WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) today! As the top-rated CMS, WordPress powers 34% of the Internet. It is an intelligent platform with powerful extensions that help site owners to customize their websites.
In other words, WordPress dominates in the CMS realm! But, like every other CMS, WordPress can be vulnerable to web security threats if not appropriately maintained.
In this article, you’ll learn about the latest web security threats that the CMS faces and how you can deal with them as a WordPress website owner.
1. Non-Updated Software and Underlying Architecture
A common problem to WordPress security is human error in weak and non-updated code frameworks, which can lead to security gaps and bugs.
Although the truth is, most WordPress security issues happen when using older WordPress versions, non-updated plugins, or badly-coded themes that contain serious vulnerabilities. Outdated WordPress versions, plugins, or themes, can leave you open to attacks.
Thankfully, when major WordPress security issues arise, the WordPress security team resolves them. The team also keeps the Core updated and releases security patches when needed.
This is the reason why running the latest version of WordPress and the software that comes along with it is crucial. Updates will appear on your Dashboard.
When it comes to updates, a lot of the legwork can be done by using the right hosting provider. Our managed WordPress hosting partner Pagely performs automatic updates to the Core and plugins. Their system keeps websites updated, safe, and running seamlessly.
Pagely doesn’t rush with significant updates. They typically wait for two to five weeks since the new release. That provides developers with enough time to update their core versions if needed.
Commonly, major WP releases contain a few bugs here and there that are corrected in the subsequent minor releases.
2. Poorly Written Plugins
Each WordPress add-on should undergo a security control just like the Core does. But, that’s not always the case. There are nulled “premium” themes and plugins distributed for free, or, being sold on places like Themeforest. And just like in the CD piracy era, these “cracks” can infect your system with malicious code.
In the WPScan Vulnerability Database, you’ll find the plugins that have confirmed vulnerabilities and security problems.
Who Creates These Add-ons?
Developers create plugins to make the entire WP community a better place. However, there are also cases where people distribute infected versions of popular plugins. It’s a lot easier to make someone install your plugin if it’s popular.
If there is no information about the developers that published the plugin, don’t trust them. It’s possible the plugin they’re offering will cause severe damage to your site.
Kidnaping Your Website
Hijacking your site is one of the worst things that can happen as a result of a malicious add-on. It can be done in many ways, like, for instance, hooking various functions to the “wp_head” action that executes every time a page gets loaded.
Suspicious Support and Updates
Imagine encountering issues and having to handle them without any proper support. That’s what will happen when you don’t use plugins from a reputable publisher. The main plugin warning signs are:
- Bad Reviews: Ratings and reviews are crucial these days. Think of websites such as Airbnb or Booking, where a bad rating can be detrimental. The same goes for WordPress plugins and their grades.
- Questionable Code: Examine the code and ensure that everything is as it’s supposed to be. If you’re not technical enough, you need to contact an expert to do this. It’s like buying a car part, not knowing if it would fit the vehicle. It would be best if you asked the mechanic first.
- Fewer Downloads: A vast number of installs and good ratings usually mean that the plugin is excellent. Unless, of course, if it’s a rarely-used niche plugin doing something peculiar and doesn’t need to be continuously updated.
- No Documentation: The least that someone can do is provide screenshots or FAQs. If that’s not available, don’t download the plugin.
- Version Incompatibility: Pay attention to whether the plugin is compatible with your WordPress version.
- No Support: Inspect the responses of the plugin developers in the support forum. If they don’t provide concrete answers, it’s not a positive sign.
3. SQL Injections
One of the most harmful things that can happen to your WordPress site is an SQL (Structured Query Language) injection.
It occurs as a result of poorly sanitized user input. By inserting snippets of code in the HTML document’s input tag, it attacks the corresponding database. With the modification of the input tag, hackers run SQL commands and modify the database.
That can happen due to the various direct entry points that exist in WordPress sites. These include signup, login and contact forms, search fields, as well as shopping carts.
For example, you have a contact form where the users must enter their phone number to send you the message. That field should have a defined numbers limit and format. An inexperienced developer might set the field as plain text. That opens the path for anyone to insert a malicious string of code.
The WordPress Core is not directly affected by SQL injections. However, back in 2017, a patch came out to put a stop to SQL injections that could affect WordPress plugins and themes. Still, there’s no way to get rid of this threat completely.
You can reduce the risk of SQL injections with the following practices.
Be attentive to WordPress updates. Updates are not just about the WordPress Core. You should also ensure that your underlying server software is updated too.
Always run your website on the latest version of PHP! The PHP internals team successfully created the fastest version yet of PHP. The upgrade will improve the speed of your site as well, both for you and your visitors.
Use Reliable Plugins
Your contact, login, and registration forms are critical. With all the available plugins, it’s often difficult to choose the right one. Please stick to the plugin advice we mentioned above. And always check the plugins for previous vulnerabilities and patches before you download them.
Limit Field Entries
Limit the types of data that can be entered into a field. For example, the name field should only allow alphabetic entries. The telephone or payment data field should not include alphabet letters or special characters. That would reduce the risk of inadequate data validation and back-end sanitization.
Change Database Prefix
Alter the standard WordPress database prefix. By default, the WordPress database should have the prefix of “wp_.“ This prefix can allow the execution of automated scripts once a SQL injection is in place. Changing the prefix does not allow injections to affect your data and, ultimately – protects your website.
4. Exposed Login Practices
By default, WordPress doesn’t put a limit on login attempts. That is why bots can perform brute-force attacks on your login credentials. If you use shared hosting, a more severe brute-force attack could lead to your account being suspended due to a lack of server resources.
As the first step to protect your website from exposed login practices, we recommend you to limit the login attempts. The Limit Login WordPress plugin tracks the number of malicious login attempts and stops users from executing them again.
You can also add security questions to act as a new password for your website. The perfect security question is something that only you can answer. Even better, you can set an answer that is not related to the question at all. For example, “The White Stripes” in response to “Your favorite drink?”.
Another way to protect the login page is to use 2-factor authentication. Aside from the primary password, you can use an expirable token. Even if hackers know your password, they will not be able to log in without entering the complete token. For this purpose, you can use the Google Authenticator plugin.
For your passwords, use a combination of special characters, letters, and numbers. Don’t allow access to someone unless it is necessary to do so. If that’s the case, don’t forget to change your password after the need for sharing has passed.
Ensure that each of your team members gets its role. If you find it challenging to handle too many passwords, start using password management software, such as:
Another thing to keep in mind is never to use the WP admin password for another program. If a hacker compromises at least one of your other accounts, they can get ahold of your WP admin password as well. In that case, it’s like you’ve never had that password at all.
5. Badly Defined User Roles
If you have an entire team of users that you want to assign a particular role to, things can get tricky. Allowing everyone the admin access puts your WordPress site security is at stake!
To start setting roles, open the WordPress dashboard and go to Users> All Users. This is where you can add users and assign them roles.
WordPress comes with different WordPress user roles and capabilities. That allows you to assign the necessary access levels instead of assigning everyone to the WordPress administrator role.
If an entire team is working on a site, it’s much better to have separate admin accounts, rather than having the whole team using the same admin account. The admin accounts can be used for maintenance, such as plugin upgrades, and themes or plugin installations.
Assigning WordPress User Roles
There are five built-in WordPress user roles: Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber. With these roles, as a WordPress website owner, you can control what users can and cannot do on the site.
WordPress Administrator Role: The Administrator has access to everything on a WordPress installation. The role can install and uninstall themes and plugins, activate and deactivate them, can create, delete, and modify the rest of the users.
WordPress Editor Role: The Editors can access every piece of content. They can change it, but can’t do anything about configuration, setup, functionalities, and the design of the website.
WordPress Author Role: Authors are only allowed to access their blog posts. They can write and publish their blog posts, altering their existing blog posts, and modifying their user profiles.
WordPress Contributor Role: Contributors can also write their posts. But, contrary to authors, WordPress contributors cannot publish their posts. They need to be approved and published by the editor or the administrator.
WordPress Subscriber Role: Subscribers can only read content on the WordPress website that they’re subscribed to. Sometimes a user needs to be registered to leave a comment.
6. Weak Hosting Infrastructure
Did you know that more than 30% of the top 10 million websites use WordPress as their CMS? It’s no wonder that hosting companies are fighting to gain as many clients as possible.
At the same time, hosting companies are not equal in quality. Low-priced solutions sound great, but what you get for the $0.99 per month price is questionable.
Paying extra for a quality managed hosting gives you extra security, 24/7 support, malware scans, and more. In our experience, there’s nothing better in the marketplace than Pagely.
Security is deep-engraved in the way the Pagely team works! They use a dynamic web application firewall (WAF) that stops code injections and other exploits. That lowers the risk of a DDoS or a brute-force attack on your website.
Pagely also uses chroot user separation and real-time system malware scanning, which protects your site from threats such as trojan horses, viruses, worms, keyloggers, spyware, adware. Furthermore, they filter out most of the questionable traffic before it even has a chance to pass into their networks.
Moreover, Pagely will always be available 24/7 to help you clean and restore your website if it becomes compromised, free of charge.
Of course, a quality host doesn’t come cheap. It is a long-term investment in your business that lets you sleep at night, knowing that someone is looking after your website 24/7/365.
Web security issues will always exist. But most of them can be avoided by deploying WordPress best practices and paying attention to potential security risks online.
We hope that understanding the top WordPress security threats will help you make your site impenetrable. With the right knowledge, tactics, and partners, you can reduce security attacks and keep your WordPress site safe.