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WordPress Security Explained

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

These attacks were caused by botnets (computers infected with malware and programmed to attack other installations with security vulnerabilities).

(Being the world’s most popular CMS makes WordPress an obvious target for hacking attacks)

In March 2014, technology sites began reporting that over 162,000 legitimate WordPress sites had been hacked.

(160,000+ WordPress sites were attacked in a massive DDoS attack in early 2014. Image source: Blog Defender)

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 attack (DDoS) towards another popular website.

When worldwide attacks happen on WordPress sites, it’s natural for people to question just how safe and secure WordPress is as a software for running a business web presence.

WordPress often comes under attack by hackers, due to its popularity. But should you be concerned about WordPress as being a secure platform for building your business web presence?

In this article, you will learn some of the main reasons why you should choose WordPress if you have any concerns about website security.

WordPress Security Explained

Let’s start by looking at facts …

Thousands of websites 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 things are only going to get worse.

You can safely 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 when before your website is targeted by malicious hackers, are there any advantages that WordPress can offer you in terms of security?

Are “Open Source” Software Programs Really Safe?

Many people will often argue that WordPress should not be used for building and running a web presence because it is a freely available open source software program.

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

The argument against WordPress, then, goes something like this: If anyone can view the Open Source software code for WordPress, then hackers can easily get hold of the code and study all of it in detail, looking for security vulnerabilities in the code that could be exploited …

(It’s no longer a matter of if, but when before someone tries 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 looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities that can be exploited (hackers can do the same with any software), the fact that WordPress is a free, open application actually makes it a lot more secure in several ways.

The reason for this is that WordPress has the support of a large volunteer community comprised of thousands of software programmers, plugin developers and theme designers who constantly help to improve the program and make WordPress more secure …

(With WordPress, a global volunteer community of thousands of web developers is responsible for keeping the code maintained and updated. Image: make.wordpress.org)

WordPress continually evolves because of the effort of thousands of committed volunteers working around the clock to fix issues. It benefits from thousands of minds dedicated to improving the application and making it safer for every user …

(WordPress is built by a global community of volunteer members. Image source: make.wordpress.org)

As soon as any security issue is discovered by developers or users, these are normally noted in user forums and addressed by the WordPress developers …

(WordPress is continually being improved upon by an open community of web developers and users. Image: make.wordpress.org)

The WordPress community support system is quite formidable and anyone can help contribute to improving the platform.

For example:

This is why the core development team releases new security updates so often, and why you need to keep your WordPress site updated …

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

WordPress Vs Proprietary Applications

We’ve just seen that one of the security advantages of using an ”open” platform 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 platform is normally developed by a small team of developers with limited time and resources to provide continuous security monitoring, support, bug fixes and updates.

WordPress is free to download, modify and use, and hundreds 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 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 actually safer than other leading Open Source CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla.

For example, here is one study showing the number of security vulnerabilities found in each of these open source platforms during a given period …

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

Other research shows that, because WordPress is easy to use and to maintain, when sites using different CMS platforms were tested for security exploits, sites built with WordPress had a significant degree of less exposure to risk …

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

WordPress Is Not At Fault

Whenever WordPress sites get attacked en masse, users shouldn’t be too quick to place the blame on WordPress.

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 properly secure a website, or deal with compromised web security.

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

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

Of immediate concern is the fact that most security issues seem to be related to users running sites with an outdated version of WordPress …

(Many security issues come from sites running outdated WordPress versions. Source: Sucuri.net)

When WordPress security issues were examined in more detail, it was found that only between 20% – 35% percent of vulnerabilities discovered in third-party code are actually found in the WordPress core software, while 70% – 80% percent of all security issues are found in plug-ins and extensions created by 3rd-party developers …

(WordPress Security Issues. Image: WebDesign.org)

Like all robust web platforms, WordPress is updated regularly to deal with new security threats 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 Businesses!

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

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 around the world, including banks, leading brands and e-commerce sites use WordPress to build their presence online, not just bloggers.

Other Factors Affecting WordPress Site Security

Other areas that can affect website security include factors like:

There Is No Reason To Avoid Using WordPress

As you can see, WordPress is a secure web platform. As long as you continue to implement basic website security measures and keep your WordPress software (and plugins, themes, etc.) regularly up-to-date, there is really no reason why you shouldn’t use WordPress.

WordPress Security – Tips

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

A vulnerable website provides malicious users with a valuable resource to launch distributed attacks, spread malware and engage in information theft. Blog Defender makes your WordPress site invisible to botnet and hacker attacks. Learn more about it here:

If you are using older versions of WordPress remember to back up your site before updating your software to benefit from the latest security updates. This way, if something goes wrong, you can always restore.

If you don’t want to back up your site manually, there are a number of WordPress plugins you can use. You can read about a WordPress backup plugin that can automate your backup process here: Back Up, Duplicate And Protect Your WordPress Website With Backup Creator WP Plugin

Article References

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

Hopefully, the above post has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better business results online. To learn more about the security benefits of using WordPress for a business website or blog please click on links to visit other articles published on this site or subscribe to receive updates and notifications whenever new articles are published.

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