WordPress Security Explained

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

WordPress Security BasicsIn April 2013, WordPress installations around the world were subjected to a global-scale brute force attack.

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

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

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

In March 2014, many leading technology sites began reporting that 162,000 WordPress-powered websites 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 early 2014. Screenshot image: BlogDefender site)

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 sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber-attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When brute-force attacks on WordPress sites gain attention worldwide, it’s natural for website owners to ask if WordPress really is a secure application for building and running their websites.

WordPress is frequently the target of attacks by hackers. 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 definitely use WordPress if you are concerned 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 rising, and things are only going to get 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 before someone attempts 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 is targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Is “Open Source” Secure?

Some people often argue that WordPress cannot be a safe platform for running a website or blog because having open source code means that anyone can view how the application works.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If anyone can examine the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily download the code and go through it in detail, searching for security holes that could be exploited …

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

(It’s no longer 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 a free program and hackers can easily go through the code searching for weaknesses or vulnerabilities they can exploit (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 is supported by a volunteer community comprised of thousands of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help to improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

An open volunteer community build and maintain.

(With WordPress, a huge volunteer community of thousands of web developers is responsible for keeping the software platform updated. Image source: WordPress.org)

WordPress evolves largely through the effort of a huge community working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from hundreds of minds dedicated to improving the application, identifying and fixing security issues and making WordPress safer for every user …

WordPress is built and maintained by a large community of users

(WordPress is built by a global community of contributors. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

The moment any security weaknesses are identified by developers or users, these are immediately noted in user forums and addressed by the WordPress core development team …

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

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

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is quite formidable and anyone can contribute to the process of getting vulnerabilities plugged.

For example:

  • If you come across bugs and security vulnerabilities, you can report these by notifying security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WP 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 site regularly maintained …

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

(WordPress continually releases new updates to address security holes)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

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 code security. By contrast, proprietary or “closed-source” CMS applications are built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, support, bug fixes and software fixes.

WordPress is 100% free to download, use and modify, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the technology. Can a proprietary CMS 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 Applications

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, there is valid research to support the fact that WordPress is safer than other 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 platforms during a certain period …

WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS platforms

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

Other studies also indicate that, because WordPress is easy to use and keep updated, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites run on WordPress had a significant degree of less exposure to risk …

WordPress has fewer exposure to risk than other leading CMS platforms

(BlogDefender.com – CMS Tests. Image: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The Platform

Whenever WordPress sites get attacked, you shouldn’t be quick to place the blame on the WordPress CMS platform.

According to security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, many website owners are not fully aware of the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or deal with web security compromises.

In fact, over sixty percent of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t even know how their websites had been hacked after an attack …

Many webmasters don't even know how their sites got hacked.

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

Of immediate concern for WordPress users, is the fact that most security-related problems result from users running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many WordPress users have not updated their software.

(Many WordPress sites use outdated versions. Image: Sucuri.net)

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

WP Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Source: WebDesign.org)

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

WordPress … Secure Enough For Banks To Use!

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

In a blog post 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, including banks, leading brands and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their web presence, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting Security

Other studies on issues that play a role in website security point to factors such as:

  • No platform is completely safe from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to using software that is out of date.
  • The main security threat of all content management systems seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security processes need to be frequently monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting are only as safe as the least safe site on the grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on that shared server is potentially vulnerable to being hacked also.

There’s No Reason To Avoid Choosing WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic web security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t choose WordPress to drive your website or blog.

Useful Tip

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

An unsecured site offers hackers with a valuable platform to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress Sites makes your WordPress site invisible to bots and hackers. Learn more about it here:

If you are using outdated WordPress versions make sure you back up everything 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 back up your site manually, there are many WordPress plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your site backups here: Back Up, Duplicate And Protect Your WP Web Site With Backup Creator WP Plugin

Useful Information

References Used In This Article

The statistics quoted above were sourced from the following sites:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website please see other posts we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.


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Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.