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WordPress Security Explained

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

These attacks were caused by computers infected with viruses and programmed to attack other vulnerable computers (botnets).

(Powering millions of websites worldwide makes WordPress a target for hacking attempts)

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

(Over 160,000 WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in March 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 flaw to attack unsuspecting WordPress web sites and direct a distributed-denial-of-service cyber-attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

Whenever attacks on WordPress sites seem to increase, it’s natural for website owners to start questioning just how safe and secure WordPress is as a platform for building and running websites.

WordPress powers millions of websites around the world, making it a frequent target for malicious attempts by hackers. But do you really 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 consider using WordPress if you are at all concerned about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start with some facts …

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

The sheer number of attacks on websites and blogs worldwide is rising, and it’s only going to get worse.

You can safely assume that if you haven’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 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 hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

How Secure Is “Open Source” Software?

Some people often argue that WordPress should not be used for running websites because its “open source” code is freely available.

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

The argument against using WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can examine the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily obtain all of the code and go through every line, searching for security vulnerabilities that can be exploited …

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when before a malicious user will attempt to hack your website … 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 vulnerabilities and weaknesses (hackers can do the same with any software), the fact that WordPress is a free, open-source platform actually makes it a lot more secure in a number of ways.

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

(An open volunteer community of developers around the world is responsible for building, maintaining and updating the WordPress platform. Image source: WordPress.org)

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

(WordPress is built and maintained by a large community of WordPress users. Source: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as security problems are identified by developers or users, the WordPress core developers are then notified …

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

The WordPress community support system is solid and formidable and anyone can help contribute to the process of addressing vulnerabilities.

For example:

This is one of the reasons why WordPress releases new updates on a regular basis, and why you continually need to keep your site frequently updated …

(WordPress frequently releases new updates to plug security holes)

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 improve code security. By contrast, a proprietary or “closed-source” CMS application is built by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, software maintenance, bug fixes and software fixes.

The WordPress CMS is free to download, use and modify, and thousands 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 users software that is 100% free to download, use and modify as they wish?

WordPress Vs Other Open Source Platforms

(CMS Platforms)

Whilst on the topic of Open Source content management systems, research shows that WordPress is safer than other Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, the chart below shows the number of security vulnerabilities discovered in popular open source platforms during a given period …

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

Other research shows that, because WordPress is easy to use and update, when sites across different CMS platforms were tested for security vulnerabilities, sites run on WordPress had less exposure to risk …

(WordPress has significantly less exposure to risk than other leading CMS platforms. Screenshot: BlogDefender.com)

WordPress Is Not To Blame

If someone breaks into your WordPress site, don’t be quick to place the blame on the WordPress CMS platform.

According to security organizations Commtouch and StopBadware in a published report entitled “Compromised Websites: An Owner’s Perspective“, most 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, 63% of webmasters surveyed for the report didn’t even know how their websites were hacked after an attack …

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

Of more immediate concern, however, is the fact that most security-related issues come from website owners running WordPress on outdated versions of the software …

(Many WordPress sites are running on outdated versions. Image source: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only between 20% – 30% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress CMS core, while 65% – 75% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and developed externally for WordPress …

(WP Security Issues. Image source: WebDesign.org)

Like many web platforms, WordPress is regularly updated to address new security vulnerabilities that can arise. Improving software security is always a concern, and to that end, you should always keep your WordPress site, plugins, and themes updated to the latest version.

WordPress Is Used By Many Security-Conscious Organizations!

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” 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 web presence, including banks, large organizations, and e-commerce sites, not just bloggers.

Other Areas That Can Affect WordPress Security

Other research on issues that play a role in WordPress security point to things like:

There’s No Reason Not To Choose WordPress

As this article has hopefully shown, WordPress is quite secure. As long as you commit to implementing basic website security measures and keep your WordPress software (and themes, plugins, etc.) updated, there’s really no reason why you should not choose WordPress for your website or blog.

WordPress Security – Tips

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

An unsecured blog presents hackers with a platform for launching distributed attacks, spreading malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender WordPress Security Plugin makes your WordPress site invisible to attacks from hackers and botnets. Go here to learn more:

If you are currently using an older WordPress version remember to back up everything 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 many free and paid WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can fully automate your site backups here: Backup, Clone & Protect Your WP Website With Backup Creator WordPress Plugin

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 get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please click on links to visit our related posts section or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new content is published.

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