WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security OverviewIn early 2013 a worldwide brute force attack hit WordPress installations across virtually every web host in existence around the world.

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

Powering millions of websites and blogs worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for hacker attacks

(Powering millions of websites around the world makes WordPress an obvious target for malicious attacks by hackers)

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

Thousands of websites and blogs are attacked every year! Could yours be next?

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 2014. Screenshot 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 reported by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress web 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 questioning just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for building and running a business web presence.

Powering millions of websites and blogs worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for attacks by malicious users. But do you really need to be concerned about WordPress as being a secure platform for building your business presence online?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely use 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 sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is massive, and it’s only going to get 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 your website has been built with!

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

Is “Open Source” Safe?

Some people often argue that WordPress cannot be a safe platform for running a business online because its “open source” code is freely available.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can access the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of the code and study every line, looking for security weaknesses in the code that could be exploited …

It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers … WordPress or no WordPress!)

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

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

With WordPress, a large community of thousands of developers around the world is responsible for keeping the platform code up-to-date.

(A large community of hundreds of developers worldwide is responsible for building, maintaining and updating WordPress. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

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

The WordPress core software is built by a global community of contributors

(The WordPress core software is built and maintained by an open community of experienced web developers. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

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

WordPress is continually being improved upon by thousands of committed individuals community of web developers and users

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

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

For example:

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

This is one of the reasons why the WordPress team is constantly releasing new security updates, and why you continually need to keep your sites and blogs regularly maintained …

WordPress frequently releases new version updates to address security holes

(WordPress continually releases new updates to plug any security issues found)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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 code security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS application is typically built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, software maintenance, 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 platform. Can a proprietary technology company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver you a free application that you can download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

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

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

WordPress experiences less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

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

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

WordPress is more secure than other CMS platforms

(Blog Defender – CMS Tests. Screenshot image: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Is Not At Fault

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

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

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

Most webmasters don't even know how their websites were hacked.

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

Of immediate concern for WordPress users, is the fact that many security-related problems arise from website owners not updating their CMS software to the latest version …

Many WordPress users have not updated their software.

(Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions. Screenshot 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 third-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 created by 3rd-party developers …

WP Security Issues

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

Like all robust web platforms, WordPress is updated regularly in order to address new security vulnerabilities that could 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 Used By Many Security-Conscious Businesses!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even caused the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, 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 …

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, including banks, leading brands and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Areas Affecting Security

Other research on issues that affect WordPress security point to areas like:

  • No platform is completely protected from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to using outdated software.
  • The biggest security 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 processes need regular monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Webhosting setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting are only as safe as the least safe site on the hosting grid, so if someone else on your shared server gets their site hacked into, then every site on the server becomes vulnerable to being hacked as well.

There’s No Reason Not To Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is as secure as most other leading web platforms being used by businesses to build their presence online. As long as you implement basic website security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t choose WordPress to power your website or blog.


WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

An unsecured web site provides malicious users with a resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your website to defraud innocent people. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to malicious attacks from hackers and botnets. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an outdated version of WordPress remember to back up everything before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore everything to its former configuration.

If you don’t want to back up your files manually, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your backup process here: Back Up, Copy And Protect Your WordPress Web Site With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Important Info

References Used In This Article

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

Hopefully, the above post has given you 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 the WP platform please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are 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 detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.