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WordPress Security Explained

In April 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 computers with security vulnerabilities).

(WordPress is often the target of attacks by hackers)

On March 11, 2014, many leading technology sites reported that over 160,000+ WordPress-powered sites had been hacked.

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 2014. Source: BlogDefender site)

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 sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber-attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for website owners to ask just how secure WordPress is as a platform for building and running a business web presence.

WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS making it a target for hacker attacks. But do you 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 consider choosing WordPress if you are at all 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 sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs around the world is increasing on a daily basis, and this is only going to get worse.

You can safely assume that if your website or blog hasn’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 no longer a matter of if, but when before a malicious user will try to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Is “Open Source” Safe From Hacking?

Many people often argue that WordPress cannot be a secure platform for building and running a website or blog because having open source code means that anyone can view how the application works.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can study the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily get hold of the code and go through every single line in detail, looking for holes and weaknesses in the code that could be exploited …

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website is targeted by hackers … 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 security weaknesses or vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any software application), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source software platform actually makes it more secure in several ways.

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

(With WordPress, a huge community of web developers worldwide is responsible for keeping the software platform maintained and updated. Screenshot image: WordPress.org)

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

(The WordPress core software is built by a global community of experienced web developers. Screenshot image: WordPress.org)

The moment that a security weakness is identified by developers or users, the WordPress development team are then made aware of it …

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by a huge community community of web developers and users. Source: make.wordpress.org)

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

For example:

This is why the core development team releases new version updates regularly, and why you need to keep your WordPress site frequently updated …

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

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary CMS Platforms

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

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

(CMS Platforms - WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

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

For example, the chart below shows the number of security vulnerabilities discovered in popular CMS platforms …

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

Other studies also show that, because WordPress is quite easy to use and update, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, WordPress sites had less exposure to risk …

(BlogDefender.com – CMS Tests. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The Technology

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

According to a report called “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective,” published by security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware, a large number of website owners have no idea about the security threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with web security compromises.

In fact, over sixty percent of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t know how their sites had been hacked after an attack …

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

Of more immediate concern is the fact that many security-related problems arise from site owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

(Many WordPress sites use outdated versions. Source: 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 actually found in the WordPress core software, while 65% – 75% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by third-party developers …

(WP Security Issues. Screenshot: WebDesign.org)

Like many modern web platforms, WordPress is updated regularly to address new security risks that could arise. Improving software security is an ongoing concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress site, plugins, and themes up-to-date.

WordPress Is Secure – Just Ask Any Bank Using It!

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

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

Other Factors Affecting WordPress Site Security

Other areas that can affect security include:

There’s No Reason Why You Should Not Use WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic website security measures (which all website owners should do, regardless of their technology platform) and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there’s no reason why you should not choose WordPress.

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

An unsecured blog provides hackers with a resource for launching denial of service attacks, spreading malware and engaging in information theft. Blog Defender Security Plugin for WordPress Sites makes your WordPress site invisible to bot and hacker attacks. Learn more about this plugin here:

If you are currently using an outdated version of WordPress remember to back up everything before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore things back to their former settings.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are many free and paid WordPress plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Clone And Keep Your WordPress Sites Protected With Backup Creator WP Plugin

References

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

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better business online. To learn more about using WordPress please click on links to visit other posts published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new articles are published.

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