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Thanks to its undisputed popularity and ease of use, WordPress is the platform of choice for any online business or personal website. These benefits come at a cost though -- hackers have their eyes set on all kinds of WordPress websites, big and small. Website owners make the jobs of hackers easier by not paying enough attention to the design and maintenance of their websites. As a result, most websites have security issues and vulnerabilities that hackers could easily exploit.
What does such a WordPress security issue look like? What causes such issues to arise? What can you do to secure your website from such vulnerabilities and fix any security gaps on it?
The rest of this article has the answers to all these questions and more and looks at the 12 most common WordPress security issues that you should know about and take action against.
Table of Contents
12 WORDPRESS SECURITY ISSUES AND VULNERABILITIES YOU SHOULD KNOW
For a start, let us first look at 5 security issues with WordPress sites that are easy to fix:
1. Nulled plugins and themes
It can be tempting to install a replica of a feature-rich WordPress plugin or theme without having to pay for it. That is what nulled plugins/themes offer. Before you get lured into installing them, remember that hackers often infect these pirated plugins/themes with backdoors. Typically, backdoor infections get into your WordPress site once you have installed and activated the nulled plugin/theme.
2. Poor web hosting
A poorly-equipped or insecure web host can ultimately bring down any website that it hosts. This is particularly true for lesser-known hosting companies that offer their services at the cheapest rate to attract new website owners. Besides that, shared hosting can also add to the security issues of WordPress as they offer the same server space for multiple websites. All hackers need to do is to compromise one hosted website and get a chance to inflict damage on all the other websites.
3. Improper user roles
Another common reason for a WordPress security breach is the improper assigning of user roles. WordPress supports 6 user roles (Super Admin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber) each with decreasing user rights or privileges.
However, most WordPress sites assign administrator rights to most of their users. Hackers can exploit this carelessness to hack a low-level user’s account and make the most of the admin privileges it has.
4. Outdated software
One of the biggest WordPress security vulnerabilities is running outdated software/tools on a website. This includes the core WordPress and all the plugins and themes installed on the website. Older versions of the WordPress core and plugins/themes have known security gaps that hackers can exploit. By keeping your website updated, you make sure that the versions on your site have the recommended security and bug fixes.
5. Poor Login Security
One of the major WordPress security concerns for site owners is whether their login page or WordPress account is safe from hackers. This is because hackers deploy brute force attacks to target and gain entry into WordPress login pages.
A simple reason for poor login security is using common usernames like "admin123” or “user1” and weak passwords like “password” and “qwerty” that are easy to guess.
The above 5 factors are the most common reasons for WordPress security risks. Next, let us look at 7 more severe WordPress security problems that today’s website owners are grappling with.
1. Denial of Service attack
What happens when hackers flood any website with so much "fake" traffic that ends up crashing the webserver and blocking the website administrator and genuine traffic from accessing the site?
This is what happens in the case of a Denial-of-Service attack, also referred to as a DoS attack. Typically, hackers target hosting servers that follow limited security protocols or use shared hosting so that it is easy for them to overwhelm the server and deplete resources.
Just like fishing in the real world, hackers use phishing to “cast out their net and bait” and hope to trap vulnerable users in them. How do they target their hapless victims? By sending out thousands of spam emails from a business email ID. These emails contain malicious links that unsuspecting users could open and click. The victims are redirected to unsolicited websites where they can be duped into sharing their personal information or purchasing counterfeit or illegal products.
3. Pharma Hack
How do hackers take undue advantage of a popular website with a healthy SEO ranking? Using pharma hacks. How do they do this? Essentially, this attack compromises a popular but insecure website and infects its pages with spammy keywords and links.
As a result, your website will get listed in search results when users search for any of these keywords. The result – unsuspecting users getting redirected to other websites selling fake or banned pharma products.
4. Privilege escalation hack
We have previously talked about the 6 different user roles supported by WordPress and why hackers should be kept away from “admin” accounts. This is because they can use them to inflict the most damage on an admin account.
So, what can they do when they successfully hack into a “lesser” user account? In this scenario, hackers deploy the privilege escalation hack to escalate the user privileges to that of an admin user. How are they successful? By exploiting any vulnerability or configuration errors in any of the installed plugins or themes that help them override the permissions granted to their account.
5. SQL Injection
As the name suggests, this attack is aimed at your WordPress database. Among the most dangerous attacks, SQL injections can be used to directly target and modify your database tables. How do they happen? Typically, hackers take advantage of vulnerable plugins used for submitting online forms, comments, or online payments.
Hackers directly insert their malicious SQL commands into “user input” fields – so that they are executed on the target database and give hackers access to the entire database.
6. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Cross-site scripting or XSS attacks are quite similar to SQL injections – except that in this case, hackers insert their malicious code directly into your frontend website pages. For instance, they may either place a “well-disguised” link to the compromised webpage or even display a “fake” online form to unsuspecting users. Like SQL injections, XSS attacks are possible due to WordPress security flaws in installed plugins and themes.
7. Japanese keyword hack
Does searching for your website on Google display a lot of unintended Japanese text? Then it is highly likely that your website has been compromised by the Japanese keyword hack. It works just like the Pharma hack – except that in this case, hackers insert Japanese words into your website's title and description.
Why causes your site to be vulnerable to this hack?
There are multiple reasons including outdated WordPress versions, insecure third-party plugins, improper user permissions, etc.
That completes our list of the top 12 WordPress security issues. Next, let us look at how to fix these security concerns.
How to fix WordPress security issues
As a WordPress site owner, you need to immediately get around to fixing your security issues. Here are 7 ways trusted and recommended ways of securing your website:
1. Stop using pirated WordPress plugins/themes
As tempting as they may seem, steer clear of nulled or pirated plugins/themes. Any short-term savings they offer are sure to be offset by the long-term damage they can cause your site.
Always opt from paid plugins/themes from trusted parties. These plugins and themes are regularly updated for security features by their respective companies – thus safeguarding the websites where they are installed.
2. Keep your website updated
There’s enough evidence of the benefits of updating a WordPress site regularly. And yet, most website owners ignore this security practice out of oversight or for the fear of updates causing their site to break.
If you’re worried that a WordPress update could break your site, use backups to put your fears to rest. Even better, make use of the staging feature that backup plugins like BlogVault offer. These plugins allow you to take unlimited backups and even offer a staging site so you can test all the changes/updates there before making them on your live site.
Regular updates mean that hackers can never exploit any security vulnerability in your website. The easiest way to update a WordPress site is through your web hosting panel. If you need to update multiple websites at the same time, consider installing a website management tool like MainWP or ManageWP.
3. Implement login security measures
No WordPress security measures are complete until you have protected your login page. For a start, configure each user account (including your administrator) with a unique username and a strong password (comprising a mix of alphabets, numbers, and special characters). Additionally, you can implement measures like the CAPTCHA protection tool that limits the number of failed logins and 2-factor authentication that adds an extra layer of security.
4. Define proper user roles.
You can fix many WordPress security issues by assigning the right roles and permissions to your user base. Here are a few tips:
- Limit the number of users with administrative rights and privileges.
- Assign the user role based on the individual’s job function.
- Disable or remove users who are no longer working with your organization.
5. Invest in the right web hosting.
As the foundation of your website, web hosting has a critical role to play in the security and performance of your site. Invest in a secure web hosting platform that specialises in WordPress hosting such as Bluehost or Siteground. Additionally, consider a managed or dedicated host platform that can provide additional security measures for your site.
6. Harden your WordPress site
The WordPress team has come up with a list of hardening measures to fortify websites from hackers. This includes certain advanced technical measures such as disabling file editing, changing security keys, and blocking PHP execution.
But since some of these measures are quite technically advanced, you may need the help of a WordPress expert to do this for you.
7. Install a WordPress security plugin
The best way to ensure continuous and ongoing security for your website is to invest in a security plugin. One such security plugin is MalCare that is built exclusively to secure WordPress websites and can therefore detect even as-yet-unknown malware infections.
The best part about security plugins is that they offer scheduled and automatic website scans that can detect malware before it has time to fester on your site. MalCare even comes with an automated malware cleanup so you can clean your website without having to rely on external technical support. Another advantage is the inbuilt WordPress hardening workflow that lets even non-technical users implement advanced WordPress hardening measures in a few clicks on the dashboard.
While there is no such thing as guaranteed immunity from hackers, the best way to protect your site is to pay attention to its performance, speed, and the best security practices recommended by WordPress experts. The steps outlined in this article are a great start and provide a strong foundation for your website’s security. If you’re looking for an easy way to do this, consider investing in a security plugin that does most of the heavy lifting for you by combining most of these security measures and detecting and removing malware before it is too late.