WordPress Security Explained

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

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

These attacks were caused by infected computer networks programmed to attack other vulnerable sites, also commonly known as “botnets”.

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

(WordPress is frequently the target of malicious attacks by hackers, due to its popularity)

On March 11, 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com began reporting that over 160,000+ legitimate WordPress sites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites and blogs are hacked every year! Could your website be next?

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Screenshot: 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 sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever worldwide attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to start asking just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for building and running their sites.

WordPress powers millions of websites around the world, which makes it a target for hackers. But should you really 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 use WordPress if you have any concerns about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with the facts …

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

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and this is only going to get worse.

It’s safe to assume that if you haven’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 no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

”Isn’t Open Source Software Extremely Vulnerable?”

Many people will often try and argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for running a web presence because it is “open source” and freely available software program.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If everyone can access the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily get hold of all of the code and study every single line, looking for vulnerabilities that could be exploited …

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

(It’s not 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 a free program and hackers can easily access it and study the code searching for holes and vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open application actually makes it a lot more secure in many ways.

This is because WordPress has the support of a huge volunteer community consisting of hundreds of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help to improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

WordPress is built, maintained and updated by an open community of hundreds of volunteers.

(With WordPress, a community of thousands of volunteers worldwide is responsible for keeping the platform up-to-date. Image: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves because of the effort of hundreds of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from hundreds of minds who are dedicated to improving the software, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

WordPress is built by an open community of contributors

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

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

WordPress is continually being improved upon by thousands of committed individuals community of web developers and users

(WordPress is continually being improved by thousands of committed individuals community of users and web developers. Screenshot image: make.wordpress.org)

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anybody can help contribute to the improvement of the software.

For example:

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

This is one of the reasons why the core development team releases new version updates so often, and why you continually need to keep your site frequently updated …

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

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

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

Contrast the benefits of using an open source CMS platform like WordPress with proprietary CMS technologies where often the responsibility for improving software security, fixing bugs, etc. falls to a smaller team of developers with limited resources and you will very quickly understand the value of using WordPress to run your web presence on a secure platform.

The WordPress CMS is free to download, modify and use, and thousands 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 CMS Vs Other Open Source CMS Applications

CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, the chart below shows the number of security vulnerabilities found in each of these CMS platforms …

WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

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

Other studies show that, because WordPress is easy to use and maintain, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites built with WordPress had less exposure to risk …

WordPress is more secure than other leading CMS platforms

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

WordPress Should Not Be Blamed

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

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 compromised web security.

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

Many webmasters don't know how their websites got hacked.

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

Of more immediate concern is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to users running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many WordPress users have not updated their WordPress software.

(Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions. Image source: 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 created by 3rd-party developers …

WP Security Issues

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

Like all robust web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to address new security risks that could arise. Improving software security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress site, plugins, and themes up-to-date.

WordPress … Secure Enough For Banks To Use!

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” posted 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, global corporations and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their presence online, not just bloggers.

Other Areas Affecting Website Security

Other issues that can affect site security include:

  • No platform is completely protected from security threats. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to being attacked, mostly due to outdated software.
  • The biggest security risk of 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 systems need to be regularly monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Webhosting setup. For example, sites on shared webhosting accounts are only as secure as the least secure site on the grid, so if someone else has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on the server can potentially become vulnerable to being hacked as well.

There’s No Reason Not To Use WordPress

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

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Useful Tips

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

An unsecured site offers hackers with a resource to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and botnets. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are currently using an outdated WordPress version make sure to make a complete backup 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.

If you don’t want to back up your site 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 backup process here: Back Up, Clone And Keep Your WP Site Protected With Backup Creator WP Plugin

Info

References

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your website 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 click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.

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Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.