WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress SecurityIn 2013 a global brute-force attack hit WordPress installations on virtually every WP hosting server in existence.

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

WordPress is frequently the target of malicious attacks by hackers

(Powering millions of websites and blogs worldwide makes WordPress a target for attempted hacker attacks)

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

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 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 reported by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a well-known flaw to attack unsuspecting WP web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever attacks on WordPress sites take place on a worldwide scale, it’s natural for people to start asking just how safe and secure WordPress is as a software for running an online presence.

Being the world’s most popular CMS makes WordPress a target for malicious attacks by hackers. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as a secure web platform?

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

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at facts …

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

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is increasing on a daily basis, and the situation is only going to get worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’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 when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

How Secure Is “Open Source” Software?

Some people will often try to argue that WordPress cannot be a safe platform for building and running a web presence because its “open source” code is freely available.

Open source CMS programs like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are free to use and anyone has access to 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 easily obtain the code and go through every single line, searching for security vulnerabilities that can be exploited …

It's not a matter of if, but when before someone tries 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 will try to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is a free application and hackers can easily go through the code searching for vulnerabilities or weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open platform actually makes it a whole lot more secure in many ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of an open volunteer community consisting of thousands of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help to improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a global volunteer community of developers is responsible for keeping the code maintained and updated.

(WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a global community of developers. Screenshot image: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves largely through the effort of thousands of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. It benefits from thousands of minds dedicated to improving the software and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

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

(WordPress is built and maintained by a global community of volunteer members. Source: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as any security holes are identified by developers or users, these are then logged in user forums and addressed by the WordPress developers …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by an open community of web developers and users. Image source: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system is quite formidable and anyone can help contribute to improving the platform.

For example:

  • If you notice bugs and security exploits, 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 core development team releases new security updates so often, and why you continually need to keep your WordPress sites and blogs frequently up-to-date …

WordPress frequently releases new version updates to plug any security vulnerabilities found

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS 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 improve code security. By contrast, proprietary or “closed-source” CMS applications are normally 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 100% free to download, use and modify, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the technology. Can a proprietary CMS company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver you a completely free CMS platform that you can download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, there is valid research showing that WordPress is safer than other 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 CMS platforms

(National Vulnerability Database – Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms. Image source: National Vulnerability Database)

Other research shows that, because WordPress is easy to use and to maintain, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites run on WordPress had a significant degree of less exposure to risk …

WordPress has fewer exposure to risk than other CMS applications

(WordPress users are not as exposed to security vulnerabilities as other CMS platform users. Screenshot source: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Is Not To Blame

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

According to a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises called StopBadware and security vendor Commtouch in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, most website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or how to deal with compromises.

In fact, 63% of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t know how their sites had been compromised after an attack …

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

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

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security-related issues result from website owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

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

(Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions. Screenshot source: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only around between 25% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WordPress Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like many web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to address new security risks that could 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 Used By Many Security-Conscious Organizations!

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

In an article entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” published 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, large organizations and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting Security

Other factors that can affect security include:

  • No platform is completely immune to hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to using outdated software.
  • The biggest security risk in all web platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security systems need frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Webhosting setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as safe as the least secure website on the grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on your server is potentially vulnerable to hacking also.

There Is No Reason Why You Should Not Choose WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is as secure as most other leading web platforms being used by businesses of all sizes to build their presence online. As long as you commit to implementing basic website security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there is no reason not to use WordPress.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

An unsecured site provides malicious users with a valuable resource for denial of service attacks, spreading malware and as a source of information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress makes your WordPress site invisible to bots and hackers. Learn more about it here:

If you are currently using an older version of WordPress make sure you make a full site backup before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security threats. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore everything to its previous state.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are many free and paid WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your site backups here: Backup, Copy & Keep Your WP Sites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress

Important Info

References

The statistics quoted in this article were sourced from the following sites:

Hopefully, the above article has given you a better understanding of problems 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 CMS platform please click on links to visit other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.

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"I am beyond impressed with what you have put together. I can tell that you put a ton of hard work into building what you have. You have the absolute best content on WordPress I have ever seen!" - Robert T. Jillie

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.