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WordPress Security Checklist – Comprehensive Guide
- Why is it important to care about WordPress security (you really should too)
- We will show you a couple of channels through which security breaches happen
- We will introduce you some options of how to stay secure
Of course, with the millions of sites operating using WordPress around the internet, you know that the creators are doing everything they can to up their security game. For all intents and purposes, WordPress can generally be considered safe. However, that doesn’t stop some people from trying, sometimes even successfully, to override any security measures, sometimes resulting in attacks that threaten a big chunk of users.
Why Care About WordPress Security
With over 10 thousand websites blacklisted for malware each week, and many phishing scams threatening unsuspecting users, it’s important to implement security measures of your own in order to ensure that your website is protected. WordPress’ core software may be secure, undergoing regular audits by a large number of expert developers, it’s still important that you take matters into your own hands, as an extra layer of security can never hurt.
This becomes especially important if your website represents a business. A hacked website may result in incredible damage to your reputation a revenue – perhaps even irreparable, particularly if you regularly deal with sensitive user information, passwords, etc. Once broken in, hackers can steal data and distribute malicious software. As a business owner, it is your responsibility that this does not happen, on top of it just being in your best interest.
How Security Breaches Happen
We’ve already mentioned that, at its core, WordPress is a safe platform. And yet those security breaches have to happen somehow. There are a couple of channels through which this happens.
- Backdoors – as the name suggests, hackers often enter websites by finding and exploiting hidden access points that have encryption that is easy to bypass, especially when exploiting some unorthodox access methods such as wp-Admin, FTP, SFTP, etc. According to a 2017 Sucuri report, backdoors are still one of the most common types of hacker attacks.
- Brute-force login attempts – these are achieved through automated scripts that basically, as the name suggests, forces its way through weaker passwords. More complex passwords and two-factor authentication are good ways to circumvent this, yet there are still plenty of websites that fall victim to this method every day.
- Malicious redirects – by utilizing backdoors, hackers install redirection codes to a website, leading users to malicious sites.
- Pharma hacks – hackers insert rogue code in outdated versions of websites and plugins. As a result of this, search engines return ads for pharmaceutical products (hence the name). While not an entirely malicious action, this can easily lead to search engines blocking your website for spamming.
- Cross-site scripting – also known as XSS, this method involves a malicious script that is injected into a website or application that is usually trusted. This provides the hacker with cookie or session data, which may in some cases allow them to rewrite the HTML on the page. This is by far the most common vulnerability in WordPress plugins.
How to Stay Secure
When it comes to ensuring that those breaches don’t happen to your website, there are several actions you might take. Some of them require more knowledge and preparation than others. Here are some of the ones we consider the most reliable, starting with those that require no coding.
- Using a WordPress Backup Solution – Backups are pretty much the basic form of protection in most things related to IT, so it’s quite obvious that that’s one of the first things you should do with your WordPress site. With a backup, you can quickly restore your website after an attack. Various WordPress plugins can help you easily make one.
- Web Application Firewalls – Also called WAF, a web application firewall may just be the easiest way to protect your site in a reliable way. With a firewall, you can block any and all malicious traffic from your website. You can either use a DNS-level website firewall, which routes all your website traffic through the firewall’s cloud proxy servers, or you can settle on an application-level firewall, which examines the traffic after it has already reached your server, but before it has had time to load your WordPress scripts.
- Security Plugins – There are some very reliable plugins out there that act as an auditing and monitoring system so that you can see what is happening on your website at all times.
- Moving to SSL/HTTPS – Most sites nowadays utilize an SSL protocol, which is used to encrypt the data transfer between the user browser and your website. This makes it harder for a potential hacker to look into this connection and steal any information. Once you implement this protocol, your HTTP website will change into an HTTPS website which, along with the padlock icon next to the URL, will indicate that the website is protected.
- Two-factor Authentication – With 2FA, users need to log in with two steps instead of the usual one. The first is the standard login and password, while the second requires the use of an app or a different kind of separate advice that will allow the user to provide input that only they can be aware of. The Two Factor Authentication plugin is the best way to implement this.
- Limited Login Attempts – While users can attempt to log into a WordPress site as many times as they want by default, this actually leaves your website vulnerable to brute force attacks. The Login LockDown plugin allows you to limit the number of login attempts A firewall can help you achieve the same result.
- Security Questions – Common practice in sites such as Facebook, Google or Twitter, a security question adds another layer of authentication that makes it much harder for a hacker to break in. As security questions are usually about something very personal that the user alone knows (and, most importantly, doesn’t have written down anywhere for a hacker to see), this method alone greatly increases security.
- Disabling XML-RPC – Enabled by default in WordPress (as it makes it easier to connect your site with applications), XML-RPC can actually increase the likelihood of brute force attacks, as it allows a hacker to take over the system multicall function to brute force several thousand passwords at a time. Disabling it seems like a no-brainer in terms of security.
- Changing the WordPress Database Prefix – WordPress tables in your database use the wp_as prefix by default – but that alone makes it much easier for hackers to identify your data tables. As a general rule for security, the less obvious you make things, the better, so make sure you change the database prefix.
- Disabling File Editing – Thanks to WordPress’ built-in code editor, you can easily edit your themes and plugins, which makes it seem like a pretty neat feature to have. However, it actually poses a security risk, as hackers may use it once they use a backdoor into your website and cause serious damage to your website. Turn it off to make sure that damage is reduced to a minimum should the worst happen.
- Disabling PHP File Execution – While PHP execution is necessary for certain directories, make sure you disable it for those that don’t require it, as these too can be used against you.
- Changing the Default Admin Username – As we’ve already stated, the less obvious you make things, the better. In the past, all default WordPress usernames were “admin”. Since the login is one half of the login form, that makes it that much easier for brute-force attacks to succeed. Fortunately, WordPress now requires that the username you use be different, so you should have no problem remembering to not pick “admin”.
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