One of the most popular content management systems on the internet, WordPress is beloved by users thanks to its open-source setup, flexibility, and ease of use. More than 40 percent of all websites published online use WordPress, but with this popularity comes a myriad of security risks. In this guide, we’ll highlight the top security threats facing WordPress users — and we'll provide insight into top strategies to combat them.
Your WordPress website is prone to bots, brute force attacks, backdoor intrusions, and other security risks that can have a detrimental impact on every aspect of your site. Will users frequent a website that has compromised their sensitive information? Will they even be able to find your site if it’s down for an extended period of time? No amount of SEO optimization can fix the lack of trust that visitors have in a website that’s been compromised.
There's a lot to love about WordPress, but unfortunately, its security isn't as robust as it could be. This doesn't necessarily mean that it should be abandoned, but any security strategy will need to go above and beyond 'easy' solutions such as specialized WordPress plugins. WordPress hacks regularly hit headlines, but your site doesn't have to fall prey.
WordPress vulnerabilities abound and, unfortunately, as soon as you think you've conquered one issue, another arrives. Below, we've identified several of the most common and most alarming WordPress vulnerabilities, as well as prevention and mitigation tactics that WordPress users should implement:
Trial and error login attempts form the basis of the typical brute force attack, in which malicious parties work through countless possible combinations before eventually landing on the correct password. This can be surprisingly easy to achieve, given how common it is to use extraordinarily guessable passwords. Unfortunately, once hackers have broken in, they can take over your site and proceed with a variety of other harmful actions.
Stringent password requirements are a must. This means requiring users to select long strings of letters, numbers, and special characters. Better yet: two-factor authentication, as it goes beyond standard password protection to incorporate passcodes sent to mobile devices or authorized email accounts.
Nearly all the vulnerabilities on this list become more likely as soon as you fall behind on updating WordPress themes, plugins, or software. Updates contain much-needed patches that provide robust protection against a multitude of common issues. Plugin vulnerabilities, in particular, warrant attention, as these are consistently highlighted as one of the top means by which hackers compromise your WordPress pages.
With this issue, the solution is simple: make the commitment to regularly update all plugins, themes, and software. It doesn't matter if your WordPress site seems to be running perfectly; your failure to enact updates now could wreak havoc on your site in the future. We also recommend regular WordPress vulnerability scans.
Plugin flaws enable unauthorized users to act as administrators. This, in turn, makes it possible for them to complete actions that would ordinarily only be available to high-privilege users. This is one of the most frequently overlooked issues and also, one with the most potential to cause untold devastation for your site.
Any steps you take to avoid brute force attacks will go a long way toward preventing unauthorized admins from gaining access and enjoying the wrong privileges. Additionally, it's important to maintain a common tenet known as the principle of least privilege, in which the fewest possible contributors receive access to restricted functions.
Purposefully designed to cause maximum disruption, malware can prompt a range of issues for computers, networks, or servers. The term is short for "malicious software," which can infect systems or steal vulnerable data. This is one of the many issues prompted by poorly updated themes and plugins.
Because malware takes so many forms, it can be difficult to prevent or detect — and the repercussions can be far-reaching. Common subsets include spyware and ransomware, both of which can be costly and stressful to resolve.
There is no one simple solution that will resolve every malware concern, but a comprehensive and highly layered approach is always desirable. Updated plugins and themes form a solid start, but secure logins, regular backups, and restricted admin access are also essential.
Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks involve the injection of malicious scripts into seemingly trustworthy websites or applications. This, in turn, exposes visitors to the site, as well as sensitive information such as cookies and other saved browser information.
Cross-site scripting vulnerabilities can be limited by taking a number of different steps to improve data sanitization. Filtering data as it comes in, along with encoding data as it goes out can certainly help. Using specific response headers will also ensure that browsers know which data to interpret.
Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks aim to make your site inaccessible. The central method for accomplishing this is simple, yet alarming: flood a targeted server with undesirable traffic, with the intention of keeping genuine users away. In addition to prompting losses in productivity, these attacks can damage your reputation and even harm your SEO.
A multi-layered approach to DDoS defense is crucial. This should include extensive monitoring so you're aware when suspicious spikes in traffic occur. Extra server bandwidth can also be helpful, but this could have a muted impact when hit with the most severe DDoS attacks.
Structure query language (SQL) injections are common website vulnerabilities. These involve the use of malicious code to help attackers view or even modify databases. Potential entry points for SQL injections include login, signup, or contact forms.
Primary solutions for protecting against SQL injections include installing web application firewalls and changing the default WordPress database prefix. The latter can be accomplished in the wp-config.php file.
SEO determines how visible your website is to leads, but it can also be used for illicit purposes. A common black hat tactic known as SEO spamming (or spamdexing) occurs when your WordPress site is used to help content rank — even though, under ordinary circumstances, this might not be possible.
Basic WordPress security issues like spamdexing can be prevented by taking a few easy steps. First, make sure the latest security updates and the latest version of any plugins or themes are installed. Strong passwords coupled with two-factor authentication at log-in will also beef up security.
Even casual internet browsers no doubt notice the small padlock icon in their browser bar. This denotes that the site uses HTTPS encryption to protect data. Sites that do not use this standard open themselves up to a variety of hacks and intrusions.
Install a SSL certificate from a trusted provider.
Deceptive phishing attacks cause victims to think that those who send seemingly authentic emails or social media messages are trustworthy. Eventually, victims may be duped into sharing sensitive details. WordPress-oriented phishing attacks involve realistic-looking emails sent to administrators, who may be tricked into sharing their passwords or other vulnerable data. Additionally, malicious parties may use WordPress to create phishing pages, which allow them to easily distribute malware.
Prevention and mitigation tactics for phishing attacks will largely depend on the form it takes. With administrator scams, the standard protocol for avoiding phishing applies: don't respond to anything from unfamiliar senders or click links to unknown URLs. Password reset emails, in particular, should be cause for alarm.
Efforts to pinpoint and remove phishing pages may prove more frustrating, as these are often difficult to detect. This typically requires a thorough inspection of your website's code to reveal which pages are genuine and which have been mimicked. Don't forget to complete backups, as the very process of removing phishing pages can compromise the code.
Your hosting environment plays a huge role in the overall security of your WordPress site, and yet, if you're like many administrators, you pay little mind to this important consideration. While no environment is completely safe, some hosting solutions are far more secure than others. Shared hosting, in particular, could be risky, as you cannot rely on other websites to achieve adequate protection. Unfortunately, once malicious players gain access to a shared environment, it's easy for other websites to fall victim.
We cannot overstate the importance of strategic hosting selection. While shared hosting may sometimes prove necessary, you can improve your site's security by selecting a highly reputable option.
Sometimes referred to as session riding, cross-site request forgery (CSRF) tricks users into performing unwanted actions. For individual users, this could mean being duped into sending money or sharing password information. In other cases, entire applications may be at risk if administrative accounts are targeted. Attackers tend to send links via chat messages or emails, all the while impersonating real users or administrators.
Preventative efforts typically center around CSRF tokens, which are unique for each user session and incredibly difficult to guess. Produced by the application but shared with the client, this helps application servers verify whether requests are legitimately created. Education and security training are also important, given the strong role that social engineering plays in CSRF attacks.
Knowledge is the first step to protecting your WordPress site. Once you're aware of all the risks your site faces, you'll be better positioned to implement a layered security strategy. These best practices can help you avoid many of the issues we've discussed while also providing much-needed peace of mind.
Selecting a hosting provider is never easy — but if you focus on price alone, you'll be doing yourself a major disservice. Examine reviews and search for signs of security issues faced by other website administrators. Opt for a dedicated server when possible, or vet extra carefully if you need to move forward with shared hosting.
The aforementioned rule of least privilege reduces the number of avenues hackers can use to gain access to your site. In all likelihood, the vast majority of users do not require high-level privileges. For WordPress, this could mean carefully designating roles such as author, editor, or administrator. This principle doesn't merely apply to users; it's also a useful strategy for entire applications and processes.
SSL certificates provide powerful protection as data moves between sites and servers. This, in turn, makes it possible to achieve an encrypted connection. As a result, malicious parties will find it more difficult to intercept vulnerable data. Strategic SSL selection is important, however, as not all SSL certificates are made equal.
Upon implementing SSL, your site should shift to HTTPS. The authorities that issue these certificates must be recognized, and the certificates themselves should be current.
As we've mentioned, monitoring can reveal when DDoS attacks are underway and may also pinpoint other potential dangers. With continuous monitoring in place, you can feel confident that you'll receive an alert as soon as any vulnerabilities or signs of attack are detected. From there, you can rely on automated security solutions to fix these issues before they cause widespread damage.
You might be confident in your security strategy, but do other users recognize where the greatest hazards exist? If they aren't properly educated on security protocol, they could expose your site to greater risk by using weak passwords, falling for phishing scams, or succumbing to CSRF.
Educate users about today's most alarming security concerns and implement strict policies to ensure that they take every protective measure available. Password policies, above all else, need to be strict, as this is one of the greatest shortcomings users will exhibit.
While the strategies highlighted above can provide valuable protection, they may also prove difficult and time-consuming to implement. Streamline the process with a dedicated WordPress security service. Designed to address a wide range of security concerns, this solution can find and fix threats, while you focus on other aspects of designing and maintaining your WordPress site.
Your WordPress site is vulnerable by nature, but the right security solution can provide crucial protection against a vast range of threats. When in doubt, look to SiteLock to implement a robust security strategy. Offering automated solutions, we're here to boost security, performance, and even SEO for your WordPress site.
A better alternative to WordPress security plugins, our services provide superior security strategies but don't use your resources or expose you to new threats. Plugin-based solutions can prompt significant performance degradations and may require manual upgrades. Skip these concerns and opt for a comprehensive security solution from SiteLock.
Layered security is the name of the game at SiteLock. We're pleased to provide the following essentials:
Malware scanning and removal
Web application firewall