WordPress powers 38.8% of the world’s websites. That’s a total of 455 million websites as of 2020—and the number has only continued to grow year-over-year. The statistics may be staggering, but they’re not all that surprising.

WordPress provides a free, open-source platform for website owners and builders alike, offering a range of themes and plugins that make it easy to use and simple to maintain. However, these perks don’t come without weaknesses. The open-source nature of the platform and its many plugin options pose some security risks, ones that many owners fail to account for.

From the top preventative measures, you can take to the best WordPress security plugins you can install, here’s everything you need to know about optimizing the security of your site.

Getting up to speed on security

Generally speaking, your WordPress website is secure until one crucial point: when you or your developer starts altering the template or customizing the design. The more plugins added, the more admins granted access, and the more modifications made, the more vulnerabilities and entry points your website opens up. WordPress security plugins can counteract these openings—closing windows and doors that put you at risk, minimizing entry points, and maximizing security and permission settings.

Security plugins are a valuable tool. But at the end of the day, the better you are about keeping your plugins up to date, secure, and maintained, the less likely you’ll need to install additional WordPress security plugins—and the more likely you are to catch an issue before any damage is done. Because even the best WordPress security plugins can be installed too late.

This post will cover everything you need to know about WordPress security plugins and their vulnerabilities, showing website owners how to maximize site security in both the short and long term.

Best practices for WordPress plugins

When it comes to assessing the security risks of both WordPress security plugins and standard plugins, it’s important to be as clear as possible on how plugins actually function. The risks center around one reality: every time you install a plugin, you’re trusting another developer to run their code on your website—and simply hoping they’re doing the right thing. It’s no surprise, then, that the majority of breaches stem from someone finding a vulnerability in one of these plugins, selling it, and exploiting it across multiple devices and platforms.

The potential reward for this type of malware is undeniable. With WordPress sites making up more than a third of all websites on the internet, just one vulnerability can lead to infections across tens of thousands of subsequent sites and devices. But being aware of the baseline risk of plugins—even of the best WordPress security plugins—can help you become more vigilant about minimizing their vulnerabilities. Below are some best practices for maximizing your plugin security.

  1. Read the reviews.

As you search for your next WordPress plugin, look for options that have four- or five-star ratings, not two- or three-star ratings. Lower ratings can indicate a variety of things, but the bottom line is that users have had issues with them in the past and downloading them can put you at risk of the same. So, before clicking “install”—even on a WordPress security plugin designed specifically to protect your site’s safety—ensure you’re sticking to options that rank at or above a four.

2. The more downloads, the better.

In the same place where you check reviews, you can check the number of downloads and active installs of any given WordPress plugin or WordPress security plugin. The general rule of thumb is simple: the more downloads, the better. Look for plugins with a download number in the hundreds of thousands. This doesn’t just mean it’s particularly popular; it means a lot of people have tested it. If you install a plugin that has only been downloaded 50 or 100 times, you can pretty much consider yourself part of its test phase—and that sort of uncertainty isn’t safe or secure.

3. Make sure it’s been recently updated.

Be sure to check that the plugin you’re considering installing has been updated within the last six months, roughly. Though there are certainly exceptions to this rule, it’s a good general standard. And you’ll be surprised how many haven’t been. If a plugin hasn’t been updated in four years, that’s four years of missed security updates. And that doesn’t just tell you it’s not secure right now; it tells you it probably won’t be for the foreseeable future, either. But keep in mind: some plugins (including WordPress security plugins and those more likely to be targeted by attackers) will need to be updated more frequently than others. It all starts with knowing what’s standard—and using that as a baseline to determine which of your options is most secure.

4. Prioritize regular maintenance.

When it comes to keeping up with your own website updates, the same rules apply. Regular and consistent updates are key to keeping your site secure—and many people fail to stay on top of them. Maybe you didn’t know your plugins needed maintenance and regular updates. Or maybe you figured: if it’s not broken now, what’s there to fix? In reality, prevention is paramount. Maintaining plugins and any necessary security updates  keeps your site safe—and it doesn’t have to be a chore. As plugins have become more common, many have the option to be set to auto-update, including most WordPress security plugins. Turning on auto-update can prevent you from needing to constantly check in on your site, while still providing the security and peace of mind you seek.

5. Stay informed.

Oftentimes, website owners don’t even realize their sites have plugins, let alone that they require regular maintenance to stay secure. If you hire an outside developer to build your site, be sure to ask whether there’s anything you need to do to keep up with your site’s security, and consider encouraging them to download WordPress security plugins alongside any others they choose to install. Staying up to date through resources like the one you’re reading now—and regularly logging into the admin portal of your WordPress site—can help you gain a clearer picture of where your current security level is, and where it needs to be going forward.

Proactively protecting your WordPress site may start with these best practices, but there’s no limit to how many precautions you can take—or the difference they can make in the event of a breach. Other cybersecurity measures, like a Web Application Firewall (WAF) or an automated scanner, can help you ensure any potential threats are identified and mitigated quickly and effectively. For more tips, tools, and tactics for maximizing the security of your WordPress site, get in touch with SiteLock today.