WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security BasicsIn 2013 a worldwide brute force attack hit WordPress installations across almost every WP hosting server in existence.

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

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

(WordPress powers millions of websites and blogs around the world, which makes it a natural target for attempted hacking attacks)

In March 2014, many leading technology sites reported that 160,000+ legitimate WordPress web sites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites are hacked every year! Will yours be one of them?

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Source: BlogDefender website)

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

When global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to start questioning if WordPress really is a secure platform for building and running websites.

WordPress often is targeted by hackers. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as being a secure web platform?

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 by looking at some facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is rising, and it’s getting worse.

It’s probably safe to 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 your website has been built with!

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

Are “Open Source” Applications Really Safe?

Some people often argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for running a web presence because its open source code means that anyone can view how the program was built.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can view the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of all of the code and study it in great detail, looking for vulnerabilities that can be exploited …

It's no longer 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 when before someone attempts 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 searching for holes and weaknesses they can exploit (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it a whole lot more secure in several ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by a huge community that consists of thousands 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 …

WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a community of developers worldwide.

(WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a large community of web developers around the world. Image source: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves through the effort of hundreds of committed individuals working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from hundreds of web developers, designers and users who, at any one time, are focused on improving the application and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

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

(The WordPress core software is built and maintained by an open community of volunteers. Image: WordPress.org)

As soon as a security problem is discovered by developers or users, the WordPress development team are then notified …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved by thousands of committed individuals community of users and web developers. Image source: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is very responsive and anybody can contribute to improving the software.

For example:

  • If you discover bugs or security vulnerabilities, you can report these by notifying security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WP plugin, you can also report these by notifying plugins@wordpress.org.

This is the reason why the WordPress team is constantly releasing new version updates, and why you need to keep your sites and blogs updated and maintained …

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

(WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug security weaknesses)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary Platforms

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 improve platform security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS application would normally be developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, maintenance services, bug fixes and updates.

WordPress is free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the technology. Can a proprietary technology 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 Applications

CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, there is valid research showing that the WordPress CMS is 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 found in popular platforms during a certain period …

WordPress experiences less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

(WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other CMS platforms. Image source: National Vulnerability Database)

Other research shows that, because WordPress is easy to use and update, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security issues, sites built with WordPress had a significant degree of less exposure to risk …

BlogDefender.com - CMS Tests

(WordPress users are less exposed to security vulnerabilities than other CMS platform users. Screenshot image: BlogDefender.com)

It’s Not WordPress’ Fault

If someone compromises the security of your WordPress site, don’t be quick to blame the WordPress CMS platform.

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” which is published by a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises called StopBadware and security vendor Commtouch, a large number of webmasters 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, 63% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t know how their websites had been hacked after an attack …

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

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

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

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

(Many WordPress users have not upgraded their sites. Screenshot source: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress CMS core, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WP Security Issues

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

Like all robust web applications, WordPress is updated regularly to address new security threats that can arise. Improving 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 Secure – Even Banks Are Using It!

The amount of misinformation about how secure WordPress is has even led 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” 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 use WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting Website Security

Other research on issues that play a role in website security point to factors like:

  • No platform is safe from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to using outdated software.
  • The main risk of all web platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore good password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. All security processes need to be regularly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Hosting setup. For example, websites on shared hosting servers 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 all sites on the server can potentially become vulnerable to hacking also.

There’s No Reason Not To Choose WordPress

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

Practical 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 compromised site offers hackers with a resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your site to defraud online users. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to malicious attacks from hackers and bots. Go here to learn more:

If you are using older versions of WordPress remember to back up everything 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 everything to its former configuration.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are many plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your backup process here: Backup, Clone And Keep Your WordPress Websites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress


References Used In This Article

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 using WordPress for a business website or blog please click on links to visit other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles or tutorials are published.


"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now


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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.