WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security BasicsIn early 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack began hitting WordPress installations across almost every web host in existence around the world.

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

WordPress powers millions of websites worldwide, which makes it a target for hackers

(Powering millions of websites around the world makes WordPress a target for hacker attacks)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites began reporting that over 160,000+ legitimate WordPress-powered websites had been hacked.

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 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 flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber-attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever attacks on WordPress sites are reported in the media, it’s natural for website owners to start asking just how safe and secure WordPress is as an application for building and running their websites.

WordPress is the world’s most used CMS making it an obvious target for attempted hacker attacks. But do you really 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 use WordPress if you have any concerns about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with some 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 things are getting worse.

You can safely 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 not 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 Vulnerable Are “Open Source” Programs?

Many people argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for running a web presence because it’s a freely available open source software.

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 using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can access the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily obtain all of the code and go through every line, searching for vulnerabilities in the code that they could exploit …

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!

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before someone tries 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 holes or vulnerabilities that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any software), the fact that WordPress is a free, open software platform actually makes it more secure in many ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by a huge community consisting of thousands of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help to improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, an open community of web developers worldwide is responsible for keeping the software code up-to-date.

(With WordPress, a community of hundreds of developers is responsible for keeping the core application code maintained and updated. Screenshot: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves largely through the effort of hundreds of committed individuals working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from thousands of minds committed to improving the application and making it safer for every user …

WordPress is built by an open community of web developers

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

The moment any security problems are identified by developers or users, the WordPress core development team are then notified …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved by an open community of users and developers. Screenshot source: make.wordpress.org)

The WordPress community support system is solid and formidable and anybody can contribute to the improvement of the software.

For example:

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

This is why WordPress releases new security updates so frequently, and why you continually need to keep your site up-to-date …

WordPress continually releases new updates to plug any security vulnerabilities found

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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

The WordPress CMS 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 users a completely free platform that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source Platforms

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, 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 the number of security vulnerabilities found in each of these open source platforms during a certain period …

WordPress has less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

(WordPress experiences fewer security vulnerabilities than other CMS applications. Screenshot: National Vulnerability Database)

Other studies indicate that, because WordPress is easy to use and keep updated, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security issues, WordPress sites had significantly less exposure to risk …

WordPress is safer to use than other CMS platforms

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

The WordPress CMS Is Not To Blame

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

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 are not fully aware of the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

In fact, over sixty percent of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t know how their websites were compromised by hackers after an attack …

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

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

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

Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions.

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

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by 3rd-party developers …

WP Security Issues

(WP Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like many web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to address new security issues that could arise. Improving security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress software, plugins, and themes updated to the latest version.

WordPress Is Used By Many Security-Conscious Businesses!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even led the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, 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, leading brands and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their websites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors That Can Affect Site Security

Other research on issues that affect WordPress security point to factors such as:

  • No platform is immune to hacking. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to software that is out of date.
  • The main vulnerability in all web platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring strong password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security systems need to be frequently monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared hosting accounts are only as secure as the least secure site on the hosting grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on the server can potentially become vulnerable.

There’s No Reason Why You Shouldn’t Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly updated, there is really no reason not to choose WordPress.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  How To Protect Your WordPress Site Or Blog From Brute Force Attacks

A compromised blog offers malicious users with a valuable platform for launching denial of service attacks, spreading malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to bots and hackers. Learn more about it here:

If you are using older WordPress versions remember to back up your site fully 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 settings.

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

Important

References

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you expand your business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using the WP content management platform 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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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the owner of WPCompendium.org and the author of The WordPress User Manual. 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.