Are you worried about the security risks of using WordPress to build your website? Do you fear WordPress websites are more prone to hacks?
We understand your concern. After all, WordPress accounts for 90% of all attacks on websites. Once a hacker breaks into your website, they can use it to run all kinds of nefarious activities. They can spam your customers, display unwanted content, and deface your website, among a long list of other things.
But you don’t have to worry and needn’t be discouraged from using WordPress. It is, by far, one of the most secure platforms to build your website on and is the most widely used CMS (Content Management System) in the world.
Its popularity makes it a lucrative target for hackers. But don’t worry because, in this article, we’ll help you understand why WordPress sites are attacked. We’ll also show you how to prevent attacks and protect your website from hackers. You can read our article on common hack attacks made on WordPress.
WordPress is a secure platform to build your website, however, there are other elements at play that bring in security threats. To keep your website safe, you need reliable security & firewall plugin such as MalCare. It will ensure that hackers are blocked from the get-go. In case they find a way through, you will be alerted of suspicious activity and you can use MalCare to instantly clean up your site before any damage is done.
WordPress Is Secure – Here’s Why
WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world powering over 1.3 billion active websites. Such popularity naturally draws the attention of hackers. The more targets there are, the more they have to gain.
But opting for a less popular CMS isn’t necessarily the solution. This is because nothing in the digital world is 100% secure. So it’s safe to say that no CMS out there is completely secure and neither is WordPress.
In the past, WordPress did face security issues that led to many sites on its platform being hacked. The last major hack WordPress faced was back in 2017 when a vulnerability led to 1.5 million WordPress websites being defaced. However, the WordPress team of developers sprung into action promptly and fixed the vulnerability immediately.
Since then, WordPress hasn’t faced any issue. So to answer the question ‘Is WordPress Secure?” Yes, it’s safe to say the platform is secure. Here’s why:
- This WordPress core team comprises some of the best developers in the world.
- They work hard to enhance the software and improve the technology of WordPress.
- More importantly, they ensure it’s a secure platform by testing their software and fixing any flaws immediately.
- The team continues to develop new defense mechanisms that keep WordPress airtight against hackers.
- In addition, WordPress spends millions of dollars each year to ensure the security of its platform.
We can trust that WordPress takes security very seriously to ensure the safety of all websites on their platform.
But despite having such rock-solid security, WordPress sites are still targeted and hacked! How is this possible? We tackle this conundrum next.
Why Are WordPress Sites Hacked?
When creating a WordPress site, there are third parties that come into play with WordPress sites:
These third parties have a significant role to play in keeping a WordPress website safe from hackers. Sometimes there are lapses on their part that hackers take advantage of. You can also read why hackers hack WordPress.
1. Security of Themes and Plugins
WordPress is favored by many because it enables just about anyone to build a website without having technical knowledge. But what made WordPress really popular is its abundance of themes and plugins that allow customization of websites to make it look professional.
These themes and plugins are developed by third parties and not by the WordPress team. Most developers are proud of their creations and take the utmost care of security and performance. They constantly develop and enhance their theme and plugin to keep up with the latest technology of WordPress.
That said, working with WordPress for over a decade, we’ve seen plugins and themes develop vulnerabilities from time to time. In fact, plugin and theme vulnerabilities are the biggest reason WordPress sites get hacked.
But there are a number of factors that come into play. To understand why plugins and themes are the number one reason WordPress sites get hacked, we need to address why developers create plugins and themes. We also recommend checking our article on why you should avoid nulled WordPress themes and plugins.
Developers create plugins and themes under different circumstances and with different intentions. We’ve categorized them into two:
The first type of developer is one who works hard at building and maintaining their software. They charge a premium for their plugins and themes. This enables them to meet the costs involved in this venture and makes it worth their while.
In these cases, security is a priority since their name and business are at stake. They take pride in their work.
However, while enhancing and developing their creations, sometimes security flaws appear. This largely happens because there’s a race to stay on top. Sometimes while trying to introduce new features and functions fast, security checks may be overlooked.
However, when they discover security flaws in their plugin or theme, they usually fix it promptly and release a patch in the form of an update.
These developers then inform their clients via emails or push notifications on the wp-admin dashboard that an updated version of their plugin or theme is available. They prompt their clients to update the software as soon as possible.
The second type of developer is the one who creates plugins and themes as a hobby or to try out their coding skills. Most of these plugins and themes are offered for free.
The issue arises when some of these developers abandon the software when they are unable to invest their time or it becomes too expensive to maintain. This leaves the software open to vulnerabilities that will never be fixed.
If a plugin hasn’t received any updates for a long time, we can safely assume it’s been abandoned.
Plus, clients may never be informed that the plugin or theme is no longer being maintained. They would have to figure it out themselves. Once they do, users would need to find an alternative to replace this particular plugin or theme. But in the meantime, their WordPress websites are left vulnerable to hacks. Here is a list of vulnerable WordPress plugins.
Now that you know why plugins and themes can become vulnerable, let’s see how users and the team play a role in the security of the website.
2. Security of Website Admins and Users
The majority of the responsibility for keeping the software secure lies with the developers of WordPress. However, there is some onus on the WordPress user as well. When setting up a WordPress site, there are certain security measures that website owners need to take on their own in order to prevent hackers from breaking into the website.
Many WordPress sites, especially small ones, feel they are not popular enough to be a target for hackers. They are under the impression that their website is of no value to hackers, or that hackers target only big corporations.
This is far from reality. Hackers aren’t biased when it comes to the size and popularity of sites. Every website is of value to them because they can use the site’s resources to carry out malicious activities. Further, they prefer to target small sites because they are fully aware that these sites tend to be relaxed with security measures. It makes it easier for them to hack.
Here are the biggest security lapses that lead to hacked WordPress websites:
1. Weak Login Credentials
When setting up a WordPress site, a user needs to create a username and password. These credentials are required every time they want to access the admin panel.
Most users tend to use the default username ‘admin’. They also stick to passwords that are easy to remember like password123.
Hackers know this and create a huge database of commonly used login credentials. Next, they program bots to access the login page and attempt variations and combinations of this list. This is called a brute force attack and can have a devastating impact.
In this way, by using common WordPress credentials, hackers are able to crack many passwords and break into WordPress sites.
2. Deferring WordPress Updates
Software such as WordPress, along with its themes and plugins, is never perfect. WordPress developers constantly improve their software to keep up with technological advancements. They add new features and also fix any bugs, glitches, and flaws they find.
When they do this, they release a new version of their software. For example, WordPress 5.0 included the Gutenberg editor which revolutionized the way web pages were created on WordPress. WordPress 5.0.1 contained bug fixes.
But what’s most important here is that these updates sometimes carry security patches. When developers find vulnerabilities or security issues, they fix it and release the security patch.
However, many WordPress site owners tend to delay updating their site. This happens for many reasons such as:
- There are too many updates
- The updates come to frequently
- They don’t think it’s important or beneficial
When site owners defer an update that carries a security patch, this spells trouble. Let’s explain why with an example. Let’s say a website is using a plugin called Plugin X (version 1):
- The developers of Plugin X discover version 1 has a security flaw. They promptly fix it and release a patch in the form of version 2. When they do this, they also have to release the details of the update which will reveal that a security issue was present in version 1.
- Hackers are now aware that version 1 is vulnerable. They also know not all site owners will update their sites immediately.
- Hackers program scanners to scour the internet in search of WordPress sites using Plugin X (version 1). It won’t take them long to generate a list of these specific sites.
- Now, the hacker will exploit the vulnerability and break into the site.
By not updating the site, a hacker’s job becomes much easier!
3. Assigning Incorrect User Roles
WordPress sites are rarely run single-handedly. They are usually operated by multiple users but not all of them need complete access to the site.
For this purpose, WordPress has a feature that enables the site owner to assign different roles and permissions for each user. There are 6 default WordPress user roles: Superadmin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber.
Each role determines which user has what powers and what responsibilities. For example, the Administrator has full control over the website. The permissions decrease as we go down the hierarchy with the subscriber having the least authority.
These roles play a vital role in the security of the website. Granting admin powers to everyone can be disastrous.
This is because every user account on a WordPress site is targeted by hackers. If a hacker is able to break into an admin account, they will get full control of the site. Next, they can steal confidential data, install rogue plugins and themes, store illegal files, and folders among other things.
But if they hack into a subscriber account, they won’t be able to do much. This is why assigning user roles is an important part of website security.
4. Not Installing SSL
A WordPress website often transfers and receives data from browsers and web servers. Sometimes this data contains sensitive information like login credentials and payment information.
If a website uses HTTP (Hypertext transfer protocol), the data is transferred in plain text. Hackers try to intercept this data. If it is in plain text, they will be able to take advantage of it.
To prevent this from happening, site owners need to install an SSL certificate (Secure Socket Layer). Your website will begin to use HTTPS instead of HTTP. All data being transferred will be encrypted. So even if hackers get their hands on it, they won’t be able to decipher the information.
5. Using Pirated Themes and Plugins
Many WordPress plugins and themes offer amazing features and functions to create a unique site. But many of these plugins and themes are premium products. When you buy the product, the developer issues a license to use it.
However, WordPress has made it easy and inexpensive to build a website. So there’s a mindset of trying to build a site for next to nothing. This has led many site owners to give in to the temptation of using pirated themes and plugins.
A pirated version is a cracked or nulled theme or plugin where the license has been broken. Anyone is free to use it without paying for it.
However, almost always, these pirated plugins and themes are loaded with malware. When it is installed on a website, the malware infects the site. This allows hackers to take control of the site and wreak havoc.
Thus, you can see how third parties play such a pivotal role in the security of a WordPress site. While setting up and running a WordPress site, there are certain best practices to follow and WordPress hardening measures to implement in order to keep it secure. This will prevent hackers from gaining access to your site. Let’s take a look at how you can keep your WordPress site safe.
WordPress Security Best Practices
Remember, hackers, like to target sites that are easy to hack. By implementing adequate security measures you make it harder for them to hack. They might make a few attempts and move on from your site.
We’ll show you the most important WordPress security measures to implement in order to make your site’s security robust!
1. Install A Security & Firewall Plugin
A security and firewall plugin is your first line of defense against hackers.
We recommend using our plugin – MalCare, one of the best security plugins out there. It will scan your website regularly for malware. The web application firewall will also detect and block malicious traffic from accessing your site. Hackers will be prevented from visiting your site let alone attempting to hack it.
It also gives you access to a whole lot of other security features that will keep your site protected at all times.
2. Keep Your Site Updated
We mentioned earlier that updates carry security patches. This makes it so important to install updates as and when they are available.
3. Install An SSL Certificate
SSL is such a vital part of security as it keeps any data transferred from and to your site safe. When you install an SSL certificate, your website will display a green lock in the address bar to show your site is secure.
You can purchase an SSL certificate from your web hosting provider or any SSL provider. You can also get a basic SSL certificate for free from LetsEncrypt.
4. Use Strong Login Credentials
The login page is the gateway to your website’s admin panel. The username and password serve as your lock and key.
Ensure you use credentials that are difficult for anyone to guess. For this, we recommend using a username that is unique. Avoid using ‘admin’ or any name that can be found easily on your website.
For passwords, we recommend using a passphrase in combination with numbers and symbols such as ThecatintheHat1234$. WordPress will indicate if your password is weak or strong when you’re setting it.
5. Assign Correct User Roles
Grant admin access only to trusted users and those who really require these permissions. To all other users, grant limited powers by assigning user roles.
You can do this by accessing your WordPress dashboard. Go to Users and here, you will be able to assign roles to every user.
6. Implement WordPress Hardening
WordPress recommends certain security measures that will harden your website so that hackers will find it even more difficult to break in.
However, WordPress hardening is a topic that needs much more detailed attention. We recommend this guide to understand WordPress hardening.
To give you a brief of what WordPress hardening entails, you would need to implement the following measures:
- Disable plugin installations
- Disable plugin and theme editors
- Limit login attempts
- Implement 2 Factor Authentication
- Change WordPress salts and keys
- Block PHP execution in untrusted folders
If you wish to skip the hassle and implement WordPress hardening easily, you can use a plugin to do so. Plugins like MalCare simplify the task by making it as simple as a few clicks.
7. Use Trusted Themes and Plugins
Plugins and themes that are available in trusted places such as the WordPress repository have to meet certain security requirements and benchmarks to be listed. So you can trust that they are safe to use.
You can also rely on trusted marketplaces like CodeCanyon and ThemeForest.
Never use pirated and untrusted plugins and themes. They are simply not worth the risk.
With these measures in place, your WordPress site will be protected against hackers. You can rest assured your website and the WordPress platform are secure.
All websites on the internet are targets for hackers regardless of which CMS they used to build their site. However, WordPress is one of the most secure platforms.
That said, WordPress sites are not free from security breaches and threats. You need to take measures on your own to ensure your site is protected.
We recommend always keeping a security & firewall plugin active such as MalCare on your WordPress site. This will ensure that hackers are blocked from the get-go. In case they find a way through, you will be alerted of suspicious activity and you can use MalCare to instantly clean up your site before any damage is done.
If you liked this article, you might find our Complete WordPress Security Guide interesting!
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