Improve WordPress security and protect sites [Guide]

Anton P. | August 04, 2022

WordPress security is a priority for anyone using this CMS to build and host websites. However, its popularity also attracts an unwanted audience: hackers. With the largest pool of potential victims, WordPress must uphold high standards for security measures.

Moreover, users themselves must sustain WordPress security. Installing updates for the core software is crucial to prevent hackers from having enough time to exploit vulnerabilities. Furthermore, adding only secure plugins is another goal.

Let’s inspect the most common WordPress security issues and ways developers or users can protect sites.

Improve WordPress security and protect sites [Guide]

Is WordPress secure?

Generally, WordPress security depends on the versions of WordPress users run. The heart and core of this service get the undivided attention of security and development professionals. If you run the latest version of WordPress, you receive a fully patched and secure service.

We see WordPress core vulnerabilities, like those related to data sanitization issues. However, their severity gets frequently overshadowed by plugin problems.

So, WordPress security depends on multiple factors:

  • WordPress updates and vulnerability patches. Developers of WordPress core work hard to fix issues before they become public knowledge. Once an update gets released, researchers share information on fixed issues. Therefore, it is crucial to update as soon as possible.
  • Website owners’ actions like installing updates and following security news. WordPress security heavily depends on whether users update the core system and all additional plugins.
  • Third-party plugins users decide to add to their websites. Plugins are a crucial part of any WordPress website. However, third-party software can be dangerous, be it by default or accidentally, due to vulnerabilities in code.

Are WordPress plugins safe to install?

WordPress plugins are handy additions to websites. They can extend their functionality, offer protection, or be helpful in managing areas like SEO. Thousands of plugins are available, which might seem overwhelming. Many plugins come from third-party sources outside the official WordPress team.

When it comes to WordPress security, some plugins are likely intentionally harmful. For instance, plugin creators could secretly insert ads or mine crypto to generate profit. However, the biggest threat to WordPress security appears to be plugins with careless programming code.

Developers of such third-party plugins might be unaware of potential backdoors due to faulty testing and quality control. Nevertheless, even well-known and trusted plugins can face bugs or vulnerabilities in their software.

The emphasis here is that developers must efficiently react and resolve such issues. If third-party plugins get abandoned by their creators, thousands of websites could rely on vulnerable software.

According to Risk Based Security research, WordPress plugin vulnerabilities in 2021 increased by 142% compared to 2020. Furthermore, over 77% of them were exploitable.

Recap of plugins compromising WordPress security

Unfortunately, a single vulnerable plugin can compromise thousands, if not millions, of WordPress websites. Here are some of the recently reported WordPress security issues:

  • The vulnerability in Kaswara Modern WPBakery Page Builder Addons affected 4-6 thousand websites. It exposed sites to the possibility of an attacker exploiting the flaw and taking over websites.
  • Researchers reported a privilege escalation flaw in Jupiter and JupiterX Core plugins. It affected over 90 thousand WordPress sites, also potentially facilitating full takeovers.
  • The UpdraftPlus plugin had a vulnerability that could let attackers access websites’ latest backups. The software had over 3 million installations.

How to choose plugins that won’t hurt WordPress security?

When choosing plugins, follow these simple guidelines to preserve WordPress security:

  • Take a look at the plugin repository. How long has the software been available? Newer plugins could contain more vulnerabilities and have fewer chances to test their product with clients.
  • How involved are programmers? Who are they? It can be a good sign if plugin developers are open about their identities.
  • Is the code open-source? Open-source software is usually more reliable as any tech-savvy client can review its code. So, it becomes difficult to hide any unwarranted activities.
  • How often do plugin developers release patches, updates, improvements, or new features? WordPress security is an ongoing battle of responding to potential threats in time. Plugin creators should be actively involved in their product development.
  • How does the WordPress community rate the plugin? Other clients won’t sugar-coat it if the app fails to meet their standards.

What are some other threats to WordPress security?

Let’s discuss the biggest and most prominent threats to WordPress websites:

  • DDoS attacks. Distributed Denial of Service attacks flood websites with loads of bogus traffic. The aim here is to push sites offline and make them inoperable.
  • Brute-force attacks. These attacks hope to gain unauthorized access to websites by guessing the various username and password combinations. Hackers can use previously breached passwords/emails or try things like dictionary attacks.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS). This threat means hackers find ways to inject malicious JavaScript code into websites. For instance, formjacking is one type of XSS when attackers compromise sites’ forms.
  • SQL infections. WordPress websites using MySQL databases face the threat of criminals adding new admin-level accounts. Then, they can either steal information or add harmful content, like links to malicious websites.

How to boost WordPress security

Protecting WordPress security means following particular recommendations.

  1. Update WordPress core and plugins

Skipping updates is dangerous as outdated versions can feature various vulnerabilities and bugs. They can not only jeopardize websites’ performance but their security.

So, make it a rule never to delay an update. Since WordPress plugins frequently face flaws, website owners must be vigilant about not missing them. After all, critical vulnerabilities could facilitate account takeovers or personal data theft.

  1. Keep plugins to a minimum

Thousands of WordPress plugins are available, which can be tempting. They can deal with various operations, like adding payment operations or 2FA functionality. While some plugins are essential, like those boosting security, others can be redundant.

However, while quantity should be a factor, it is more about the quality of plugins. WordPress security should remain satisfactory if all plugins get updated regularly and have active developers.

  1. Limit login attempts

Brute-force attacks can try thousands of potential credentials to find the correct combination. Luckily, you can significantly improve WordPress security by limiting failed login attempts.

Be wary of IP addresses that break these restrictions. Some WordPress security plugins automatically add such IP addresses to deny lists.

  1. Back up WordPress sites

WordPress security is also about preparing for the worst-case scenarios. If an attack damages your data, a backup lets you solve this issue. So, you should preserve such data:

  • WordPress core installation.
  • Plugins.
  • Images and files.
  • JavaScript or other code files.
  • Themes.

WordPress also supports automatic backups, meaning you won’t have to do it manually.

  1. Pick a secure web hosting

Hosting can seem like a milestone that web owners pass without a second look. However, your hosting provider plays a role in WordPress security and performance.

For instance, you can pick shared hosting, which is more affordable yet less efficient. A VPS (Virtual Private Server) is better but remains defeated by dedicated hosting. The most common WordPress hosting is shared, best for beginners.

Besides the type of hosting, web owners should also pick options that offer the following WordPress security benefits:

  • Advanced security.
  • Caching.
  • Backups.
  • 24/7 support.
  • Anti-hack systems.
  • Automatic updates.
  1. Handle file permissions

File permissions manage which users can access or interact with data on sites’ servers. For instance, certain users can only read files, while others can write and execute them. Web owners should limit access as much as possible. However, some general rules apply, like only letting the owner write wp-config.php files.

  1. Turn off file editing in WordPress dashboard

If file editing is active, admin users can modify code directly from the WordPress dashboard. It might be convenient, but it poses risks if someone gains access to admin accounts. So, it is best to sacrifice this file altering in favor of WordPress security.

  1. Hide WordPress version

Revealing the WordPress version your site uses could give hackers information about which hacks it is susceptible to. If you use the latest versions, showing this detail might not be dangerous. However, if sites run on older ones, keeping this information outside the public is safer.

Wrapping up on WordPress security

WordPress is an easy-to-use platform, giving anyone the power to build websites. However, its flexible customization is also its greatest weakness. It does mean that web owners must know the best practices for keeping WordPress security top-notch.

The general rules include strong passwords, data backups, access limits, strictly reliable plugins, and quality hosting like VPS. Also, always stay alert on any news on plugins and whether they continue to be safe for use.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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