The right eCommerce platform can make a world of difference in an increasingly competitive market. WooCommerce is one of the most popular WordPress plugins, and it's easy to see why: it provides quick setup and high scalability, not to mention a vast and highly connected user base. WooCommerce enthusiasts also appreciate the seemingly endless array of plugins and themes available.
All this is made possible by WooCommerce's unique setup: it's not a content management system (CMS) in and of itself, but rather, an open-source platform specifically designed for use within WordPress. This structure is what makes WooCommerce so adaptable and easy to use.
Unfortunately, these very advantages can prompt some significant downsides, including a variety of vulnerabilities. Most of these reflect the security concerns present throughout WordPress, but they require even more caution when eCommerce is involved. In this situation, cyberattacks aren't merely inconvenient; they can place your customers and your business reputation at risk.
Your responsibility as an eCommerce provider is to keep customers' data as safe as possible. Any failure to implement or maintain a robust security strategy is highly negligent, as the repercussions of an attack could be absolutely devastating for targeted consumers.
The risks go beyond individual users to also include your business as a whole; once customers are compromised, they'll be unlikely to seek your products in the future. What's more, cyberattacks could harm your SEO and may even get you blacklisted from Google.
Compared to many plugins, WooCommerce is highly secure. It's not perfect, however, and many WooCommerce vulnerabilities must be taken into account as you determine whether to use this platform — or how to make it as secure as possible.
The risks of WooCommerce were especially evident during early 2023 when a major plugin flaw was revealed in a company advisory. While there was no initial evidence to suggest that the vulnerability had actually been exploited, experts anticipate that it will be weaponized if proofs-of-concept become available.
Perhaps more concerning: in late 2022, a WooCommerce plugin by YITH was exploited to allow unauthenticated users to upload files to websites deemed vulnerable. Hackers managed to leverage this vulnerability to complete takeover attacks and upload backdoors. While a prompt security update addressed this issue, many businesses have continued to use the older, less secure versions of the plugin — allowing hackers to continue wreaking havoc.
WooCommerce presents an interesting combination of standard WordPress hazards and unique eCommerce concerns. It's crucial that you understand the full scope of both as you craft a comprehensive security strategy. Keep an eye out for these common concerns:
If the examples highlighted above are any indication, WooCommerce frequently releases updates and new versions to address the latest vulnerabilities. Many businesses follow suit, first by testing these updates on staging sites and then by fully implementing them for their official WooCommerce stores. Others, however, fail to take these critical steps, thereby leaving them vulnerable to a wide variety of known hazards.
This is one of the few circumstances in which the solution is simple: keep up with the latest version of WooCommerce. This may feel time-consuming, but it's a lot better than navigating hacks after the fact. Additionally, because WooCommerce is operated via WordPress, you may frequently need to update the CMS itself.
Pay attention to admin notices to determine whether updates may be required. Keep in mind, however, that plugin developers are sometimes slow to adapt to new WooCommerce versions. As such, extensive testing may be required before you complete certain updates. In general, security patches should be applied promptly, while other updates can be carried out on a monthly basis.
A variety of plugins, templates, and themes allow you to adapt your WooCommerce website to reflect your brand and serve your customers. Unfortunately, these plugins and themes can be riddled with vulnerabilities, especially if they are not properly updated or contain faulty HTML. These vulnerabilities leave you open to numerous exploits and may be difficult to pinpoint until extensive damage has been done.
To begin, vet every plugin or theme carefully before you implement it. Only use those that are absolutely necessary; the more plugins and themes you add, the more vulnerabilities you'll encounter. Continue to update these features regularly to ensure that they are fully protected against the latest risks. Delete any plugins that aren't deemed essential to your WooCommerce store.
Brute force attacks involve repeated attempts to gain access to your site with a trial-and-error approach. Once they've gained access, hackers may infect your site with malware or access sensitive user data. Key signs of trouble include repeated login attempts from specific IP addresses, as well as excessive bandwidth consumption from specific users. Individual APIs on a WordPress site are particularly vulnerable to brute force attacks, as they handle the sensitive user information hackers want.
At a minimum, implement a high-level password protection strategy that involves long strings of characters. Multi-factor authentication is worth adding, as even the strongest passwords are often not enough to keep hackers away. Firewalls, backups, and disabled director browsing should also prove helpful.
A common code-based vulnerability, structured query language (SQL) injections allow attackers to gain access to databases, where they can view or even destroy sensitive data. This has been a top digital hazard since it was discovered decades ago. It often serves as step one for the most devastating breaches.
Limited access is often the best defense against every form of SQL injection vulnerability. This means enforcing the rule of least privilege, so admin access is granted to as few users as possible. Beyond this, OWASP points out that these attacks typically accompany dynamic database queries involving string concatenation (character strings joined end-to-end). Experts at OWASP recommend prepared statements when writing database queries, as these prevent hackers from adjusting the intent of any given query.
Another top form of injection, cross-site scripting (XSS) takes place when malicious scripts are injected within the codes of trusted websites. Often, threat actors use social engineering to convince otherwise discerning users to click on malicious links.
It's possible for these attacks to be triggered automatically when visiting a particular page or even while hovering over certain website elements. While many harmful consequences are possible, it's especially common for hackers to obtain cookie details.
A layered strategy is imperative. This often begins with a web application firewall (WAF), which scans users and can block malicious parties before they gain access. Other essentials include sanitized input fields, plus client and server-side validation for form submissions.
An alarming vulnerability that occurs at the application layer, PHP object injection opens the door for malicious players to pursue many worrisome attacks. This complicated issue is most likely when data is deserialized via insecure sources (for example, user-supplied input) and integrity verification is lacking. While this vulnerability is not particularly common — due to the inherent complications encountered while exploiting it — it's among the most dangerous that could potentially strike your WooCommerce site.
Thorough input sanitation is key to preventing PHP object injection. This means whitelisting specific characters and code strings, as well as blacklisting those that are harmful or just sloppy. Another best practice involves avoiding specific functions such as “system()”, “passthru()”, “exec()” and “shell_exec()".
PHP security linters are also strongly recommended. A popular option known as PHPlint can check multiple files at a time for errors and known vulnerabilities.
This is a common WooCommerce vulnerability that allows attackers to get rid of various files. Not only is it a potential problem with WooCommerce as a plugin, but it can also strike the WordPress core. When this occurs, attackers can prompt internal errors across a myriad of requests, potentially taking down the entire site.
Attackers cannot typically exploit this vulnerability unless they gain access by taking over author accounts. As such, preventative strategies should emphasize strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. Updates are also critical as arbitrary deletion vulnerabilities have been detected in past versions of WordPress or WooCommerce.
Attackers aren't merely capable of deleting files; they can also upload them. All it takes is for a hacker to upload a plugin loaded with malicious code onto the server. Once the code is executed, it can cause serious problems for WordPress plugins along with the site that hosts them.
Thankfully, preventing specific files from being uploaded is easy. Blacklist any file extensions that could contain malicious code and only allow authenticated, trusted users to upload files in the first place.
As with any major platform, malware and viruses are constant risks for WooCommerce pages. Infections often begin when vulnerabilities such as outdated plugins are exploited. They are also a common result of successful brute force attacks.
As always with cybersecurity, a layered strategy is ideal. This will include many of the solutions outlined above, such as strong password protection, multi-factor authentication, and web application firewalls. Malware scanning and removal are absolutely essential, since, despite your best efforts, you're likely to encounter sophisticated malware at some point. A sophisticated scanning solution can promptly identify this, while advanced removal systems will ensure that any malware is quickly eradicated.
A few simple strategies can prevent a world of trouble, so it's always worthwhile to take a proactive approach. Follow these best practices to keep your WooCommerce site safe — and amp up your WordPress security in the meantime:
Your website should always run on the latest version of WooCommerce. To that end, you'll need to update your site as soon as new versions are released. Regular updates are also essential in order to combat new plugin vulnerabilities and other WordPress vulnerabilities. Regular audits of your WordPress website can reveal outdated or unnecessary plugins, which should be removed if they are no longer in use.
Passwords alone won't cut it anymore. These days, it's simply too easy for malicious parties to gain access via brute force. Limit their ability to do so with multi-factor authentication, which combines password protection with additional requirements such as passcodes sent to approved emails or mobile devices.
The right host can dramatically reduce security concerns. While financial concerns drive many businesses to select shared hosting plans, there is something to be said about the extra security that a dedicated server provides. No matter which hosting environment you select, you'll want to examine your prospective host thoroughly to get a sense of its approach to cybersecurity.
No matter how many layers of security you implement, malware is always a possibility. Even the most thoroughly protected websites fall victim from time to time; when this inevitably happens, you want to be prepared to detect and remove malware as quickly as possible. When in doubt, rely on a trusted malware scanning solution to provide extensive oversight and quick alerts.
Regular backups provide valuable peace of mind and can also help you respond more effectively to ransomware and other targeted attacks directed at your WordPress site. Weekly backups help, but daily backups are the gold standard of modern website security. Frequency isn't all that matters; online data should be encrypted in transit to maximize security.
All administrators should be well aware of potential vulnerabilities, as well as behaviors that can amplify these risks. And education alone won't be sufficient; strict policies must be implemented to force all users to abide by security best practices.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer variety of WooCommerce vulnerabilities that lie in wait — or the range of security initiatives required to combat these issues — you're certainly not alone. Many administrators in the eCommerce space rely on outside security solutions, which can reveal where vulnerabilities currently exist and even step in to make these a thing of the past.
There's no need to go at it alone as you take the many steps necessary to improve your website's security. SiteLock is an excellent option for protecting your customers while gaining personal peace of mind. We offer a variety of security solutions, including everything from web application firewalls to malware scanning, vulnerability patching, and even backups.
Don't delay; the sooner you obtain robust protection, the sooner you can feel confident that your customers' most sensitive information will remain secure. Take a look at our security plans or get in touch to learn more about your options for protecting your WooCommerce store.