WordPress Security Explained

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

WP SecurityIn April 2013 a worldwide brute force attack began hitting WordPress installations across almost every web host in existence.

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

Being the world's most popular content management system makes WordPress an obvious target for hacking

(Powering millions of websites and blogs worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for malicious attempts by hackers)

In March 2014, many technology sites reported that 160,000+ WordPress websites had been hacked.

Thousands of websites are attacked every year! Could yours be next?

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Image: 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 are reported in the media, it’s natural for people to start asking just how secure the WordPress platform is for building and running a business web presence.

WordPress powers millions of sites worldwide, making it a frequent target for hacking attempts. But do you 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 at all concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with the facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is massive, and it’s getting worse.

It’s safe to assume that if you haven’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 not a matter of if, but when before a malicious user will attempt to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

”How Can Open Source Software Applications Be Secured?”

Many people will often argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running a website or blog 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 view the software code.

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

It's no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website is targeted by malicious hackers ... WordPress or no WordPress!

(It’s no longer 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 free and hackers can easily access it and study the code looking for holes and vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it a lot more secure in many ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of a global community consisting of hundreds of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a large community of volunteers around the world is responsible for keeping the platform code up-to-date.

(WordPress is built, maintained and updated by a huge community of developers. Screenshot: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of thousands of committed individuals working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from thousands of minds dedicated to improving the code and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

WordPress is built by an open community of web developers

(The WordPress core software is built and maintained by an open community of volunteers. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

The moment that any security problem is discovered by developers or users, the WordPress developers are then notified …

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

(WordPress is continually being improved by an open community of users and web developers. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

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

For example:

  • If you come across bugs and a security exploit, you can report these by notifying security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find issues in a WP 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 need to keep your site regularly updated …

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug security vulnerabilities

(WordPress continually releases new updates to plug security vulnerabilities)

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

Compare what we have just discussed above with proprietary CMS platforms where often the responsibility for improving software security, fixing bugs, etc. falls to a small team of developers with limited resources and you will very quickly realize the security benefits of using WordPress to run your business web presence on a secure platform.

The WordPress CMS is 100% free to download, use and modify, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the platform. Can a proprietary technology 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 CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management applications, there is valid research to support the fact that the WordPress CMS is safer than other Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in each of these platforms during a certain period …

WordPress has fewer security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications

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

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

WordPress has a significant degree of less exposure to risk than other CMS platforms

(Blog Defender – CMS Tests. Source: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Is Not At Fault

When WordPress sites are subjected to brute-force attacks, you shouldn’t be too quick to place the blame on the WordPress CMS platform.

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“, most webmasters are not fully aware of the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with compromises.

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

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

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

Of more immediate concern is the fact that many security problems seem to be related to users simply not upgrading their WordPress software to a newer version …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their WP software.

(Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress 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 core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by 3rd-party developers …

WP Security Issues

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

Like many modern web platforms, WordPress is updated regularly to deal with new security risks that may arise. Improving security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress.

WordPress … Good Enough For Banks To Use!

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

In an article 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 use WordPress to build their websites, including banks, large organizations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors That Can Affect Site Security

Other areas that can affect website security include:

  • No platform is safe from hackers. As many as 90% of all websites across all platforms are vulnerable to attack, mostly due to software that is out of date.
  • The biggest security weakness in all content management systems seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant system monitoring. All security systems need to be frequently monitored, tested, updated and improved.
  • Server setup. For example, sites on shared hosting servers are only as secure as the least secure site on the grid, so if another user on your shared server gets their site broken into, then every site on your server can potentially become vulnerable to being hacked also.

There Is No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is as secure as most of the leading web platforms being used by businesses of all sizes to build their presence online. As long as you remember to implement basic web security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there’s really no reason not to choose WordPress.


WordPress Security – Tips

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

A vulnerable blog provides malicious users with a valuable platform for distributed attacks, spreading malware and engaging in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress makes your WordPress site invisible to botnet and hacker attacks. Learn more about it here:

If you are using outdated versions of WordPress remember to 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 perform manual backups, there are many free and paid WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Clone & Protect Your WordPress Website With Backup Creator WP Plugin

Useful Info

Article References

The facts quoted above were referenced from various online sources, including those listed below:

Hopefully, the above post has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better business results online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please see our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.


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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.