WordPress Security Explained

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

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

These attacks were caused by networks of infected computers programmed to attack other installations, also commonly known as “botnets”.

Being the world's most popular CMS makes WordPress a target for attempted hacking attacks

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

On March 11, 2014, technology sites began reporting that 162,000 WordPress web sites had been hacked.

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

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Screenshot: 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 described by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When attacks on WordPress sites happen, it’s natural for people to start asking if WordPress really is a secure software for building and running a business web presence.

WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system which makes it a natural target for attempted hacking attacks. But do you really need to be concerned about WordPress as being a secure platform for building your business presence online?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely choose WordPress if you have any concerns about website security.

Let’s start by looking at some facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is increasing on a daily basis, and things are 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 your website has been built with!

Since it’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone attempts to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

”Isn’t Open Source Software Vulnerable?”

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

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If anyone can study the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily get hold of all of the code and go through every single line in great detail, searching for security vulnerabilities in the code that can be exploited …

It's no longer a matter of if, but when before a malicious user tries 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 a free program and hackers can easily access it and study the code searching for holes or vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open software platform actually makes it a whole lot more secure in a number of ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by a huge 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 a community of hundreds of web developers worldwide.

(A huge community of thousands of web developers maintain and update. Image: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of a global community working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from thousands of individuals who, at any one time, are focused on improving the application, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

WordPress is built by a large community of volunteer members

(WordPress is built and maintained by a global community of volunteer members. Source: WordPress.org)

As soon as a security weakness is discovered by developers or users, the WordPress development team are then made aware of it …

WordPress is continually being improved by a huge community community of web developers and users

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by a global community community of web developers and users. Image: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anyone can help contribute to the process of addressing vulnerabilities.

For example:

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

This is the reason why WordPress releases new updates regularly, and why you need to keep your sites and blogs regularly maintained …

WordPress continually releases new updates to plug any security exploits found

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

Contrast the benefits of using an open source CMS technology 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 and advantages of using WordPress to run your site on a secure platform.

WordPress is 100% free to download, use and modify, and hundreds of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the software. Can a proprietary technology company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver users a completely free software that they can download, use and modify as they 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 to support the fact that the WordPress CMS is safer than other leading Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, here is one study showing the number of security vulnerabilities discovered in popular CMS platforms …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms

(WordPress experiences less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS platforms. Screenshot source: National Vulnerability Database)

Other research shows that, because WordPress is easy to use and keep up-to-date, when sites using 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. Screenshot source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The Technology

Whenever WordPress sites get subjected to brute-force attacks, users shouldn’t be quick to blame the WordPress CMS platform.

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

In fact, over 60% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t even know how their sites had been compromised by hackers after an attack …

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

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

Of immediate concern for WordPress users, is the fact that most security problems seem to be related to site owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

Many WordPress users have not updated their WP sites.

(Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions. Image: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined 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 …

WordPress Security Issues

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

Like many modern web applications, WordPress is updated regularly in order to address new security vulnerabilities that could arise. Improving software security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress.

WordPress … Secure Enough For Banks To Use!

The amount of misinformation online about WordPress security has even caused the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, to chime in and reply to posts online.

In a blog post 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 choose WordPress to build their presence online, including banks, large organizations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting Security

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

  • No platform is completely immune to hackers. 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 biggest security threat of all content management platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security systems need constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as safe as the least safe website on the hosting grid, so if another user has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then every site on that server becomes vulnerable.

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 security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their chosen technology platform) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly updated, there is no reason to avoid using WordPress to power your web site or blog.

Useful Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

A compromised website provides malicious users with a valuable resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your website to defraud online users. Blog Defender Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and botnets. Learn more about this plugin here: How To Prevent Malicious Cyber-Attacks On Your WP Websites From Hackers & Bots

If you are using outdated versions of WordPress make sure to back up your website fully before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your backup process here: Backup, Clone & Protect Your WP Sites With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

Important Info

Article References

The facts quoted in this article were referenced from various sources, including those listed below:

Hopefully, the above post has given you a better understanding of problems 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 website or blog please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles or tutorials are published.

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for beginners. Our detailed step-by-step tutorials will save you money and teach you how to start, manage, and grow a website or blog using WordPress that puts you in complete control and delivers results with no coding skills required!