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WordPress Security Explained

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

These attacks were caused by botnets (infected computer networks programmed to attack other vulnerable computers).

(Powering millions of sites worldwide makes WordPress an obvious target for hacking attempts)

In March 2014, many technology sites began reporting that 160,000+ legitimate WordPress web sites had been hacked.

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Screenshot source: 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 well-known flaw to attack unsuspecting WP websites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever global brute-force attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to ask if WordPress really is a secure software for building and running websites.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers. But do you need to be concerned about WordPress as a secure platform for building your business website?

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.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at facts …

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

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

It’s probably 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 your website is targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

How Secure Is “Open Source” Software?

Some people will often try and argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running websites or blogs because having open source code means that anyone can view how the application works.

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

The argument, then, goes something like this: If anyone can view the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily obtain all of the code and go through all of it in detail, searching for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the code that they can exploit …

(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!)

While it’s true that WordPress is free to download and hackers can easily access it and study the code looking for security weaknesses and vulnerabilities they can exploit (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open application actually makes it more secure in a number of ways.

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

(With WordPress, an open community of thousands of web developers is responsible for keeping the code up-to-date. Image: WordPress.org)

WordPress continually evolves largely through the effort of thousands of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix issues. Everyone benefits from thousands of minds dedicated to improving the code and making the WordPress platform safer for every user …

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

The moment any security problems are identified by developers or users, these are then recorded in user forums and addressed by the WordPress development team …

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

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is very responsive and anybody can help contribute to the process of addressing security issues.

For example:

This is why the WordPress team releases new updates regularly, and why you need to keep your site regularly maintained …

(WordPress continually releases new version updates to plug any security exploits found)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

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

The WordPress CMS is 100% free to download, modify and use, and hundreds of volunteers and expert developers work on improving the technology. Can a proprietary CMS 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 CMS Vs Other Open Source Applications

(CMS Platforms)

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

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in popular platforms during a given period …

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

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

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

WordPress Is Not At Fault

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

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

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

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

Of immediate concern is the fact that many security-related issues come from users not upgrading their CMS software to the latest version …

(Many security issues come from sites running an outdated version of WordPress. Image: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only around between 25% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while 65% – 80% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally …

(WordPress Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like many modern web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated in order to deal with new security issues that may arise. Improving security is always a 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 online about WordPress security has even led Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, to chime into the debate.

In an article entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” published on April 15, 2015, Matt wrote the following about WordPress …

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, leading brands and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their websites, not just bloggers.

Other Issues That Can Affect Security

Other research on issues that affect website security point to factors like:

There Is No Reason Why You Should Not Choose WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you remember to implement basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly updated, there’s really no reason why you should not choose WordPress.

WordPress Security – Useful Tips

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

A compromised blog provides 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 botnet and hacker attacks. Learn more about it here:

If you are using older versions of WordPress make sure you back up your site files and data 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 perform manual backups, 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: Backup, Duplicate & Keep Your WordPress Sites Protected With Backup Creator Plugin For WordPress

Article 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 build a better business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website please see our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.


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