WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security OverviewIn April 2013 a global brute force attack hit WordPress installations on virtually every WP host server in existence.

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

WordPress is the world's most used CMS which makes it an obvious target for hacking attacks

(WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS which makes it a frequent target for attempted attacks by malicious users)

On March 11, 2014, many technology sites began reporting that over 162,000 legitimate WordPress-powered web sites had been hacked.

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 2014. Screenshot: Blog Defender)

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 WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (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 secure software for running their sites.

Powering millions of websites worldwide makes WordPress a target for attacks by malicious users. 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 consider using 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 worldwide is massive, and things are getting 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 your website has been built with!

Since it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website is targeted by hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Are “Open Source” Software Applications Safe?

Many people will often try and argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running a web presence because it’s an “open source” and freely available program.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can study the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily download the code and study every line in detail, looking for holes and weaknesses in the code that they could exploit …

It's no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before a malicious user tries 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 vulnerabilities and weaknesses that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any software), 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 comprised of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

A global community is responsible for building and updating WordPress.

(A global community of hundreds of web developers build and maintain. Source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress continually evolves largely through the effort of thousands of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix issues. Everyone benefits from hundreds of web developers, designers and users committed to improving the application, fixing bugs and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

WordPress is built and maintained by an open community of volunteer web developers

(WordPress is built and maintained by a global community of contributors. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

The moment any security issues are discovered by developers or users, the WordPress development team are then made aware of it …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved by thousands of committed individuals community of developers and users. Image: WordPress.org)

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

For example:

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

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

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

(WordPress frequently releases new version updates to plug security vulnerabilities)

WordPress Vs Proprietary Applications

We’ve just seen that one of the security advantages of using an ”open” platform like WordPress is that users benefit from a large community of developers who continually contribute to make the platform more secure. 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 software fixes.

The WordPress CMS is free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the software. Can a proprietary technology 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 Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

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 Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows the number of security vulnerabilities discovered in popular CMS platforms …

WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other CMS applications

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

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

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

(WordPress is more secure than other CMS applications. Screenshot image: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame WordPress

When WordPress sites are attacked en masse, don’t be quick to blame 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“, 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 security compromises.

In fact, over sixty percent of webmasters surveyed for the 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.

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

Of more immediate concern is the fact that many security issues seem to be related to website owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many WordPress users have not updated their WP software.

(Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions. Source: 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 actually found in the WordPress core software, while 70% – 75% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by third-party developers …

WordPress Security Issues

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

Like all robust software platforms, WordPress is updated regularly in order to deal with new security vulnerabilities that could arise. Improving security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress.

WordPress … Secure Enough For Banks To Use!

The amount of misinformation about WordPress security has even caused Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, to chime into the online debate.

In a post entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” published on April 15, 2015, Matt wrote the following about WordPress security …

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 choose WordPress to build their websites, including banks, leading brands, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Issues That Can Affect Blog Security

Other issues that can affect security include:

  • No platform is completely safe from hacking. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to using software that is out of date.
  • The biggest security vulnerability in all content management systems seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security processes need to be regularly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as secure as the least secure website on the hosting grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on the shared server becomes vulnerable to hacking as well.

There’s No Reason To Avoid Choosing WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there’s no reason not to choose WordPress to run your website or blog.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  Preventing WordPress Brute Force Attacks

A compromised website presents hackers with a resource for launching distributed attacks, spreading malware and engaging in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and bots. Go here to learn more:

If you are using older WordPress versions make sure to back up everything 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 things back to their former settings.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are many WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your site backups here: Back Up, Clone And Protect Your WordPress Web Sites With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Useful Information

References Used In This Article

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

Hopefully, this post has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business website please see other posts published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new content is 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.