WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security OverviewIn early 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to a worldwide brute force attack.

These attacks were caused by infected computer networks programmed to attack other installations (botnets).

Being the world's most used content management system makes WordPress a target for hacking attacks

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

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

Thousands of websites are attacked every year! Could your website be next?

(Over 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)

According to leading security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress websites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever brute force attacks on WordPress sites are reported in the media, it’s natural for people to question just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for building and running their websites.

Being the world’s most popular content management system makes WordPress an obvious target for attempted attacks by malicious users. But do you really need to 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 definitely use WordPress if you are concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with some facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and the situation is only going to get worse.

It’s 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 you use!

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

”Isn’t Open Source Software Vulnerable?”

Some people will often argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running web sites because its “open source” code is freely available.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can examine the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily get hold of the code and go through every single line in detail, searching for security vulnerabilities that can be exploited …

It's no longer a matter of if, but when before a malicious user will attempt to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before someone will attempt to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is a free program and hackers can easily access it and study the code looking for security weaknesses and vulnerabilities that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open platform actually makes it a lot more secure in many ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of a large community comprised 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 developers around the world is responsible for keeping the code updated.

(With WordPress, the software platform is built, maintained and updated by a community of thousands of volunteers around the world. Image: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of a global community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. It benefits from thousands of minds committed to improving the application, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

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

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

As soon as security problems are discovered by developers or users, these are normally reported in user forums and addressed by the WordPress development team …

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

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

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anyone can help contribute to the improvement of the platform.

For example:

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

This is why the WordPress community is constantly releasing new security updates, and why you continually need to keep your WordPress site frequently updated …

WordPress frequently releases new updates to address security weaknesses

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

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary Platforms

Compare the benefits of using an open source CMS platform like WordPress with proprietary technologies where often a smaller team with limited time and resources is responsible for developing, monitoring and maintaining software security, fixing bugs, etc., and you will very quickly realize the value of using WordPress to run your website or blog on a secure platform.

WordPress is free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the software. Can a proprietary CMS company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver users a completely free software that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, there is valid research to support the fact that the WordPress CMS is actually safer than other leading Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

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

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications

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

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

WordPress is more secure than other leading CMS applications

(Blog Defender – CMS Tests. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame WordPress

Whenever WordPress sites are subjected to brute-force attacks, don’t be quick to blame WordPress.

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

In fact, over 60% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t know how their sites had been compromised by hackers after an attack …

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

(Many webmasters don’t even know how their sites got hacked. Screenshot image: StopBadware.org)

Of more immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to site owners running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their WordPress software.

(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 around between 25% – 30% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally …

WordPress Security Issues

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

Like many web platforms, WordPress is updated regularly to deal with new security threats that may arise. Improving software security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress software, plugins, and themes updated to the latest version.

WordPress Is Secure – Just Ask Any Bank Using It!

The amount of misinformation online about how secure WordPress is has even led the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime into the online discussion.

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

Other Factors That Can Affect WP Site Security

Other research on issues that play a role in WordPress security point to areas such as:

  • No platform is completely immune to hacking. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to software that is out of date.
  • The biggest weakness in all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. All security systems require regular monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting are only as safe as the least safe site on the hosting grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then all sites on the server are potentially vulnerable.

There’s No Reason Not To Use WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic website security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their technology platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there is no reason to avoid using WordPress.

Useful 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 vulnerable site provides malicious users with a valuable platform to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and use your site to steal information from others. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to malicious attacks from hackers and bots. Go here to learn more:

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

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of free and paid plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your site backups here: Back Up, Copy And Keep Your WP Site Protected With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Important Info

References Used In This Article

The statistics quoted above were referenced from various online sources, including those listed below:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit other articles published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles or tutorials are published.


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Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.