WordPress Security Explained

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

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

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

Powering millions of sites around the world makes WordPress a target for attempted attacks by malicious users

(WordPress powers millions of websites and blogs worldwide, which makes it a natural target for hackers)

In March 2014, technology sites like Cnet.com reported that 162,000 WordPress sites had been hacked.

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

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Screenshot: BlogDefender website)

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 website owners to start asking if WordPress really is a secure platform for building and running a business web presence.

WordPress is often the target of malicious attacks by hackers, due to its global popularity. But do you 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 consider using WordPress if you are concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at some facts …

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

The scale of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is massive, and this is getting worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’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 someone tries to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

”Isn’t Open Source Software Vulnerable To Hacking?”

Some people will often try to argue that WordPress is not a secure platform for running a business online because its “open source” code is freely available.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If anyone can examine the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can easily download all of the code and study every line, searching for vulnerabilities they can exploit …

It's not a matter of if, but 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 go through the code looking for weaknesses or vulnerabilities they can exploit (hackers can do the same with any program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source platform actually makes it a whole lot more secure in many ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by a community of thousands 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 large community of hundreds of developers worldwide.

(A global community build, maintain and update. Image source: WordPress.org)

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

WordPress is built by a global community of volunteer members

(WordPress is built and maintained by an open community of volunteer web developers. Screenshot image: make.wordpress.org)

The moment any security vulnerabilities are 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 by thousands of committed individuals community of users and web developers. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

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

For example:

  • If you notice bugs or a security exploit, you can report these by emailing security@wordpress.org.
  • If you find any issues in a WP plugin, you can 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 sites and blogs updated …

WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug any security issues found

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

Compare the benefits of using an open source CMS technology like WordPress with proprietary CMS platforms where often a much smaller team with limited resources is responsible for developing, monitoring and improving software security, fixing bugs, etc., and you will quickly understand the value and advantages of using WordPress to run your site on a secure platform.

WordPress is free to download, modify and use, 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 a completely free platform that they can download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source CMS Platforms

CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

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 found in popular open source platforms during a given period …

WordPress has less security vulnerabilities than other leading CMS platforms

(National Vulnerability Database – Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Platforms. Source: National Vulnerability Database)

Other research shows that, because WordPress is easy to use and to keep updated, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites built with WordPress had significantly less exposure to risk …

Blog Defender - CMS Tests

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

It’s Easier To Blame Technology When Things Go Wrong

Whenever WordPress sites get subjected to brute-force attacks, don’t be too quick to place the blame on WordPress.

According to security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware 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 how to deal with compromised web security.

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

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

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

Of immediate concern is the fact that many security-related problems arise from website owners forgetting to upgrade their WordPress software to the latest version …

Many security issues come from sites running an outdated WordPress version.

(Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions. 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 core software, while 70% – 85% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

WordPress Security Issues

(WordPress Security Issues. Source: WebDesign.org)

Like all robust web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to deal with new security vulnerabilities that may arise. Improving software security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress software, themes, plugins, etc..

WordPress Is Used By Many Security-Conscious Businesses!

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 post 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 choose WordPress to build their presence online, including banks, global corporations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors Affecting WP Site Security

Other research on issues that play a role in website security point to areas such as:

  • No platform is safe from hacking. 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 vulnerability of all CMS platforms seems to be the users themselves. An example of this is users ignoring good password security recommendations.
  • Lack of constant monitoring. Security processes require constant monitoring, testing, updating and improvement.
  • Server setup. For example, websites on shared webhosting are only as safe as the least secure website on the grid, so if someone else has a weak FTP password on your shared server, then all sites on your server are potentially vulnerable.

There Is No Reason Why You Should Not Use WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic web security measures (which all website owners should do) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly updated, there’s no reason to avoid choosing WordPress.

Practical Tip

WordPress Security – Tips

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

An unsecured site offers hackers with a resource for distributed attacks, spreading malware and as a source of information theft. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to botnet and hacker attacks. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are currently using an outdated WordPress version make sure you back up your website fully before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, 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. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Back Up, Duplicate And Protect Your WordPress Web Sites With Backup Creator WP Plugin

Useful Information

Article References

The above statistics were sourced from the following sites:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems 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 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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"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now

Originally published as WordPress Security Explained.