With a market share of over 60%, WordPress is undoubtedly the world’s most popular content management system. Its popularity is not without reason – it has an easy setup, wide customization options, and a very active tech ecosystem and community. But with this popularity comes security risks – WordPress is one of the most popular targets for hackers.
The WordPress core software is very secure, especially when compared to the other alternatives. Most risks actually arise from the choices taken by the website administrators. Choices involving weak passwords, outdated and pirated plugins, and a lack of updates. While we all understand the importance of WordPress security, we often ignore it as we pay more attention to building content and promoting our website.
So, let’s first take a look at what can happen if there are gaps in the security of your WordPress website.
What Does Poor WordPress Security Mean for Your Website?
Contrary to popular belief, hackers target both small and large websites. They target those that are low on security and have loopholes through which they can gain access. Hackers adopt diverse methods to gain control and then unleash their malicious activities. Here’s a list of some of the most common consequences of a WordPress website hack:
- Loss of visitors due to an unfavourable user experience
- A drop in SEO rankings and an overall decline in the SEO value of your website
- A penalty by Google for being potentially dangerous to users
- Suspension by your web host or ad partner
- Loss of traffic, which can further lead to loss of potential customers and revenue
- Damaged brand reputation
The aftermath of a cyberattack can be devastating as it can destroy years of hard work and ruin your brand image. Imagine all those hours spent on improving your design, creating content and promoting your site, all wasted away! And, building a website from scratch back to its previous glory is a daunting task.
All of this calls for a good look at the most common security issues that can impact a WordPress site. Knowing what crucial elements to focus on and keeping a constant eye on them can go a long way in keeping your website safe and secure.
5 Most Common WordPress Security Issues
Make sure that your WordPress website is free from these security issues and you can rest assured it is protected from prowling hackers. Let’s take a look.
1. Outdated WordPress Core Software
We mentioned above that WordPress’s core software is a tight ship and has a secure framework. But things can go south when administrators fail to keep it updated. In addition to crucial security patches and bug fixes, a WordPress software update can mean new features, better compatibility with themes and add-ons, and better and smoother performance.
Running a website on an outdated WordPress installation is one of the biggest reasons why it can get hacked. Statistics from WordPress show that only 41% of all websites are running the current version of the software (5.2; September 2019). Keeping your core WordPress updated is your first step to improved security. If your website isn’t already running the latest WordPress version, we recommend fixing that right away.
To update your WordPress site, first take a complete site backup. Updates can sometimes lead to incompatibilities between the components and break your site. In such a case, a backup can be used to rollback the version.
WordPress notifies you of updates in the admin screen. You can opt for the one-click update or update manually as well. You can then individually update all the plugins and themes. If you have multiple sites, use a management plugin for the same.
2. Issues with Plugins and Themes
There are thousands of WordPress plugins and themes available for users to improve their website’s functionality and performance. And there lies the problem. Not all are safe for your website.
Many website owners give in to the temptation of using pirated versions of plugins because they get access to premium features for free. But installing such software puts their websites at risk as they usually carry pre-installed malware.
Another problem with plugins/themes is that some of them are not well-maintained and don’t have proper security measures in place. Some end up being abandoned by their developers and may be left open to security threats.
Therefore, it is recommended that you keep all your plugins and themes updated and remove those that are no longer used. Also, make a habit of downloading plugins from the WordPress.org marketplace. Take a look at their last update date, the total number of downloads, and reviews to get a fair idea before installing them. For example, the team at Metabox is constantly working on improving our software and we recently doled out Metabox 5.1.0!
3. Poor Web Hosting Environment
Users handling a single website often choose shared hosting to reduce annual recurring costs. While this is not recommended, getting dedicated hosting can seem cost-ineffective. But when you weigh it against the danger of problems originating from a shared hosting environment, it makes sense to consider the alternatives.
When you use shared hosting, there’s no way to know what other websites are hosted on the same server. They could be legitimate websites like yours but there’s no way to attest their security. Hackers just need one loophole in any of these websites and that can act as a gateway to all the others.
Although web hosts usually suspend a website that has been hacked to prevent it from spreading to other sites hosted on the same server, there can be security lapses on their part too. Some of them have outdated security protocols which pose a risk to end users like you. It is, therefore, important to choose your host wisely.
4. Brute Force Attacks
This is the simplest form of hacking. Hackers target vulnerabilities caused by administrators such as weak passwords and the absence of two-step verification for logging in. If the admin uses weak passwords or doesn’t regularly update it at all after the initial installation, hackers can get lucky through guesswork.
We all think that we have the strongest passwords until we get hacked. Brute force attacks run by bots depend on combinations of usernames and passwords and are executed on several websites at once, thereby increasing their success rate. This automated process can target any website of any size and popularity. Things get even worse when administrators use the same password for multiple accounts which increases their risk level.
The same can happen if you have multiple users with access or have a guest author section that allows one to register an account on your website and post content.
The easiest way to avoid such attacks is to create strong passwords, have different passwords for different accounts/platforms, change them regularly, and give access to only trusted users.
5. Improper User Management
This is an extension of the previous point where websites with multiple user access are at greater risk. Regardless of the type of permission, multiple user accounts can pose a threat owing to weak passwords or their access through a public network. You cannot expect all the users to use a safe and secure login.
This is the reason why there are so many user management plugins available in the WordPress market that allow users to keep a tab on all users as well as on their activity. Two-step verification and plugins for limiting user logins are other great ways to enhance your site’s security.
We have already studied the consequences of low WordPress security above but there are a lot more things that hackers can do once they gain access to your website. Following are some of the worst actions that hackers can execute one they are ‘in’:
- Deface your site with improper messages and images
- Wipe out your entire site data
- Redirect it to an illegal, pornographic, or terrorist website
- Launch DDoS attacks
- Steal customer data and other sensitive information
Knowing that a hacker can do anything that he wants with your website should act as a motivation to tighten your site’s security.
How to Prevent Such Attacks?
We have already mentioned a few ways in which you can get rid of these security issues, but if you really want a solution that you can rely on, the answer is a security plugin.
A security plugin can help you regularly scan your site, stay alert in case of suspicious activity, have a firewall against hack attacks. Some even let you remove WordPress malware and run automatic updates. Installing and activating such a plugin will go a long way in ensuring that your site stays immune from hackers.
There are plenty of security plugins available in the market but not all are dependable. It is important to assess them clearly. As stated above, although there are hardening measures to heighten the security of your WordPress website, opting for a plugin can be a great start.
A study shows that of the 3,972 known WordPress security vulnerabilities, 52% are from WordPress plugins, 37% are from core WordPress, 11% are from WordPress themes. Together with a plugin, keeping an eye on updating these three elements will make your website a lot safer than the majority of the sites on the web.
Websites, small or big, are all prone to hacking. But the good news is that they can be prevented using basic security measures. Keeping your WordPress software, plugins, and themes updated and installing a security plugin are your first steps to start with.
And as your website grows, you can consider advanced security measures such as creating a firewall, moving to dedicated hosting, and making it invulnerable to script-based phishing.
Having now understood the most common security issues, you can now protect your site and keep it up and running full-fledged at all times. Have any suggestions or doubts? Leave a comment below and our WordPress security experts will get back to you!