WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security OverviewIn 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to worldwide brute force attacks.

These attacks were caused by computers infected with malware and programmed to attack other vulnerable sites (called “botnets”).

WordPress is the world's most popular CMS making it a target for hacker attacks

(WordPress often is targeted by hackers, due to its popularity)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com reported that 160,000+ WordPress sites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites 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.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 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.

When brute force attacks on WordPress sites seem to increase, it’s natural for people to start asking if WordPress really is a secure application for building and running their websites.

WordPress often is targeted by hackers, due to its global popularity. 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 concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at some facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is rising, and it’s getting worse.

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

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

How Vulnerable Are “Open Source” Software Applications?

Many people will often try and argue that WordPress is not a secure platform for building and running a business online because its open source code means that anyone can view how the software program was built.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If everyone can examine the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily download the code and go through every single line, searching for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the code that could be exploited …

It's no longer a matter of if, but when before someone tries to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

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

While it’s true that WordPress is a free program and hackers can easily go through the code searching for security holes or weaknesses that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source software platform actually makes it a whole lot more secure in several ways.

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

A large volunteer community of hundreds of developers worldwide is responsible for maintaining and updating the WordPress platform.

(A global community is responsible for maintaining and updating WordPress. Image: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress continually evolves through the effort of thousands of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from thousands of web developers, designers and users dedicated to improving the software and making WordPress safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built by a large community of experienced web developers

(The WordPress core software is built by an open community of users. Image: WordPress.org)

The moment that any security weakness is discovered by developers or users, the WordPress core developers are then made aware of it …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved by an open community of developers and users. Source: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is very responsive and anybody can contribute to the process of fixing security issues.

For example:

  • If you come across bugs and security issues, you can report these by notifying 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 releases new version updates so frequently, and why you need to keep your WordPress site up-to-date …

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug any security holes found

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

WordPress CMS 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, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS application would normally be developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, support, bug fixes and software fixes.

WordPress is free to download, use and modify, and thousands 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 software that is 100% free to download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Applications

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, research shows that the WordPress CMS is actually safer than other Open Source CMS platforms such as Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in popular CMS platforms …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

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

Other research indicates that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and maintain, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites run on WordPress had fewer exposure to risk …

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

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

It’s Easier To Blame Technology When Things Go Wrong

Whenever WordPress sites are subjected to brute-force attacks, don’t be quick to place the blame on the WordPress CMS platform.

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” published by a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises called StopBadware and security vendor Commtouch, most webmasters have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to properly secure a website, or how to deal with compromised web security.

In fact, 63% of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t even know how their websites had been compromised after an attack …

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

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

Of more immediate concern for WordPress users, however, is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to users forgetting to update their CMS software to a newer version …

Many WordPress sites use outdated versions.

(Many WordPress users have not updated their WP software. Screenshot: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress CMS core, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WP Security Issues

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

Like many software applications, WordPress is regularly updated in order to deal with new security threats that may arise. Improving software security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress software, themes, plugins, etc..

WordPress Is Secure – Just Ask Any Bank Using It!

The amount of misinformation online about how secure WordPress is has even caused Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, 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 use WordPress to build their websites, including banks, large organizations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Areas That Can Affect Site Security

Other issues that can affect blog security include:

  • No platform is completely protected from security threats. 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 main threat of all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. All security systems need frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Webhosting server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as safe as the least safe site on the hosting grid, so if someone else on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on that shared server can potentially become vulnerable to hacking as well.

There’s No Reason Not To Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you continue to implement basic web security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly updated, there is no reason not to use WordPress to run your web site or blog.


WordPress Security – Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute-force attacks see this article:  WordPress Brute Force Attack Prevention Measures

A vulnerable web site offers malicious users with a platform for distributed attacks, spreading malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress Websites & Blogs makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and botnets. Learn more about it here:

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

If you don’t want to back up your files manually, there are a number of free and paid WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Back Up, Duplicate & Keep Your WP Web Site Protected With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Important Info

Article References

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

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about using the WP software please see our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are published.


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Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.