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WordPress Security Explained

In early 2013 a worldwide brute-force attack struck WordPress installations on almost every WP hosting server in existence.

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

(Being the world’s most popular CMS makes WordPress a target for hackers)

In March 2014, many leading technology sites reported that 162,000 WordPress websites had been hacked.

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Image source: 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 reported by security firm Sucuri, hackers had leveraged a well-known flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress websites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever attacks on WordPress sites are reported in the media, it’s natural for website owners to question if WordPress really is a safe application for running their websites.

Powering millions of websites and blogs around the world makes WordPress a target for hacking. But should you really 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 at all concerned 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 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 safe to assume that if your website or blog hasn’t been hacked yet, then it’s inevitable that at some point in time someone will attempt to hack into your site … regardless of the web platform you use!

Since it’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before someone tries to hack your website, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Is “Open Source” Safe?

Many people will often try to argue that WordPress cannot be a safe platform for building and running a website or blog because its open source code means that anyone can view how the software application works.

Open-source CMS programs 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 everyone can examine the Open Source code for WordPress, then hackers can also easily download the code and go through every single line in detail, searching for holes and weaknesses in the code that could be exploited …

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before a malicious user tries to hack your website … WordPress or no WordPress!)

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

This is because WordPress is supported by a global community comprised of thousands of people such as software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

(With WordPress, a huge community of thousands of developers is responsible for keeping the core application maintained and updated. Screenshot image: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress evolves through the effort of a global volunteer community working around the clock to fix any issues detected by users. Everyone benefits from hundreds of minds committed to improving the application, fixing bugs and making WordPress safer for every user …

(WordPress is built by a large community of WordPress users. Image source: WordPress.org)

The moment any security issues are identified by developers or users, the WordPress developers are then notified …

(WordPress is continually being improved by an open community of users and web developers. Screenshot source: WordPress.org)

The WordPress community support system is very responsive and anyone can help contribute to the improvement of the software.

For example:

This is why the WordPress team releases new security updates on a regular basis, and why you need to keep your WordPress site up-to-date …

(WordPress frequently releases new updates to address any security exploits found)

WordPress Vs Proprietary CMS Applications

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

WordPress is 100% free to download, modify and use, and thousands of volunteers and expert developers are continually working to improve the software. Can a proprietary technology company afford to employ as many developers and programmers and still deliver you a free software that you can download, use and modify as you wish?

WordPress CMS Vs Other Open Source Applications

(CMS Platforms include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, research shows 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 each of these platforms during a certain period …

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

Other studies show that, because WordPress is easy to use and to keep up-to-date, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, sites built with WordPress had a significant degree of less exposure to risk …

(WordPress users are less exposed to exploits than other CMS platform users. Source: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Should Not Be Blamed

If someone breaks into your WordPress site, don’t be too 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 webmasters are not fully aware of the threats their websites are exposed to, how to secure a website, or how to deal with compromised web security.

In fact, 63% of webmasters surveyed in this report didn’t even know how their websites had been compromised by hackers after an attack …

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

Of more immediate concern is the fact that many security problems seem to be related to users not upgrading their WordPress software to a newer version …

(Many WordPress sites use outdated versions. Image: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were looked at in more detail, it was found that only a small percentage of vulnerabilities discovered in 3rd-party code are found in the WordPress core software, while most security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions …

(WP Security Issues. Source: WebDesign.org)

Like many modern software platforms, WordPress is regularly updated in order to deal with new security threats that may 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 software, themes, plugins, etc..

WordPress … Secure Enough For Banks To Use!

The amount of misinformation about WordPress security has even led Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, to chime in and reply to posts online.

In a blog post entitled “A Bank Website on WordPress” posted 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, large organizations and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their presence online, not just bloggers.

Other Issues Affecting WordPress Website Security

Other areas that can affect website security include:

There Is No Reason Why You Should Not Choose WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you implement basic security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) up-to-date, there’s really no reason to avoid using WordPress to power your website or blog.

WordPress Security – Practical Tips

To learn about ways to protect your WordPress site from brute-force attacks see this article:  10 Security Measures That Can Prevent Brute Force Attacks On WordPress

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

If you are currently using an outdated WordPress version make sure to make a full site backup before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore your site to its previous state.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. Learn about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your backup process here: Backup, Clone & Protect Your WordPress Web Sites With Backup Creator WP Plugin

References

For more information on the above, see the following sources:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you improve your business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please click on links to visit other articles we have published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new content is 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