Combating WordPress Vulnerabilities: Exploring Security Solutions, and WordPress Best Practices
WordPress vulnerability and security issues have been a huge topic in recent years. Whether you are using the popular content management system (CMS) on an individual, business, or enterprise level, the concern has garnered much reach. The truth is every system, despite its origin, is open to security threats. However, it all depends on the level of the threat, what is really affected, and how quickly they are addressed.
For companies using enterprise-level software, there is an expectation that whatever technology they are using is safe from outside threats. The security of their customers’ information needs to be a top priority. When breaches occur, they are often the integrity of that software, but most importantly, how to avoid repetition.
In this article, we will walk you through some of the common reports of WordPress security threats, alternatives, and best practices you can implement.
It is all about the need
WordPress opened the door for many companies to have a website on the web. On May 27, 2023, they celebrated 20 years of extraordinary growth. WordPress currently powers approximately 43% of all websites and is the leading content management system by far. But how did they get so popular? They focused on simplicity, freedom, and fostering an ecosystem of innovation that has, over the course of the past 20 years, resulted in the launch of millions of websites and the success of millions of businesses around the world. Plus, it doesn’t require a steep learning curve. Learning how to use WordPress is easy, with its adaptability and customization.
Although you can’t scale WordPress websites without the help of a developer, this clearly shows the wide range of capabilities and capacity of the CMS. Having the ability to cater to small and enterprise companies addresses some scalability issues.
WordPress CMS bridges the best of open-source and proprietary CMS by providing powerful all-in-one solutions and the relative ease many closed platforms offer, but with significantly more control and long-term reliability via open-source software and data formats.
Where does the security issue lie?
Despite being the most popular CMS, WordPress is also the most hacked. This is the unfortunate reality that Gil Duzanski, CTO of WDB Agency attributes to plug-ins, themes, and neglect, rather than the WordPress core software. For every software, continuous enhancements and improvements are a must. The problem with that is that open-source means that there are thousands of developers contributing to the pool of themes and plug-ins.
While WordPress core developers are making improvements, there is a lack of consistent updates of themes and plug-ins available on WordPress.org. This leaves unmanned websites that are still using outdated plug-ins and themes at risk of hacking and attacks. According to data from WPScan, approximately 97% of vulnerabilities in their database are plugins and themes and only 4% are core software.
But how does that happen?
WordPress conducts its own security and updates to the core software; it is the responsibility of the developers themselves to ensure that their themes and plugins are also up to date with known vulnerabilities. In addition, the onus is also on the owner of those websites to conduct regular checks and complete updates as they become available.
Another issue is weak passwords and usernames. If your WordPress password or username is weak, then it becomes much easier for hackers to access. Changing your passwords or having them changed often is the key to keeping your website safer. We’ll discuss some other issues later when highlighting some WordPress best practices.
Smaller websites are most likely affected because most enterprise companies have the support they need to carry out their checks and WordPress updates. Going the enterprise route truly depends on your company’s size, need, and budget. But it could be worth it for the added security measures and assurance.
How do you evaluate the level of security risk?
This is an important topic that is often ignored, especially by small and medium size companies. The reason is that it is sometimes hard to evaluate risk and level of tolerance. Nevertheless here is a formula: risk = likelihood × impact. In other words, what is the likelihood of something happening and what will be the impact from it on my business?
Questions to ask yourself: what will happen if my site goes down or generates errors? What would be the consequences if my customer’s information is lost or stolen? Evaluate these questions and then think about a risk tolerance level you are willing to take, risk = likelihood × impact.
For example, if your site is strictly informational, marketing and you can replace your content in a matter of a few days, your risk tolerance can be higher. On the other hand, for an enterprise organization that is storing the most valuable information online, losing some or all is not an option.
Managed WordPress hosting
Companies such as Pantheon.io and WPEngine take a proactive approach to WordPress security to ensure the safety and integrity of websites hosted on their platforms. They follow a best practices workflow using Git, dev, stage, and production environments to promote the code to the next level. They also set strict permissions to ensure that the WordPress core, plugins, and themes in the production environment are isolated and no changes can be made to them. The development and maintenance are happening in dev and stage environments only.
Alternatives to managed WordPress hosting
As web developers, it is our responsibility to share the best possible options with our customers. While managed WordPress carries features that could prove beneficial, we must discuss alternatives.
Our team of experts can walk you through the requirements, including cost and timeframe, so efficiency is maintained.
WordPress security best practices
WordPress, despite the security concerns, is here to stay. On an enterprise level, the best option is to speak with web design experts like WDB Agency to help you select the best system. Consistent monitoring keeps most WordPress websites safe, so here are some best practices we adhere to:
1. Implementing regular updates and patches
Maintaining regular checks for updates is crucial to the security of your website. As previously mentioned, WordPress is constantly updating core software, and this affects plug-ins and themes. You can either turn on automatic updates, one-click updates, or conduct this manually. Your updates for PHP version, modules, and themes ensure that bugs, fixes, and enhancements are complete, and your website is secure.
2. Choosing reputable plugins and themes from trusted sources
WordPress has over 10,000 themes available. So, how do you select the one that’s best for you? Which ones can you trust? It might be prudent and cost-efficient to select premium themes. WPEngine reported that “while free themes offer a solid option for those on a budget, they can also present some issues. By using the free themes, there is a risk that the quality of coding potentially not being up to par. You take on the risk of that theme not being updated regularly, a lack of support, and the possibility that the theme author could abandon the theme altogether.”
Since modules are often the main reason for WordPress security issues, try to only use those modules that are needed. You can test modules but if they aren’t generating the results you are looking for, remove them immediately.
3. Utilizing strong passwords and two-factor authentication
Earlier, we mentioned weak passwords as a gateway to hacking. The easiest way to fix this is to use strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication. This is an added layer of security that requires the use of your mobile number for authentication. According to Kinsta, this is 100% effective in preventing brute force attacks on your WordPress site. Because it is almost impossible that the attacker will have both your password and your cell phone.
4. Using IP whitelisting to access admin pages
This approach is more technical but, provides the most security to your website. To create it properly you will need to block access to wp-admin and wp-login pages for all except the whitelisted IP addresses. Pantheon does allow this as part of their infrastructure but it also could be implemented on other hosting platforms. Here is a very detailed article that will guide you to the right solution for your organization.
5. Regularly backing up website data and implementing disaster recovery plans
The safest thing you can do is back up your website’s data to WordPress, in the event there is a security breach. Conducting regular backups ensures that your access to your website is still viable.
It is also important to implement a disaster recovery plan. This is a set of guidelines and principles for restoring critical data in the event of an interruption from natural disasters, hacking, or human error. This ensures that your website remains accessible. Your disaster recovery plan should include backup and recovery, business continuity, communication plan, testing, and maintenance.
6. Good coding habits and hygiene
The code needs to read like a poem. Unfortunately, not all developers are equally blessed with this skill. Comments, clean functions, names, separated layouts, and functionality are important ingredients of having a good and clean code. After the site is built there might be other developers who will be working on it. If they will need to make changes, it needs to be easy to understand the code.
7. Using WordPress API
WordPress has a very robust API to work with content and data. Unfortunately, sometimes it is not being used in favor of insecure data access. This introduces security vulnerabilities and often slows down data processing affecting the end user.
Being aware is the first step in addressing security issues. Understanding how this might affect your website also means you know how to combat or prevent its occurrence. Web security issues aren’t new, but because there are so many websites on WordPress, the incidence is much higher.
A web development team might be useful in discussing the available alternatives that could be beneficial for your company. As well as addressing and ensuring that your WordPress site is secured. WDB’s partnerships opened many options for your website and business. Implementing good security practices can keep your website running smoothly, including having a foolproof recovery plan.
WDB can help, contact us with your questions and we’ll help you create, manage, and secure your website.