Everything You Need to Know about WordPress Security


Due to their massive user base, WordPress sites get targeted by hackers, with most of the threats coming from third-party plugins used on the platform. 

A 2019 report found that hackers attacked most compromised sites due to poor security practices and plugin vulnerabilities. 

WordPress is based on an open-source ecosystem where the core security updates on the platform do not extend to third-party plugins. Instead, they have to rely on developers to keep the more than 60,000 plugins in the ecosystem up to date. 

Since WordPress accounts for more than 40% of all sites globally, attackers are more incentivized to develop advanced hacking tools that exploit existing and undiscovered vulnerabilities on the platform. 

However, it's not all doom and gloom; as a website owner, you can take steps to improve your WordPress security, which we will cover in this guide.

Types of WordPress Vulnerabilities

The first step in securing your WordPress involves getting acquainted with the various attack vectors that hackers might rely on to compromise your website. 

While most of these security vulnerabilities are already known and get constantly patched, there's always the possibility of having the unfortunate combination of compromised plugins and themes that might leave your site exposed to the following attacks. 

Brute-force Login Attempts

Brute-force login attempts exploit weak passwords to try and gain access to your WordPress accounts. These are carried out using automated scripts to avoid detection by the core security system, mainly if you have not limited login attempts. 

It's estimated that nearly 30,000 websites get compromised every day using brute-force attacks which are easily preventable by performing industry-standard security practices. 

Malicious Redirects

Malicious redirects rely on wp-admin, FTP, SFTP, and other protocols on WordPress to inject redirect codes into your website. 

These are often injected into your .htaccess file and other core encoded forms to redirect your site's traffic to malicious sites. 

WordPress website attacks require the creation of a backdoor in the WordPress installation that is used to inject the malicious scripts that predict your site's visitors to scam sites or even more malware-infected sites. 

Pharma Hacks

Pharma hacks target outdated versions of WordPress installations and third-party plugins and inject rogue code. This attack vector intends to get search engines to return pharmaceutical product ads every time anyone searches for your compromised site. 

Besides being a spam menace, pharma hacks can give search engines an excuse to block your site on the grounds of distributing spam. Pharma hacks usually target outdated plugins and databases to create backdoors which are often used to inject encrypted malicious code to keep it hidden in databases.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS Exploits)

Cross-site scripting vulnerabilities account for the most common attack vectors in WordPress plugins due to their ability to infect many sites without discovery. 

XSS exploits rely on injecting a malicious script into a trusted plugin or website, which are then used to send the browser-side scripts to the end-users who don't suspect the trusted website. 

The scripts often grab session data, rewrite HTML on a specific page or grab cookie data. They also make the user's browser execute arbitrary code on a given page or impersonate the compromised users to execute malicious code. 

Denial of Service Attacks

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks are some of the most vicious WordPress attacks. They usually exploit bugs and errors in the code to overwhelm your site's resources, including RAM and bandwidth. 

DoS attacks are common on the buggy and outdated WordPress versions, which is often the case with older sites. This financially motivates cybercriminals to target such sites and often end up with botnet chains of compromised websites that are then used to attack larger sites while keeping the owners unaware or completely locked out. 

DoS attacks can also target DNS providers in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which are more sophisticated and are carried out by state-backed hacking organizations to target high-profile websites. 

Top 10 Tips to Secure Your WordPress Site

1. Routinely Update WordPress, Themes, and Plugins

Numerous bugs and errors in the core WordPress engine get discovered every month, and developers work hard to patch these vulnerabilities. Installing the latest version of WordPress keeps you one step ahead of hackers by having the latest bug fixes and security enhancements. 

The same applies to themes and plugins. Having the latest versions improves their core performance and patches up existing vulnerabilities. 

One of the most quoted reasons businesses fail to update their WordPress installations routinely is that it might break functionality far from the truth. Most updates are geared towards improving security instead of changing the core functionality. 

Having outdated plugins is a sure way to risk your site; if the third-party plugin developers have fallen behind and do not update their plugins, get an alternative that's up to date and avoid taking the costly risk. Avoid nulled WordPress plugins and themes at all costs as they might contain modified code.

2. Secure Passwords and Usernames

Having simple passwords is a sure way to make it easy for brute force attacks. Avoid simple passwords at all costs; instead, opt for complex passwords or, even better, use a password hashing framework to suggest a strong password. 

You should avoid reusing the same passwords if you own multiple websites, as a single compromise will potentially expose all your sites. The same applies to usernames with administrative privileges. Avoid using the default "admin" username and instead create a clever username. 

Enabling a two-factor authentication over SMS, email, or using an app that generates time-based one-time passwords (TOTP) will significantly prevent brute force attacks on your WordPress site. 

This might require you to install an authentication plugin such as Google Authenticator, which is then linked to an app on your smartphone to secure logins. 

3. Secure WordPress Hosting

Web server-level security depends on your WordPress host and their server hardening techniques. This often involves installing multiple layers of software and hardware-level security measures to defend against virtual and physical threats. 

While shopping for a WordPress hosting service, you should consider hosting firms that rely on the latest operating systems and dedicated security software. Such details are often hidden in the fine print. 

Be sure to inquire before signing on to any hosting package if the host conducts frequent tests and scans for malware and vulnerabilities. 

Having your WordPress site hosted on servers equipped with intrusion detection systems and server-level firewalls is a sure way to keep it protected during installation and website building phases. 

Ensure that the host can maintain optimal performance after configuring file encryption protocols such as SFTP instead of FTP to keep sensitive data from intruders while maintaining nominal performance. 

At Webpoint, We rely on a premium tier cloud network to offer secure WordPress hosting through Linux containers (LXC & LXD) to isolate each WordPress site. This architecture is more secure and offers enterprise-level firewall and DDoS protection at all times. 

4. Maintain Backup Solutions

Maintaining up-to-date backups of your WordPress site is a sure way to get you up and running as fast as possible in case the worst happens. 

As a website owner, you should recognize that no site is 100% secure and that the automated backups often provided by hosting firms are not enough. 

You should always maintain an offsite backup of your website. You can rely on third-party WordPress backup services and plugins like VaultPress and Duplicator. 

5. Use WordPress Security Plugins

WordPress security plugins audit and continually monitor your site's performance and security metrics. They can also notify you of failed login attempts and update malware scanning and web application firewall (WAF). 

Ensure that the website DNS level firewall you install can block malicious traffic before it gets to your web server. W

WordPress security plugins include a checksum utility feature that inspects WordPress installations for hidden modifications in the core files.  

WordPress security plugins like Sucuri and SecuPress provide security features such as:

  • Logging user action
  • ReCaptcha
  • IP blacklisting & whitelisting
  • Logging file changes
  • Analyzing WHOIS data on visitors

Use HTTPS Encrypted Connections and SSL Certificate

HTTPS encrypted connections provide additional security by maintaining a secure connection between the user's browser and the server through secure sockets layer (SSL) certificates. 

This eliminates man-in-the-middle attacks from gaining access to your website. Browsers also warn users when they attempt to visit all non-HTTPS sites that the site is "insecure."  

Kinsta.com offers free SSL certificates and Cloudflare integration in their WordPress packages. 

1. Improve database Security

One of the most significant sources of database security breaches lies in default table prefixes and database names. These should be made obscure to make it more difficult for intruders to identify or access database details. 

Website owners should regularly update database usernames and password credentials to harden your database security further. It's recommended to get a security plugin that monitors database activity and records user access. 

2. Secure Connections

Ensure that all connections to and from your website are securely encrypted to keep your site's data safe. Always go with WordPress hosts that offer secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) and SSH file transfer protocol on their network as it provides encryption and more security while transferring data. 

You can also randomize your SFTP port instead of using the default port 22, which hackers typically target as most WordPress hosts use it. While at it, you should also avoid logging into your WordPress admin account on a public WI-FI.

3. Manage File and Server Permissions

WordPress contains a built-in code editor tool to edit plugins and theme files from the admin control panel. The feature has its purpose, but it can quickly turn into a security risk in the wrong hands and should this be disabled. 

PHP file execution in core WordPress directories can also lead to security risks and should therefore be disabled in directories where it is not required. Permissions to access directory browsing and indexing should be turned off as hackers can use the future to look for known vulnerabilities within your website. 

4. Disable XML-RPC

XML-RPC connects your WordPress site with mobile and web apps and lets you interact with your site remotely.  

While WordPress developers created this tool out of necessity in the earlier days of the internet, but WordPress still sets the future on by default even with its declining use. 

Lately, XML-RPC has been targeted with brute-force attacks, and its capability to send multiple commands in a single HTTP request makes it a noticeable target for hackers. Some of its features and functions, such as system.multicall, can be abused by hackers. 

A common tactic involves getting the function to try thousands of password combinations within no more than 50 requests, which is much more efficient than a brute force attack, usually blocked by login lockdown security plugins. 

Final Thoughts

Maintaining your WordPress website is an ongoing process, and it requires you to be vigilant of its performance and security constantly. 

While the tools and techniques we covered in this guide are a great start towards securing your site, at the end of the day, having a fully managed WordPress hosting package will always be better. 

That's where Webpoint web development company comes in; with our speed obsessive architecture backed by industry-leading cloud platform's next-generation infrastructure, you can expect your site to be operating optimally and free from the malicious intrusion of any kind. 

This allows you to spend less time worrying about your website's security and more time growing your ideas and business.

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