WordPress is essentially a factory for creating your websites. Initially designed as a blog-publishing system, WordPress has grown into the most successful web development and content management system online. Today, WordPress is behind 37% of all websites on the Internet.
The increase in popularity has ensured that thousands of new business owners and bloggers look towards WordPress websites to launch their content online. This has also caught the attention of hackers and individuals with malicious intent who are continually looking to exploit breaches in security. Renowned for its usability and ease of access, a WordPress website is also an attractive target for bad actors and an attacker looking for a soft target.
However, it is relatively easy to ensure that your WordPress site is as safe and secure as possible. Starting from the basics up to installing some specific plugins, this article will be your complete guide to securing your WordPress website.
Is WordPress Safe?
You might be concerned about picking WordPress as it accounts for more than 80% of all attacks on websites. Google blacklists around 10000 websites every day for malware and around 50000 every week for phishing.
If your site becomes the target of such a malicious attack, it can cause irreparable damage to your business. But, despite these statistics, WordPress is an entirely reliable and secure platform for your websites because of the following reasons:-
- WordPress employs a well-qualified team of engineers and developers to ensure that each software update is malware-free and has no loopholes that can be exploited.
- WordPress also spends millions of dollars on its security department to enhance security measures. They are constantly testing new software and security measures and rolling out updates to ensure that their users and their sites get the best experience possible.
- Every update that WordPress roles out has better security measures and fixes holes in their armor.
It is impossible to create a totally 100% fool-proof security system. Internet and WordPress Security rely on creating risk-minimization, not on risk-elimination. This means that the chances of your website getting hacked are never zero, but you must take all the necessary steps to ensure that your business and users are safe. If you follow the best practices and measures listed here, you can ensure that your website remains safe and secure.
Why is WordPress Security Important?
WordPress Security means securing your WordPress website and ensuring that the content on the site and the private data of the viewers do not fall into the wrong hands. You must have a fool-proof security system in place for your website. Otherwise, it may have a catastrophic effect on your business. Whether you’re just starting or have an established website, it is essential to ensure that your security is top-notch and that you keep your WordPress site as safe as possible. If the security of your website is compromised, one or all of these things can happen, creating major problems for your business that would be difficult to overcome.
- As mentioned earlier, Google continually bans websites for malware and phishing to provide the best user experience. If your site happens to get blacklisted by Google, your traffic and revenue will take a considerable drop, and it will take a very long time to get your site back to its original rankings. A majority of your users and advertising partners will find alternatives, and you will never fully recover from a ban from Google for a long time.
- Hackers may also steal details about your users and employees from your database, causing a massive breach of privacy. That data may end up being sold to third-party organizations, which may further use it to finance their malicious activities.
- If a virus gets in and corrupts your WordPress database, you stand to lose all the content that you have created for your website. Every post, link, and page of your website will be at risk, and your entire site may crash. If you do not have a recent backup handy, you will again see a loss in traffic and revenue.
- If a hacker gains access to your website or is able to obtain the login credentials using brute-force attack, they may end up locking you out of your website. This would be the the worst-case scenario and you will be forced to pay a ransom to the hackers to gain access back to your website.
6 major threats to WordPress Websites?
- Installing Third-Party Plugins and Themes
- Not Installing an SSL Certificate
- Incorrect User Permission
- Choosing an unreliable host
- Weak Login Credentials
- System and Server Vulnerabilities
Before moving onto the best security measures, it is vital to understand the significant threats and challenges that make a WordPress website vulnerable to attacks. While the core software of WordPress is optimized for safety, many choices made by the users themselves end up opening up their sites to attacks.
The following is a list of common mistakes that increase the risk of a malicious attack on your website.
Installing Third-Party Plugins and Themes
One of the best features of WordPress is the ease with which it allows you to change the look of your website completely. One just needs to download and apply a new theme, and the entire site immediately takes on a new design. WordPress also allows users to install various plugins that will help them to add new features in their websites. These themes and plugins are the biggest entry-points for hackers.
WordPress provides several themes and plugins of its own and has also collaborated with top developers to produce many of them. Sometimes, people unknowingly install a theme or plugin from an unverified source that has been developed by some shady programmers. Sometimes famous plugins can also have vulnerabilities like the infamous WPSuperCache and the popular W3 Total Cache Plugins. These contained small bits of code that can be later exploited to take control of your site and this was revealed after they had been on the market for a long period of time.
Not installing an SSL Certificate.
An SSL certificate secures all the data going to and fro from your website. If your site doesn’t have an SSL, all this data is transferred in plain language without any encryption. Hackers often try to intercept this data, which contains login credentials and payment info.
Installing an SSL certificate ensures that all data being transferred to and fro from your website is encrypted. This makes it difficult for anyone to use this data even if they get their hands on it; when you have an SSL certificate installed, your site displays a lock icon in the address bar. You can purchase an SSL certificate from your website host or a company like LetsEncrypt.
Incorrect User Permissions
WordPress sites are often run by a team of employees, each of whom has been assigned different roles. WordPress provides six different permission settings so that it is easier to compartmentalize the work and reduce the risk of a security breach.
The six default roles provided by WordPress are SuperAdmin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber. It is essential to assign permissions based on the work assigned to the employees. Admin permissions should be assigned to only those people who you trust completely. If a hacker can get into an Admin account, they can easily take control of your website.
Choosing an Unreliable Host
Today, there are several hosting options available on the Internet, but not all of them are safe and secure. While Hosts are not wholly responsible for the security of your website and it depends on what you install and how you handle permissions, a reliable and trustworthy host is the foundation on which your website is built.
You must choose a good hosting platform that has :-
- I. An effective method of dealing with your queries and has a fast tech support system in place to handle your problems if something goes wrong.
- II. Reliable methods that provide secure data backup and recovery.
- III. A large audience base that has given it positive reviews and reliable feedback.
- BlueHost is a reliable hosting partner that is used widely by people for running WordPress sites.
Weak Login Credentials
This is one of the most basic errors that some people make. It is necessary to have a strong password to the back end of your website and keep access to the site limited. WordPress itself provides complicated passwords, which are a collection of random characters so that every user gets a strong password, which is unique.
Many people use their names or a simple sequence of numbers as their password. Ensuring that your site has a strong password is necessary. When you are setting a username and password, WordPress will tell you whether it’s weak or strong. Act accordingly and make the changes required.
System and Server Vulnerabilities
It is also necessary to ensure that the computer system and web browser that you are using are malware-free and have no problems and issues, The computer should have anti-virus software installed, and the web browser must be updated and running on the latest version. Your system needs to be free from all spyware and malware applications.
The network that you are using should also be trustworthy, and it is advised not to perform changes and access your wp-admin on public networks.
How to create a secure WordPress website.
Now that you are aware of the common mistakes that people make and the importance of enhancing your website’s security, let us move on to examine the process of creating a secure WordPress website. Many people are under the impression that only big, established sites are targeted by hackers, which is entirely false. Hackers are always on the lookout for potential sites and targets that they can use to launch further malicious activities.
- Keeping WordPress Updated
- Installing Trusted Plugins and Themes
- Installing SSL Certificate
- Creating a data backup
- Managing permissions
Listed Above are 5 essential steps that you must follow before moving onto advanced security features. By following this security checklist, you take the first steps towards setting up a secure site for your business and your users
Keeping WordPress Updated
It is essential to keep your core WordPress software updated as they are constantly introducing security patches with new updates. Deferring updates for a long time leaves your site vulnerable to brute force attacks by hackers. It is also recommended that you update your themes and plugins as soon as a new update is launched.
You must keep track of the WordPress version that your site is running on and when it was last updated. WordPress doesn’t come out with major updates quite often, but it does launch security patches and bug fixes that need to be monitored and installed. Running on the latest version of WordPress, and all installed themes and plugins are the first step towards securing your site.
Installing Trusted Plugins and Themes
Before installing any extra bit of software and application to your website, you must confirm the authenticity of its source. Security in WordPress relies on the user, and you must install plugins and themes after carefully examining user reviews. It is also essential to check when they were last updated and that they are compatible with the WordPress version you currently have installed.
Good themes and plugins always come from established developers with a large user base. If you feel inclined to try a new and upcoming design or plugin from an amateur developer, make sure that you have it looked over by someone who has the technical knowledge of the source code. Always ensure that the developer is reliable, and in the absence of reviews, reach out to them about your concerns.
Installing SSL Certificates
Purchasing and installing an SSL certificate will also help in protecting user data and securing your WordPress site. Moreover, until you have an SSL certificate installed, a visitor to the site will keep getting a warning every time they visit your site. This will have a negative effect on your customer base and reduce traffic to your site.
Thus, installing SSL has a dual benefit as it establishes your site as a credible player in the market and also provides secure data transmission to and from your website.
Creating A Data Backup
Your WordPress Database contains every post, image, and page that you have created for your site. If your Database gets hit or gets corrupted due to any reason, you stand to lose everything that you have ever written or worked on. With a proper backup, you can restore your site to normal quickly.
You can create a backup for your WordPress Site and your entire WordPress Database. Site backups help you in quickly repairing issues and get the site running again. A backup of your entire database is necessary if you want to get creative with your site and constantly try out new themes and plugins.
It is recommended that you backup your data at least once every two weeks, and always before updating WordPress.
There are automatic backup plugins available on the market, and we have listed out the best ones in this article. They will make your work a lot easier. Apart from that, the WordPress Support Forum that will answer your queries and help you through the process.
It is essential to manage your team and clearly define the roles and permissions that they have been assigned. Using the six user settings, namely, SuperAdmin, Administrator, Author, Editor, Subscriber, and Contributor, effectively, is vital for your website security.
It is also recommended that you Disallow Plugin Installs as anyone with access can install a plugin without proper research and endanger your website.
WordPress Hardening refers to improving the security of your WordPress site by making small changes through coding and changing the default settings and permissions. These are slightly more complicated measures for the DIY user. WordPress mentions that no system is completely secure, and even though they take security seriously, any site could be vulnerable to attacks. But, WordPress Hardening focuses on prevention and containment to ensure that your site is best-prepared to deal with any threat to its security.
Managing File Permissions
Allowing various WordPress files to be writable by the web server unlocks additional benefits and features. But, this also increases the security risk, especially in a shared hosting environment. It is best to lock down your file permissions and only allow access when a specific change needs to be made.
All files should be owned by your user account, and be writable by you. Any file that requires write access from WordPress should be jointly owned by the server and the website owner. In the root WordPress directory, all files should be writable by the website owner except for the .htaccess file. The htaccess file automatically generates rules for rewriting files.
The files in the wp-admin and under wp-includes contain all of the files related to the WordPress Administration and the application of WordPress logic. These files should be kept under lock and key and must be writable by the owner only.
One of the most common and effective security best practices is moving your wp-config.php file one directory higher than the WordPress site’s document root. This file contains sensitive information, and you must ensure that only you and the web server can read this file.
If your server has .htaccess, you can add the following code on top of the wp-config.php file to deny outsiders access.
order allow, deny
deny from all
Disable File Editing
The WordPress Dashboard has a default setting that allows administrators to edit PHP files, such as plugin and theme files. If a hacker gains access to your site, this is the first tool that they will use as it allows them to execute code on the site. A Simple line of code can help you stop that from happening.
Placing this line in the wp-config.php file will remove the capacity to edit files, plugins (edit_plugins), and themes (edit_themes) from all users.
Limiting Login Attempts
You must have seen banks and payment portals that log you out of the webpage after a certain number of failed login attempts. This is an additional security measure against brute force attacks and can be implemented on your WordPress site as well. By default, WordPress allows unlimited login attempts.
You can limit the number of login attempts by :-
- I: Manually inserting code in the functions.php file. This method requires technical knowledge of coding and is only recommended for people with programming skills.
- II. Installing a WordPress plugin such as Limit Login Attempts Reloaded, or Login Lockdown which will let you set a limit for failed login attempts manually. If a user fails to login within the specified limit, you can
Enabling Two-Factor Authentication
A simple way in which hackers try to take control of your site is through a brute force attack on your login page. They employ bots that try to guess your password and gain access to your wp-admin. To ensure that this doesn’t happen is to enable two-factor authentication for every person who has access to the back end of your website.
In two-factor authentication, a new password generated in real-time will be sent to the person’s email. This makes it significantly difficult for hackers to gain access to your WordPress dashboard.
XML-RPC is a remote procedure call that uses XML to encode its calls and HTTP as a transport mechanism. It is required if you are using the WordPress mobile app or want to access and edit your site remotely. This is why XML-RPC is automatically enabled in WordPress, and you cannot disable it through your Dashboard. The vast scope of XML-RPC opens up new fronts of attacks on your site using the brute-force method.
Set Up A Website Audit Log
Setting up a log makes it easy for you to track the movements and interactions of visitors on your site. This can help in identifying potential areas of risk after a careful assessment. Many plugins, like the WP Security Audit Log, can be installed to track user movements. In the event that something goes wrong, this log will help you to identify the problem and fix it rapidly quickly.
LogOut Inactive Users
Sometimes users can leave your site before closing down their session and exiting properly. Their sessions can be hacked, and their account info can be modified or stolen. This is why it is recommended to set up a time limit after which your site logs out the user automatically. Banking and Payment portals often do this. This is a feature that comes attached with many security plugins, which we will cover later on in the article.
Strong Passwords & Usernames
Last but not least, it is important to have a unique username and password as they will be your first line of defense from a brute-force attack. Earlier WordPress used to have a default username titled “admin” for website owners, which made it easier for brute-force attackers as they only had to guess the password.
Even though WordPress has changed that feature and asks users to create a custom username, many people still use their names, default “admin” or “webmaster” as their WordPress usernames, which is a security risk.
While choosing a strong password, it is necessary to put some time and effort into it as the security of your business hinges on it. The following is a list of DON’Ts when choosing a password by WordPress:-
Choosing a permutation of your name, the company name, or the name of the website.
- Creating a short password for convenience
- Choosing a random word from a Dictionary of any language,
- Choosing an alphabet-only or numeric-only sequence for the password. It is advised to use a mixture of both along with some special characters.
If you’re guilty of any such blunder, it is advised that you create a new WordPress profile with a strong admin username and unique password and delete the old one to make your WordPress site secure.
Best Plugins For WordPress Security
A lot of the measures that have been mentioned in this article can be implemented by installing the correct WordPress plugins for your website. These plugins come loaded with a variety of features and focus on various aspects to make your WordPress site secure. It is also necessary that you know which are the right plugins to install because of two reasons:-
- If you end up installing a plugin from an unreliable source or developed by an unverified freelancing developer, the plugin meant to make your WordPress secure may end up exposing it to a variety of risks and vulnerabilities. Such a security plugin will do more harm than good.
- An important aspect of optimizing your site is to ensure that the website remains fast and opens easily. This is necessary to enhance the user experience, and installing plugins makes your website slower. Therefore, you must be aware of the best WordPress security plugins available in the market and choose one that can tackle a range of issues.
This is why we have compiled the following list of the Best Plugins for WordPress Security in 2020:-
- Sucuri Security
- iThemes Security
- All in one WP Security and Firewall
- WordFence Security
- BulletProof Security
- Google Authenticator
- Astra Web Security
- JetPack Security
Sucuri is the leading company in WordPress security, and its plugin offers a bunch of features for free. The free plugin is good, but the premium Pro version at $299/year is the actual must-have and comes with a WordPress Firewall.
Some of the features offered by Sucuri are:-
- They will clean up your site at no additional cost if it gets infected by malware.
- It conducts malware scanning and effective security hardening.
- The Firewall protects your website against SQL Injection, XSS, and brute force attacks on your WordPress.
- It keeps track of everything that happens on your site, including file changes and failed login attempts.
The iThemes Security plugin is one of the most popular and well-known plugins on the market. They focus on recognizing login vulnerabilities and obsolete elements of your site. This team has also developed the popular BackupBuddy Plugin, among other themes and plugins.
Some of the features offered by iThemes Security are:-
- Two-Step Authentication for secure WordPress login.
- Strictly enforcing Strong Passwords.
- Can limit Login Attempts
- Creates regular and secure WordPress backups.
- Scanning plugins and detecting 404 errors.
iThemes doesn’t have a Firewall, but the pro version starts at $80year, making it one of the best-priced security plugins on the market.
All in One WP Security and Firewall
The All in One WP Security and Firewall plugin is one of the most popular among small business sites and new WordPress users. The app gives you detailed reports with charts and graphics, which highlights the areas of your site that need to fix parts of their security. The fact that this app is completely free to use is another reason for its popularity.
The All in One WP Security has divided its security measures into three stages- Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced that will help you to gradually implement these measures. Their best features include:-
- The plugin lets you set specifications to block certain users. It then compiles a list of blocked viewers and allows you to unblock them easily.
- You can backup your .htaccess and wp-config files using this plugin. It also allows natural restoration of the same,
- It comes with a basic website level firewall that is appropriate for beginners but lacks a DNS-level firewall.
- You can also block users from a specific geographical location and conduct IP address filtering.
Wordfence has one of the best free packages for WordPress security. It combines powerful features and tools with an easy to use interface. You can even get an insight into the overall security of your site and the number and details of hack attempts on your website.
Wordfence also offers various discounts based on the number of licenses you purchase from them, making it a favorite among professionals. Their premium version starts at $99 per year.
The best features of Wordfence Security are:-
- It gives you complete control to block users based on their location and IP addresses.
- It scans all your files and plugins for malware.
- It gives you details about the time, origin, and IP of any hacking attempt.
- It can also deal with comments spam and monitors real-time website traffic.
Bulletproof is a more advanced security app that is usually used by professionals. It is still continually updated, and new features are added to the plugin after testing. It doesn’t have the best user interface, but some of its features are unique on the market. They are included in the paid option that can be activated with a one-time payment of $69.95, and Bulletproof provides a 30-day moneyback guarantee.
Some of its features include:-
- Backing up and restoring your database.
- A maintenance mode that secures your site when the core plugin is being updated.
- Login security and limiting login attempts.
It doesn’t make sense to install most of the plugins that offer a single feature as one can pick up any one of the plugins mentioned above and get a bunch of security features. But Google Authenticator is a reliable tool from a global brand that you can install and forget. Using the Google Authenticator, you can be at peace about the security of your login page and wp-admin.
- Google Authenticator allows you to choose from a variety of two-factor authentication options for the website, such as a security question or an OTP.
- It also lets you choose which user roles will have to go through the two-part login process and which ones can log in directly
Astra Web Security
Astra Web Security is one of the best plugins to make your site secure and provides a very simple user interface that makes it a plugin that is easy to use and comes with a brand name attached to it. It uncomplicates the security hassles from the user end. Some of the best features of Astra Web are:-
- Complete Website Security Audit
- Immediate Removal of Malware and Regular Scans
- Easy to Blacklist and Whitelist Users.
- An automatic log of all attacks and failed login attempts
- Firewall is included
jetPack is a plugin made by the team of developers at WordPress. It has a massive collection of features that has earned it over five million installs. The free version of JetPack comes with a lot of features such as whitelisting and brute-force attack protection. If you decide to upgrade to the paid version, you can unlock features such as scheduled backups and malware protection. Jetpack has premium plans ranging from $99 per year to $299 per year.
Some of the top features of JetPack security are:-
- The free plan comes loaded with features, and the premium plans are also aggressively priced and some of the most affordable on the market.
- JetPack keeps your installed plugins automatically updated.
- Has scheduled backups and one-click restoration for security.
WordPress Firewall & Hackers
We have already covered the importance of WordPress security and the need to protect your site from Hackers. Hackers can compromise the security of your users and data and use your site as a launchpad for their malicious activities. This can lead to your site getting blacklisted by Google, and your business may never recover.
One of the common techniques that Hackers use is employing bots that try to access your wp-admin using thousands of combinations of usernames and passwords. This is known as a brute-force attack and you won’t be informed about such an attack taking place on your WordPress website unless you have a specific plugin installed. If you don’t know that an attack is taking place, how can you protect your website against it?
Using a firewall is the oldest way to secure a network or computer. The anti-virus on your computer is most likely using one as well. When you’re using a website firewall, it ensures that only the good traffic, i.e., traffic without any malicious intents, reaches your site. A firewall gives you time to work on the other security vulnerabilities of your site and perform other measures of risk reduction.
While installing a security plugin is necessary, a WordPress website firewall is the first line of defense against many hackers, bots, and malware. Keeping your WordPress version updated, installing a trusted theme and plugin, using a secure hosting company and server, all of this will be worthless if you don’t have a WordPress firewall installed.
There are two types of WordPress firewalls:-
A plugin-based firewall is the more common option and can be installed like any other plugin to your WordPress site. Once activated, it monitors all the traffic coming to the site and checks it for spam, bots, and conducts malware scans. Only the traffic that is deemed secure is allowed to proceed to the site. Many of the security plugins mentioned above, like Sucuri Security, All in One Wp Security and Firewall, and Bulletproof Security, include a firewall in their premium plans.
The best plugin-based Firewall in the market is provided by the MalCare Security and Firewall plugin from the security company MalCare. Some of the features that the MalCare Firewall offers are:-
- Providing real-time security and examining every visitor to the site.
- It comes with a pattern detection technology that allows it to filter out various kinds of bots and malware automatically.
- It allows you to whitelist a user that has been blocked accidentally easily.
A cloud-based firewall is more advanced and requires specific steps to set up. It is installed remotely to a Cloud-based data center linked to your site. All the traffic coming to the website is redirected to the offshore Cloud location where the Firewall checks it and then sends the Good Traffic back to the site. Steps to configure a Cloud-based firewall are explained by the company providing the service.
Securing your WordPress site is an important step towards building a secure foundation for your business. A good professional handling your WordPress security will mention that it is impossible to create a 100% secure site. Many big e-commerce platforms and social media accounts of celebrities are often hacked, exposing flaws in a system considered to be secure. You must also not operate under the impression that it is only a big business or an established WordPress site that comes on a hacker’s radar. Hackers are constantly on the lookout for new platforms and systems to use as a base to launch their malicious activities, and by installing the plugins mentioned above and following the steps mentioned, you can make your WordPress secure.
As far as plugins are concerned, you must compare the pros and cons and select a couple of plugins that will give you a variety of security options and knit a tight net around your site without being a burden on your pocket. Installing two or three trustworthy plugins, choosing trustworthy hosting providers, and choosing a good theme for your WordPress website are activities that will be a one-time investment. They will take up time initially but will give you and your users a smooth and worry-free experience later on. Be constantly updated with all the news regarding securing WordPress coming out.
There are multiple rookie mistakes listed out above that people make while setting up their admin area or creating profiles and passwords for the wp-admin. It is important to prevent your files and server from being exposed to any vulnerabilities and also keeping track of the themes and plugins you’re using was last updated. Many of these holes can be filled in during the time of WordPress Installation and Hosting Provider selection. You must take great care to secure not only your WordPress website but also your WordPress login, files, and folders located in the root directory and the data and privacy of everyone on your site.
WordPress is the safest, most popular, and trustworthy destination for aspirants looking to create their own websites and companies looking to launch their businesses. At the same time, this makes it the biggest targets of attacks and we at WP Uber are committed towards helping you develop a WordPress site following these best practices and measures. WP Uber will help you in not only setting up a secure WordPress website but will work with you to absolve any security issues and address concerns that you may have, Check out WP Uber today.