WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security OverviewIn April 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to a global-scale brute-force attack.

These attacks were caused by botnets (computer networks infected with malware and programmed to attack other sites with security vulnerabilities).

WordPress often is targeted by hackers

(WordPress is frequently the target of malicious attacks by hackers, due to its popularity)

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

Thousands of websites and blogs are hacked every year! Could your website be next?

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

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

Whenever worldwide brute force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to start questioning if WordPress really is a safe application for running an online presence.

Powering millions of websites worldwide makes WordPress a target for malicious attempts 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 definitely consider choosing WordPress if you are concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with the facts …

Thousands of websites 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 this is getting 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 not a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone tries to hack your website, 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 is not a safe platform for running websites because it’s “open source” and freely available software application.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can access the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily download the code and study all of it in detail, searching for security vulnerabilities in the code that can be exploited …

It's no longer a matter of if, but when before your website is targeted by hackers ... 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 security 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 many ways.

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

With WordPress, a huge volunteer community of hundreds of web developers is responsible for keeping the software code updated.

(With WordPress, a community of thousands of developers is responsible for keeping the code up-to-date. Image source: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves because of the effort of a global community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from thousands of individuals who, at any one time, are focused on improving the software, fixing bugs and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

WordPress is built and maintained by an open community of WordPress users

(WordPress is built and maintained by a large community of web developers. Image source: WordPress.org)

As soon as any security issue is discovered by developers or users, the WordPress development team are then made aware of it …

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

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

The WordPress community support system is quite formidable and anyone can help contribute to the process of getting bugs fixed.

For example:

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

This is the reason why the WordPress community is constantly releasing new security 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 holes found

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

WordPress CMS 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 make the software more secure. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS platform is 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 100% 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 you a completely free CMS software that you can download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, there is valid research to support the fact 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 given period …

WordPress experiences fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

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

Other research indicates that, because WordPress is easy to use and update, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, WordPress sites had less exposure to risk …

BlogDefender.com - CMS Tests

(WordPress users are not as exposed to security risks as other CMS platform users. Image: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame WordPress When Things Go Wrong

Whenever WordPress sites are attacked en masse, don’t be too quick to blame WordPress.

According to security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, a large number of website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

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

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

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

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security-related issues result from website owners running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions.

(Many WordPress users have not updated their WordPress software. Screenshot image: 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 65% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WordPress Security Issues

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

Like many software applications, WordPress is updated regularly to deal with new security problems that can arise. Improving security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress site, themes, and plugins updated to the latest version.

WordPress … Good Enough For Banks To Use!

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

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

Other Issues Affecting WP Site Security

Other areas that can affect WordPress site security include:

  • No platform is safe from hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The biggest threat of all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security systems need constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Webhosting server setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting accounts are only as secure as the least safe website on the grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then all sites on the server are potentially vulnerable.

There Is No Reason To Avoid Choosing WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you implement basic web security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there is no reason why you should not use WordPress.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Useful Tips

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

A compromised site presents malicious users with a resource for launching denial of service attacks, spreading malware and engaging in information theft. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and bots. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are using older versions of WordPress remember to make a backup before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security risks. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore your website 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 automate your backup process here: Backup, Copy & Keep Your WP Websites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WP

Useful Information

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 build a better business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress 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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Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.