WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security BasicsIn April 2013 a worldwide brute force attack began hitting WordPress installations on virtually every web host in existence.

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

WordPress is the world's most used CMS which makes it a target for hackers

(WordPress powers millions of websites and blogs worldwide, making it an obvious target for hacking attacks)

On March 11, 2014, many leading technology sites began reporting that 162,000 WordPress web sites had been hacked.

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Image source: BlogDefender site)

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

Whenever global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to ask if WordPress really is a safe application for building and running an online presence.

Being the world’s most used content management system makes WordPress an obvious target for attempted hacker attacks. But should you really be concerned about WordPress as being a secure web platform?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should choose WordPress if you have any concerns about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at some facts …

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

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is massive, and it’s getting worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time before someone does attempt to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s not a matter of if, but when before someone tries to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

The “Open Source” Software Argument

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

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can access the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily get hold of the code and go through it in detail, looking for security weaknesses in the code that they could exploit …

It's not a matter of if, but when before a malicious user attempts to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before a malicious user will attempt to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is free and hackers can easily go through the code looking for security vulnerabilities or weaknesses they can exploit (hackers can do the same with any software program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open application actually makes it more secure in a number of ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by an open volunteer community of hundreds of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a huge community of developers around the world.

(A large volunteer community of web developers build and maintain. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of a global community working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from hundreds of web developers, designers and users committed to improving the software, identifying and fixing security holes and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

WordPress is built by a global community of volunteer members

(The WordPress core software is built by a large community of volunteer web developers. Image source: WordPress.org)

As soon as any security vulnerabilities are discovered by developers or users, the WordPress core development team are then notified …

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

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

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anybody can contribute to the process of getting vulnerabilities plugged.

For example:

  • If you come across bugs and a security issue, you can report these by emailing security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WP plugin, you can report these by emailing plugins@wordpress.org.

This is why the WordPress team releases new updates on a regular basis, and why you need to keep your sites and blogs frequently up-to-date …

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug any security exploits found

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

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS 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 make the software more secure. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS platform would normally be developed 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, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the technology. Can a proprietary CMS 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 Platforms

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 to support the fact that WordPress is safer than other leading Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in popular open source platforms during a given period …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

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

Other studies show that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and maintain, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security issues, WordPress sites had fewer exposure to risk …

WordPress is safer to use than other CMS platforms

(WordPress has less exposure to risk than other CMS applications. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Should Not Be Blamed

Whenever WordPress sites are subjected to brute-force attacks, you shouldn’t be 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 are not fully aware of the threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

In fact, 63% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t even know how their sites were hacked after an attack …

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

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

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

Many WordPress users have not updated their WordPress software.

(Many WordPress users have not upgraded their software. Screenshot image: 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 actually found in the WordPress core software, while 65% – 75% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WP Security Issues

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

Like many modern software platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to deal with new security vulnerabilities that may 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 Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, 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 around the world, including banks, leading brands and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting WP Site Security

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

  • No platform is protected from hacking. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to using software that is out of date.
  • The biggest security risk in all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. All security processes require regular monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Hosting setup. For example, sites on shared hosting servers are only as safe as the least safe website on the grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site hacked into, then all sites on that server can potentially become vulnerable to being hacked also.

There’s No Reason Why You Should Not Use WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, 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 commit to implementing basic web security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there’s really no reason why you should not choose WordPress for your website or blog.

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 Prevent Brute Force Attacks On WordPress

A vulnerable web site provides hackers with a valuable resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your website to defraud others. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to attacks from hackers and bots. Go here to learn more:

If you are using outdated versions of WordPress make sure to make a backup 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 state.

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

Important

References

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues 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 for a business website please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.

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"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.