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WordPress Security Explained

In early 2013 a worldwide brute force attack struck WordPress installations across almost every WP host server in existence around the world.

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

(Powering millions of websites and blogs around the world makes WordPress a target for hacking attacks)

In March 2014, 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 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 flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When global attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to start asking just how safe and secure the WordPress platform is for running websites.

WordPress is the world’s most used content management system making it an obvious target for hacking attempts. But should you really be concerned about WordPress as a secure web platform?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should definitely consider choosing 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 hacked 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.

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 … regardless of the web platform your website has been built with!

Since it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before your website will be targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

How Secure Are “Open Source” Software Programs?

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

Open-source CMS software like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are free to use and anyone can have access to the entire software 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 also easily get hold of the code and go through it, searching for security holes in the code that they can exploit …

(It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when before a malicious user attempts to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

While it’s true that WordPress is a free application and hackers can easily access it and study the code searching for holes or vulnerabilities (hackers can do the same with any software program), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source application actually makes it more secure in a number of ways.

This is because WordPress is supported by a huge community of hundreds of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help improve the platform and make WordPress more secure …

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

WordPress continually evolves largely through the effort of a global volunteer community working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from thousands of web developers, designers and users who are dedicated to improving the application and making it safer for every user …

(WordPress is built by a global community of volunteers. Screenshot image: make.wordpress.org)

The moment any security holes are identified by developers or users, the WordPress core development team are then made aware of it …

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

The WordPress community support system, therefore, is quite formidable and anyone can help contribute to the improvement of the platform.

For example:

This is why the WordPress community releases new updates on a regular basis, and why you need to keep your WordPress sites and blogs frequently updated …

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

WordPress CMS Vs Proprietary Platforms

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 improve software security. By contrast, proprietary or “closed-source” CMS applications are normally developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, maintenance services, bug fixes and updates.

WordPress is free to download, modify and use, and hundreds of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the software. 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 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 showing that the WordPress CMS is actually safer than other Open Source CMS platforms such as Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows how many security vulnerabilities were discovered in popular open source CMS platforms …

(National Vulnerability Database – Security Vulnerabilities IN CMS Applications. Screenshot: National Vulnerability Database)

Other studies also indicate that, because WordPress is easy to use and to keep up-to-date, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, WordPress sites had less exposure to risk …

(WordPress users are not as exposed to vulnerabilities as other CMS platform users. Image source: BlogDefender.com)

Don’t Blame The Technology

If someone compromises the security of your WordPress site, don’t be too quick to blame WordPress.

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“, a large number of webmasters 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, 63% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t know how their websites were compromised by hackers after an attack …

(Most webmasters don’t know how their sites were hacked. Image source: StopBadware.org)

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

(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 found in the WordPress CMS core, while 70% – 80% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally …

(WordPress Security Issues. Screenshot image: WebDesign.org)

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

WordPress Is Secure – Even Banks Are Using It!

The amount of misinformation about how secure WordPress is has even led Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, 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 around the world use WordPress to build their websites, including banks, leading brands, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Factors Affecting Website Security

Other studies on issues that affect WordPress security point to areas like:

There’s No Reason To Avoid Choosing WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there’s really no reason not to use WordPress for your website or blog.

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

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

A vulnerable site provides malicious users with a resource for launching distributed attacks, spreading malware and as a source of information theft. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to bots and hackers. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an outdated WordPress version make sure to back up your website fully before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if things don’t go as planned, you can always restore things back to their previous state.

If you don’t want to perform manual backups, there are a number of plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your site backups here: Back Up, Duplicate And Protect Your WordPress Websites And Blogs With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

References Used In This Article

The facts quoted above were sourced from the following sites:

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better business online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress please see other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications when new content is published.


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