Used by over a third of all websites from across the globe, WordPress enjoys undisputed popularity as far as content management systems go. This popularity also makes WordPress websites a preferred target for hackers and cybercriminals.
Hacks and malware damage more than just your website; they impact your SEO rankings, your customers’ user experience, their brand perception, and ultimately, your bottom line.
So, how do you protect a WordPress site from hackers?
Thankfully, there are measures you can take to secure your WordPress website, even if you’re a non-technical user. In this WordPress security guide, we take you through 13 security practices that improve the security of your WordPress site.
Before we dive into the specifics of how to secure a WordPress site, let’s take a step back to understand what makes WordPress security such a matter of concern.
Is WordPress secure?
Given the increasing attacks on WordPress sites, it’s natural to ask: Is WordPress even safe?
The answer is not a straightforward yes or no. As a platform, WordPress, in and by itself is secure. Like any good software, its developers regularly release security patches and updates.
However, a WordPress website relies on much more than just the platform. It has third-party plugins and themes. These often have vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Additionally, website owners may not follow the best practices that WordPress recommends for website security.
In the next section, we look at what these safety practices for securing WordPress are, and how you can implement them.
13 best practices for WordPress security
Here are 13 of the most effective WordPress security best practices that you must implement on your website::
1. Use secure hosting
There is little point in focusing on other security measures if the underlying host is not secure. WordPress website security starts from hosting it on a secure web hosting platform like Kinsta or Bluehost. If you can afford it, consider switching to managed hosting as it offers dedicated resources and support for your website.
2. Limit the number of logins.
Brute force attacks target your login page and attempt to hack into your WordPress user accounts by guessing the login credentials.
You can prevent this by changing the default location of your login page, or by limiting the number of logins using a CAPTCHA tool.
3. Use unique usernames and strong passwords.
As we just discussed, weak login credentials can make your website vulnerable to brute force attacks. Hackers are especially looking for admin accounts to hack into so they can inflict maximum damage thanks to the higher privileges such accounts have.
Ensure that you avoid default usernames like admin and implement stronger passwords for all users. As a rule, configure strong passwords that are a mix of alphabets, numbers, and special characters.
4. Enable Two-factor Authentication (2FA).
With Two-factor authentication (or 2FA), you can now add an extra security layer to your login page apart from secured login credentials. With 2FA in place, sign-in users must input a one-time verification code that is generated and sent only to their devices.
WordPress has plenty of options when it comes to implementing 2FA. A few of the 2FA plugins are Google Authenticator and Two Factor Authentication.
5. Keep your site updated at all times.
The use of outdated WP versions and older plugins/themes can be a security risk for your website as they contain known security gaps and vulnerabilities that hackers are sure to exploit.
So, make sure to always keep your WordPress site updated, i.e., both the main WP version as well as installed plugins/themes.
6. Use a WordPress security plugin.
Security plugins are the best way to detect WordPress security issues or malware before they have time to damage your site. Look for a security plugin that offers scheduled malware scans, support for malware cleanups, and can detect even lesser-known cybersecurity threats or malware.
A security plugin like MalCare combines features such as malware scanning, 1-click malware removal, with additional features such as 2FA, login protection, update management, and an inbuilt firewall to keep bad traffic away from your site.
7. Regularly back up your website.
Website backups are as important as WordPress security measures. In the event of any website crash or hack, regular backups can save your time and effort in rebuilding your website from scratch.
You can pick from reliable WordPress backup plugins like BlogVault and BackupBuddy for scheduled and automated backups.
8. Add an SSL certificate.
An SSL certificate ensures that all the data sent between your website and a user’s browser is encrypted. This ensures that hackers cannot use it even if they manage to intercept any data.
Adding an SSL certificate makes your site HTTPS-enabled. Even search engines like Google favor HTTPS websites since they ensure the security of their users’ data.
To move your WordPress site to HTTPS, all you need to do is install the SSL certificate by installing any SSL plugin like Let’s Encrypt or DigiCert.
9. Harden your WordPress site.
WordPress hardening is a series of security measures prescribed by the main WordPress team. These are fairly technical and include steps like blocking plugin installation, preventing the execution of PHP files, disabling file editing, etc.
If you’re a non-technical user, we recommend using a security plugin like MalCare that has these WordPress hardening measures integrated into its workflow so you can implement them in a few clicks.
10. Limit user access to your site.
Apart from users with “admin” rights, other users should not have easy access to your website’s critical files like the wp-config.php file.
To improve the security of your WordPress site, restrict the number of users having administrator rights. Assign “lesser” roles like editor or subscriber to the majority of your users.
11. Disable XML-RPC in WordPress.
Hackers often exploit the XML-RPC (or XML Remote Procedure Call) facility in WordPress to upload their files from remote sites. This facility is still enabled in the latest WordPress versions. The best option is to disable the XML-RPC feature using the “Disable XML-RPC” plugin.
12. Disable directory browsing.
Directory browsing on WordPress sites is convenient for users but can also be exploited by hackers to find vulnerable files and gain site access. This is especially relevant for self-hosted WordPress sites. You can disable directory browsing using an FTP tool like FileZilla.
13. Change your database prefix.
By default, every WordPress database table is prefixed as “wp_” making it easier for hackers to target the database. Hence, you should consider changing your database prefix. All you need to do is open the wp-config.php file and modify the prefix in the following code:
$table_prefix = ‘wp_’;
These 13 measures have been proven to improve the overall security of WordPress sites. Next, let us look at 6 vulnerabilities in WordPress sites that hackers can exploit.
Vulnerabilities of a WordPress Site
Insecure login pages, untrusted or outdated plugins/themes, and weak hosting are just some of the vulnerabilities that can exist in any WordPress site. Due to these vulnerabilities, hackers can inflict different types of website attacks, including:
1. Pharma hacks
Hackers use this form of attack to hijack popular WordPress sites with a good SEO score and use them to sell fake or banned pharma products. As a result of this hack, your website could end up on the search results page for banned or suspicious drugs.
2. Japanese keyword hack
Similar to the pharma hack, in this case, hackers infect popular website pages with spam keywords in the Japanese language. When these pages get indexed by Google, the website starts ranking for unrelated Japanese keywords.
When search engine users search for these Japanese keywords, they are directed to the spam infected WordPress site.
3. SQL Injection
As the name suggests, this form of attack is directed towards the WordPress database tables. Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in online form plugins to insert harmful PHP scripts and commands in your website’s form fields. Through these scripts, hackers can take complete control of the backend database.
4. Cross-site Scripting (XSS)
Cross-site scripting or XSS attacks are similar to SQL injection, with the only difference being these attacks insert suspicious links in user comments fields in WordPress sites. Unsuspecting users end up clicking these malicious links, following which they need to reveal their login credentials. These attacks are a classic example of exploiting plugin/theme vulnerabilities.
What happens when hackers gain access to your customer database records including their email addresses? They use phishing to send out emails to your customers, who may end up clicking the malicious links specified in the email message. Once they click the link, they could either be redirected to suspicious sites or end up revealing their confidential information.
6. Privilege Escalation
Hackers cannot inflict much damage when they gain control of user accounts with lesser privileges or rights. However, using privilege escalation, they can ‘upgrade’ the compromised user account to that of a WordPress administrator. This enables them to inflict maximum damage on your backend installation files and database tables.
Now that we have discussed the various vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit, let us next understand why making WordPress secure is so important for any site owner.
Why WordPress security is so important
Malware and website hacks don’t just temporarily affect your site, they could cause a drop in SEO rankings, loss of confidential business data including financial data and customer records, and a drop in traffic and revenues.
The best way for you to secure your site is to make strong security practices a part of your website design and maintenance. The 13 steps outlined in this article are a strong foundation for you to develop your WordPress security plan.
That being said, no website is 100% safe from hackers. Thanks to its growing popularity, hackers will continue to target WordPress sites with newer and sneakier methods.
If you’re looking for the best way to secure a WordPress site on an evolving basis, we highly recommend a dedicated WordPress security plugin like MalCare. Since such plugins are designed exclusively for WordPress, they are constantly learning from other attacks and hacks on other sites to fine-tune and improve their malware detection capabilities.
Are there any other WordPress security practices you swear by? Let us know in the comments below.