WordPress security best practices guide


WordPress Security Best Practices web 1400x800

Most of the web content that you come across online is made possible by a content management system (CMS). WordPress is probably one of the best-known CMS platforms, which powers a staggering 43% of all websites globally.

Its scalability, user-friendly interface, and robust customization options have catapulted it to the forefront of content management systems. However, as its popularity has grown, so has the interest of cybercriminals. 

This article guides you through best security practices for your WordPress site. By adopting beginner-friendly practices such as secure hosting, regular updates, strong usernames/passwords, and two-factor authentication, you can significantly bolster your site's defenses against threats. 

Assessing WordPress security

Just like any other system, WordPress isn’t immune to security vulnerabilities. The distinction should be made between two things: the security of WordPress as a product and various factors like third-party plugins and extensions. While the majority of them are developed by reputable sources, the sheer volume of plugins means that some may have exploitable loopholes.

As an open-source platform, WordPress boasts a vibrant community dedicated to the ongoing mission of patching vulnerabilities and enhancing security. Yet, over the years, numerous threats have emerged, from cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks to SQL injections, placing WordPress security at the top of user priorities.

Vulnerabilities by category

The bad news is that these vulnerabilities aren't theoretical, and they can bring actual harm, resulting in data breaches and severe reputational damage. A study conducted in 2022 by Wordfence shows that XSS and CSRF vulnerabilities have significantly increased in volume. These statistics are alarming enough to be a wake-up call for network administrators to prioritize comprehensive website protection.

Main WordPress vulnerabilities

Main WordPress vulnerabilities

To ensure your WordPress site's security, it’s important to have a basic understanding of common vulnerabilities. In 2022, several types of vulnerabilities were prominent, and it's essential to delve deeper into each of them to prepare ourselves against possible threats.

Cross-site scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting, or XSS, accounted for nearly half of all vulnerabilities disclosed in 2022, with 1,109 submissions. These types of vulnerabilities can allow attackers to inject malicious scripts into web pages viewed by users. However, it's worth noting that a significant number of these vulnerabilities, 408 to be exact, required administrative permissions to exploit, making them less severe than typical XSS vulnerabilities.

Cross-site request forgery (CSRF)

The second most common vulnerability was cross-site request forgery (CSRF), with 377 disclosed vulnerabilities. In a CSRF attack, an innocent end user is tricked by an attacker into submitting a malicious request. It inherits the victim’s identity and privileges to perform an undesired function on its behalf.

Authorization bypass

Authorization bypass vulnerabilities ranked third in the list of common vulnerabilities for 2022. This category includes vulnerabilities primarily caused by incorrect or insufficient access control or authorization. They could potentially allow unauthorized users to access protected resources or perform actions without proper permissions.

SQL injection

SQL Injection vulnerabilities were the fourth most common, with 200 cases disclosed. In these types of attacks, an attacker exploits a vulnerability in a web application’s database query construction, leading to unauthorized database access or content manipulation.

Information disclosure

Finally, rounding out the top five is Information Disclosure, with 73 disclosed vulnerabilities. It refers to instances where a website unintentionally reveals sensitive information to its users. This could range from technical details of the web application to users' personal information.

Understanding the significance of WordPress security

Every WordPress user, from individual bloggers to multinational corporations, must understand what compromised website security means. For businesses, it translates into massive financial losses, a dent in customer trust, and potential compliance penalties. Individuals are also at risk of having their personal information stolen and used by cybercriminals, so the stakes are equally high.

In an era defined by digital connectivity, website security is an absolute necessity, not a luxury. It is time to shift our mindset from reactive to proactive. By taking the initiative and implementing robust security measures, we can significantly lower the risk of our websites falling victim to cyberattacks.

9 WordPress security best practices

Navigating through the labyrinth of WordPress security can seem daunting at first. This is due to the fact that overall security tips can be categorized into practices involving plugins and without plugins. As a third-party software that can be installed on a WordPress site to extend its functionality, they can provide various additional security measures. However, like any software, security plugins themselves can have vulnerabilities or backdoors that hackers could exploit.

CTO checklist for cybersecurity solution web wordpress 1400x1100

On the other hand, security tips without plugins focus on manual implementation or modifying the WordPress installation directly. Both approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, striking a balance between relying on security plugins and following general security practices is crucial.

1. Use a secure WordPress hosting provider

Choosing a WordPress hosting provider is the first line of defense against potential cyber threats. A reputable hosting provider prioritizes data security and implements measures to safeguard your website's data, including backups, encryption, and secure data storage. A good host ensures that your website is well-protected at the server level.

2. Regularly update your themes, plugins, and WordPress core 

Software, including WordPress themes, plugins, and the core itself, can contain vulnerabilities. Updates often include patches for known security vulnerabilities, so updating all the mentioned components is crucial. This is the only way to ensure that you have the latest security patches and fixes, reducing the risk of your website being exploited by hackers or malware.

3. Use unique username/password combinations

Simple login credentials can be an open door for hackers. Avoid using 'admin' as your username, and ensure your passwords are complex and unique. A good password includes uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. A password manager like NordPass can help you create strong passwords and store these safely.

4. Limit login attempts 

Limiting the number of failed login attempts can prevent brute-force attacks. WordPress offers various plugins that can lock out a user’s IP address after a certain number of failed login attempts is reached. This makes it more difficult for hackers to try username/password combinations to log in.

5. Add a CAPTCHA to your forms 

Adding CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) to WordPress can help prevent spam and bot submissions on your forms. Bots are often used to launch various types of attacks, such as submitting spam comments, brute-forcing WordPress login page, or submitting malicious code. CAPTCHA makes it harder for automated systems to engage with your site and potentially cause harm.

6. Use a secure WordPress theme 

Not all themes are created equal. Choose themes from reputable sources that prioritize security. Opt for themes that have well-structured, clean, and secure code. Themes that follow coding best practices reduce the likelihood of security vulnerabilities. Always check ratings, reviews and update frequency before deciding on a theme.

7. Regularly backup your website

Regularly backing up a WordPress website is a safety net. If something goes wrong, you can always revert to a previous WordPress version of your site. Regular backups ensure that your website's content, including posts, pages, images, and databases, are securely stored and can be recovered. Remember, it's important to store backups securely, preferably off-site or in a separate location from your live website.

8. Conduct regular WordPress security scans 

Regular security scans help detect vulnerabilities and malware that have slipped through the cracks. Once identified, vulnerabilities and other weaknesses in your website’s security can be addressed with fixes. This process provides a pace of mind and knowledge that proactive measures are being taken to protect not only the website, but also its visitors.

9. Remove unused WordPress plugins

Like most, you probably have tried different WordPress plugins but didn't remove them after you tried them out. Yet, outdated or unused plugins can pose a security risk to your website. If a plugin is not regularly updated by the developer, it may contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers. Going through them and removing unused ones will reduce the number of openings a malicious actor can use to access your site.

How to secure access to WordPress 

WordPress security best practices provide a solid foundation for improvements. However, it’s also a good idea to implement a wider range of security features beyond WordPress itself. While plugins and built-in control can help a lot, more sophisticated solutions may sometimes be required. Here are actionable steps you can take when securing your digital environments.

Secure Access with a VPN

WordPress site security can be improved by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts exchanged data traffic, making it difficult for hackers to intercept your information between your user devices and WordPress servers. By routing your traffic through a VPN, you add a layer of security to your WordPress access, protecting your site from potential attacks.

Implement SSO and MFA

Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO) can significantly enhance the security of your WordPress website. SSO allows users to authenticate once and gain access to multiple systems or applications without needing to log in separately. Meanwhile, MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional verification factors beyond a password to access their accounts. These solutions make it much more difficult for unauthorized users to gain entry into your WordPress resources.

Allow connections only from trusted IP addresses

Restricting access only to allowed connections helps to enhance the security of your WordPress website. By limiting connections only to trusted IP addresses, you prevent unauthorized individuals or bots from gaining access to the WordPress administrative area. IP Allowlisting can play a significant role in adopting a Zero Trust security posture. However, it’s essential to carefully assess your specific security requirements, user base, and potential limitations as not to introduce additional limitations for your user base.

Segment your network into smaller parts

Consider implementing network segmentation, which involves dividing your network into smaller parts. By segmenting the network (for instance, with a web application firewall), you can separate different components of your WordPress infrastructure, such as the web server, database server, and application server. This isolation ensures that if one component is compromised, the attacker's access is limited to that specific segment, reducing the potential impact on other parts of the network.

Encrypt your held data

Data encryption plays a crucial role in enhancing WordPress security by providing a layer of protection for sensitive information. By encrypting the data, it becomes scrambled into an unreadable format that can only be deciphered with the appropriate decryption key. This prevents unauthorized individuals from intercepting and understanding the data, significantly enhancing the overall security posture.

Implement access management controls

Access management controls allow you to define who can access your WordPress website and what level of access they have. By properly assigning roles, you can limit access to critical functions and sensitive areas of your website. For example, you can have administrators who have full control over the site, editors who can manage content, and subscribers who only have basic access. With such tools you gain granular control over who has access to what within your WordPress site, enhancing your site's security profile.

FAQ

Can I secure my WordPress website without technical expertise?

Yes, implementing basic security practices like using strong passwords, keeping WordPress updated, and enabling two-factor authentication can be done without extensive technical knowledge. However, for advanced security measures, it is advisable to seek assistance from a professional.

How often should I update my WordPress website?

Regular updates are crucial for maintaining security. Update your WordPress installation, themes, and plugins as soon as new versions become available. Aim to check for updates at least once a week.

Are free themes and plugins safe to use?

Not all free themes and plugins are unsafe, but caution is advised. Stick to reputable sources like the official WordPress repository or trusted third-party marketplaces. Always review user ratings, read reviews, and ensure they receive regular updates and support.

What should I do if my WordPress website is hacked?

If your WordPress website is hacked, take immediate action. Change all passwords, restore your website from a recent backup, and scan your site for malware using security plugins. Consider consulting with a professional to ensure all vulnerabilities are addressed.

Can a security plugin alone protect my website?

While security plugins provide valuable features, they should be seen as part of a comprehensive security strategy. Combine security plugins with other practices, such as regular updates, strong passwords, and secure hosting, to create a robust defense against threats.

How can NordLayer help?

Securing your WordPress site involves an ongoing effort and frequent upgrades. It means taking care of your WordPress core and installing strong protections like IP allowlisting to enhance your resistance against potential cyber-attacks. However, this is only the start, since the security environment is enormous and difficult to traverse alone.

This is where NordLayer can help. One of the features we offer is IP allowlisting, which enables organizations to control access to internal resources by specifying trusted IP addresses. Simultaneously, we also provide fixed IP addresses, ensuring that you can implement IP allowlisting effectively and maintain a more secure environment.

Additionally, we understand the importance of network segmentation to enhance security further. By dividing your network into smaller, isolated segments, we help create barriers limiting potential threats from spreading laterally within your infrastructure. We also offer the ability to provide exclusive access rights for those who specifically need to access your WordPress work environment within your organization.

However, we don't stop there. We go the extra mile to secure your WordPress environment by implementing a robust two-factor authentication (2FA) process. With 2FA, even if someone has access rights, they will need to undergo an additional layer of verification beyond the standard login credentials.

Contact us now to discover how we can boost the security of your WordPress site while ensuring simplicity of use and seamless operations.

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