WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress SecurityIn April 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to a worldwide brute force attack.

These attacks were caused by networks of infected computers programmed to attack other vulnerable computers (called “botnets”).

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

(Powering millions of websites and blogs worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for hacking attempts)

In March 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com reported that 160,000+ WordPress-powered websites had been hacked.

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 2014. Screenshot image: 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 flaw to attack unsuspecting WP sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever worldwide brute-force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to ask if WordPress really is a secure platform for running their websites.

Powering millions of websites around the world makes WordPress a target for attempted attacks by hackers. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as a secure platform for building your business presence online?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely consider using WordPress if you are at all 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 sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is massive, and the situation is getting worse.

It’s safe to assume that if your website or blog hasn’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time before someone attempts to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform your website has been built with!

Since it’s no longer a matter of if, but when before a malicious user attempts 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 and argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running a business online because its “open source” code is freely available.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can view the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily download the code and study it in detail, looking for security weaknesses in the code that they could exploit …

It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website is targeted by malicious hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is free to download and hackers can easily go through the code searching for holes or weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software), the fact that WordPress is a free, open software platform actually makes it more secure in several ways.

This is because WordPress has the support of a huge volunteer community of thousands of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

A large community is responsible for maintaining and updating the WordPress software platform.

(WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a global community of developers. Image source: 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 minds who are dedicated to improving the software and making it safer for every user …

WordPress is built by a large community of volunteer web developers

(The WordPress core software is built by an open community of volunteers. Screenshot image: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as any security hole is identified by developers or users, the WordPress core developers are then made aware of it …

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

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

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

For example:

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

This is the reason why the WordPress community is constantly releasing new updates, and why you need to keep your WordPress site regularly maintained …

WordPress frequently releases new version updates to address security issues

(WordPress continually releases new version updates to address 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 improve platform security. By contrast, proprietary or “closed-source” CMS platforms are built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, maintenance services, bug fixes and updates.

The WordPress CMS is 100% free to download, modify and use, and hundreds of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the platform. Can a proprietary CMS company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver users a completely free CMS platform that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Platforms

CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, there is valid research showing that WordPress is 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 popular CMS platforms …

WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

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

Other research indicates that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and to keep up-to-date, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security issues, sites built with WordPress had fewer exposure to risk …

WordPress is more secure than other CMS platforms

(WordPress users are less exposed to risks than other CMS platform users. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame WordPress

If someone breaks into your WordPress site, don’t be too quick to place the blame on WordPress.

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

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

Most webmasters don't even know how their websites got hacked.

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

Of more immediate concern for WordPress users, is the fact that most security-related issues arise from website owners not upgrading their CMS software to a newer version …

Many security issues come from sites running an outdated WordPress version.

(Many WordPress sites use outdated versions. Screenshot: 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 third-party code are actually found in the WordPress core software, while 65% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WordPress Security Issues

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

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

WordPress Is Used By Many Security-Conscious Businesses!

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

Other Areas Affecting Security

Other areas that can affect WordPress blog security include:

  • No platform is protected from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to using outdated software.
  • The biggest vulnerability of all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security processes need constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Webhosting setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting are only as secure as the least secure site on the grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on your server can potentially become vulnerable to hacking as well.

There Is No Reason Why You Shouldn’t Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic website security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly updated, there is really no reason why you should not choose WordPress for your web site or blog.


WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

A vulnerable blog provides malicious users with a valuable resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to bots and hackers. Learn more about it here:

If you are using outdated versions of WordPress remember to make a complete backup before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore your website to its former configuration.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are many free and paid plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your site backups here: Backup, Clone & Keep Your WordPress Website Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress


Article References

For more information on the above, see the following sources:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please see our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles or tutorials are published.


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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.