WordPress Security Explained

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

WP Security BasicsIn 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack began hitting WordPress installations on virtually every web host in existence around the world.

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

WordPress powers millions of sites worldwide, making it a natural target for attacks by hackers

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

On March 11, 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com reported that over 160,000+ WordPress web sites 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 March 2014. 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)

As described by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a well-known flaw to attack unsuspecting WP websites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever attacks on WordPress sites increase in frequency, it’s natural for people to start asking if WordPress really is a safe software for building and running an online presence.

Being the world’s most used CMS makes WordPress an obvious target for attempted hacking attacks. But should you 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 by looking at some 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 rising, and this is only going to get 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 does attempt to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform you use!

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

Is “Open Source” Software Secure?

Many people will often try to argue that WordPress cannot be a safe platform for building and running web sites because its “open source” code is freely available.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can study the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily obtain the code and go through all of it in detail, searching for security vulnerabilities in the code that can be exploited …

It's not a matter of if, but when before someone will attempt to hack your website ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s not a matter of if, but 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 access it and study 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 platform actually makes it more secure in a number of ways.

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

With WordPress, a community of developers is responsible for keeping the code updated.

(With WordPress, a large community of thousands of web developers is responsible for keeping the core application code updated. Screenshot source: WordPress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of thousands of committed individuals working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from hundreds of individuals committed to improving the software, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built by an open community of users

(The WordPress core software is built and maintained by a large community of contributors. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as a security hole is discovered 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 upon by thousands of committed individuals community of web developers and users. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is solid and formidable and anybody can contribute to fixing the software.

For example:

  • If you find bugs or a security weakness, you can report these by emailing security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a plugin, you can also report these by emailing plugins@wordpress.org.

This is one of the reasons why the core development team is constantly releasing new security updates, and why you continually need to keep your WordPress site updated …

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug security vulnerabilities

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary Platforms

We’ve just seen that one of the security advantages of using an open source platform like WordPress is that users benefit from a large community of developers who continually contribute to improve platform security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS platform is built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, maintenance services, bug fixes and updates.

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

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, research shows that the WordPress CMS is safer than other leading Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, here is one study showing how many security vulnerabilities were found in popular open source CMS platforms …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications

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

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

WordPress is safer to use than other leading CMS applications

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

It’s Not WordPress’ Fault

If someone hacks into your WordPress site, don’t be too quick to blame WordPress.

According to security vendor Commtouch and StopBadware, a nonprofit organization that helps webmasters identify, remediate and prevent website compromises 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 how to deal with compromised web security.

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

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

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

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

Many WordPress users have not updated their sites.

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

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only between 20% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

WP Security Issues

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

Like many modern web applications, WordPress is regularly updated in order to address new security problems that may arise. Improving security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress site, plugins, and themes up-to-date.

WordPress Is Secure – Just Ask Any Bank Using It!

The amount of misinformation about WordPress security has even led the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime into the 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, including banks, large organizations and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Factors That Can Affect WordPress Blog Security

Other issues that can affect security include things such as:

  • No platform is safe from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The biggest security threat in all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. Security systems require frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Webhosting server setup. For example, websites on shared hosting accounts are only as secure as the least safe site on the hosting grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on the shared server is potentially vulnerable to hacking also.

There Is No Reason Not To Use WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is as secure as most other leading web platforms being used by businesses to build their presence online. As long as you implement basic security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their chosen technology platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there is no reason to avoid choosing WordPress.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

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

A compromised blog provides malicious users with a resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and botnets. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an older version of WordPress make sure you back up your site fully before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security threats. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore.

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 fully automate your backup process here: Backup, Copy & Protect Your WP Website With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Important

References Used In This Article

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

Hopefully, the above information has given you 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 WordPress for a business website please see other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.

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"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)

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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 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.