WordPress Security Explained

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

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WordPress Security OverviewIn April 2013 a global brute-force attack struck WordPress installations on virtually every WP hosting server in existence.

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

Powering millions of sites worldwide makes WordPress a target for hacking

(WordPress often is targeted by hackers, due to its global popularity)

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

Thousands of websites are attacked every year! Will yours be one of them?

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 2014. Screenshot image: 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 flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyberattack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever brute force attacks on WordPress sites happen on a worldwide scale, it’s natural for people to question just how safe and secure WordPress is as a platform for building and running their sites.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers, due to its popularity. But do you really need to be concerned about WordPress as being 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 the facts …

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

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

It’s probably safe to assume that if you haven’t been hacked yet, then it’s only a matter of time … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s no longer a matter of if, but when before your website is targeted by hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

How Vulnerable Are “Open Source” Applications?

Some people will often try to argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running websites because it’s “open source” and freely available software program.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can view the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily download all of the code and go through it in detail, looking for security weaknesses that could be exploited …

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

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before someone will try 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 vulnerabilities and weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open platform actually makes it a lot more secure in a number of ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress is supported by a large community that consists of hundreds of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who are constantly working to help improve the software and make WordPress more secure …

With WordPress, a huge volunteer community of hundreds of developers is responsible for keeping the platform code maintained and updated.

(With WordPress, a large community of web developers is responsible for keeping the platform code up-to-date. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress continually evolves through the effort of thousands of committed individuals working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. It benefits from hundreds of minds committed to improving the application and making WordPress safer for every user …

The WordPress core software is built and maintained by a global community of contributors

(The WordPress core software is built by a global community of users. Screenshot: WordPress.org)

The moment any security vulnerabilities are discovered by developers or users, these are then noted in user forums and addressed by the WordPress development team …

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

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

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

For example:

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

This is why the WordPress team is constantly releasing new updates, and why you continually need to keep your site up-to-date …

WordPress continually releases new version updates to address security weaknesses

(WordPress continually releases new updates to plug security exploits)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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

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 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 CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, here is one study showing how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in popular platforms during a given period …

National Vulnerability Database - Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications

(WordPress experiences less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS applications. Source: National Vulnerability Database)

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

WordPress has fewer exposure to risk than other leading CMS applications

(WordPress is more secure than other leading CMS applications. Source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame WordPress When Things Go Wrong

If someone hacks into your WordPress site, don’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 website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with compromised web security.

In fact, over 60% of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t even know how their sites had been hacked after an attack …

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

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

Of more immediate concern for WordPress users, however, is the fact that many security-related problems come from site owners running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

Many WordPress users have not upgraded their WordPress software.

(Many WordPress users have not updated their WP sites. Image source: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are found in the WordPress CMS core, while 70% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WP Security Issues

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

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

WordPress Is Used By Many Security-Conscious Businesses!

The amount of misinformation 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, including banks, large organizations and e-commerce sites choose WordPress to build their presence online, not just bloggers.

Other Areas Affecting Security

Other research on issues that affect website security point to areas such as:

  • No platform is completely safe from hacking. 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 weakness in all web platforms seems to be the users themselves. For example, many users ignore strong password security practices.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security systems need frequent monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared hosting are only as safe as the least secure site on the hosting grid, so if someone else has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on that server can potentially become vulnerable to being hacked as well.

There’s No Reason Why You Should Not Choose WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you commit to implementing basic website security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there’s no reason to avoid using WordPress.

Tip

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks see this article:  How To Protect Your WordPress Site From Brute Force Attacks

An unsecured blog offers hackers with a resource to launch denial of service attacks, spread malware and use your site to steal information from innocent people. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to hackers and bots. Go here to learn more:

If you are using outdated versions of WordPress make sure you back up your WordPress website fully before updating your software to protect your site from the latest security risks. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your backup process here: Back Up, Duplicate And Keep Your WordPress Website Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WP

Important Info

Article References

The above facts were sourced from the following sites:

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress please see our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles or tutorials are published.

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Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.