websites and blogs around the world, making it a target for hacking attacks

(Powering millions of sites worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for hacking)

In March 2014, many technology sites reported that 160,000+ legitimate WordPress-powered websites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites 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: 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)

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

When global brute-force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to start asking just how secure WordPress is as a platform for running a business web presence.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers. But should you 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 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 attacked every year … not just WordPress sites!

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is rising, and this is getting worse.

You can safely assume that if your website or blog hasn’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 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” Safe From Hacking?

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

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can view the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of the code and study every single line in detail, searching for security weaknesses in the code that can be exploited …

It's no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone attempts to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before a malicious user attempts to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

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

This is because WordPress has the support of a community of thousands of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help to improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a huge community of volunteers around the world is responsible for keeping the core application code maintained and updated.

(With WordPress, a huge volunteer community of web developers is responsible for keeping the software platform updated. Screenshot source: make.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 hundreds of web developers, designers and users committed to improving the software, identifying and fixing security issues and making WordPress safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built and maintained by a large community of contributors

(The WordPress core software is built by an open community of web developers. Screenshot source: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as a security weakness is identified by developers or users, these are normally logged in user forums and addressed by the WordPress development team …

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

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

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is very responsive and anybody can contribute to the process of addressing vulnerabilities.

For example:

  • If you come across bugs and security holes, you can report these by emailing security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find any issues in a WP plugin, you can report these by sending an email to plugins@wordpress.org.

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

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug any security weaknesses found

(WordPress continually releases new version 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 improve software security. By contrast, proprietary or “closed-source” CMS applications are built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, software maintenance, bug fixes and updates.

WordPress is free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the platform. Can a proprietary technology company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver users software that is 100% free to download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, the chart below shows the number of security vulnerabilities discovered in popular open source CMS platforms …

WordPress has less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS platforms

(WordPress experiences less security vulnerabilities than other CMS platforms. Screenshot image: National Vulnerability Database)

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

WordPress is more secure than other leading CMS platforms

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

It’s Not WordPress’ Fault

Whenever WordPress sites get subjected to brute-force attacks, don’t be quick to blame the WordPress CMS platform.

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 threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or deal with web security compromises.

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

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

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

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to site owners forgetting to upgrade their WordPress software to the latest version …

Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions.

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

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while 65% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by 3rd-party developers …

WordPress Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like many software platforms, WordPress is regularly updated in order to deal with new security problems that may arise. Improving software security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress site, themes, and plugins updated to the latest version.

WordPress Is Secure – Even Banks Use It!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even led the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime in and reply to posts online.

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, global corporations and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Areas Affecting Website Security

Other factors that can affect WP site security include:

  • No platform is protected from hackers. 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 security weakness in all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security processes need to be constantly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Webhosting setup. For example, sites on shared hosting accounts are only as safe as the least safe website on the hosting grid, so if someone else on your shared server gets their site hacked into, then every site on the shared server is potentially vulnerable to being hacked as well.

There Is No Reason Why You Should Not Use WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) up-to-date, there is no reason not to choose WordPress to power your web site or blog.

Tip

WordPress Security – 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 web site offers malicious users with a resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your site to defraud online users. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to attacks from hackers and bots. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are using older WordPress versions remember to make a backup 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.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are many WordPress plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your backup process here: Back Up, Clone And Protect Your WP Site With Backup Creator Plugin For WP

Important Info

Article References

For more information on the above, refer to the sites below:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better business results online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.