November 3, 2023

Let's dispel the myths about WordPress security

WordPress and security, we dispel the 8 most widespread myths regarding the security of WordPress and sites created in WordPress.

WordPress Security Myths

Although WordPress is the most popular content management system in the world, several myths about its security persist. Due to its open-source nature, novice users may perceive it as less secure than a commercial product. Additionally, they may be alarmed by news reports of security issues related to WordPress.

Myth #1: Security is Your Hosting Provider's Responsibility

Often, those who are new to the world of the web or those who manage a site for the first time can fall into the mistaken belief that the security of their website is solely a duty and responsibility of their hosting service provider . This thought is not entirely unfounded, as the hosting provider certainly plays a critical role as a primary defensive bulwark. Vendors are mandated to implement robust security measures to prevent vulnerabilities at the server level and are responsible for protecting the entire infrastructure that hosts customer websites. Performing regular audits, applying security patches, monitoring threats and taking preventative actions are part of their core duties. If these basic security tasks are not carried out with the utmost care, then the service provided does not meet the standards required for professional and secure management of a website.

Security Operation Center

However, it is important to understand that security is a complex and layered process, requiring ongoing collaboration between the hosting provider and the site owner. Each additional layer of security that can be applied on the user side exponentially increases the site's resilience to potential attacks. Site administrators should therefore be proactive in learning key security practices, such as secure password management, regularly updating applications and plugins, and implementing SSL certificates. Furthermore, it is essential to be aware that some specific threats, such as phishing or other forms of social engineering, require a level of vigilance that goes beyond the provider's ability to intervene.

While it is vital that your hosting provider is reliable and committed to infrastructure security, it is equally crucial that website owners do not neglect their share of responsibility in building a safe and secure online environment.

Site Security Is Above All Your Responsibility

The level of responsibility and involvement that a hosting provider has in the security of a WordPress site is closely related to the type of hosting service selected by the customer. When choosing shared hosting, a VPS or a dedicated server, the customer is essentially renting space on a server; operations conducted within this space fall under his responsibility. Therefore, it becomes crucial for the user to understand that maintenance and security of their WordPress site are not services commonly included in hosting.

When talking about application security, i.e. everything related to PHP code, Javascript, as well as plugins and themes, the user must be aware that these are not areas of expertise or responsibility of the hosting provider. Application vulnerabilities can emerge due to outdated or poorly configured components, and their management requires attention and specific skills from the site manager.

Some providers, it's true, offer advanced security features, such as application firewalls or content delivery systems (CDN), which can help form a more robust defense perimeter. These services can act as a filter for incoming threats and can offer some form of monitoring to identify malware, viruses and other types of cyber attacks. Despite this, in the event of detection of malicious activity, it is not uncommon for the provider to proceed by temporarily disabling the site involved, placing the burden of investigating and remedying the problem on the user's shoulders. For a beginner or for someone without extensive technical knowledge, this situation can be complex and less than ideal.

Managed Hosting Can Help

If your goal is to have a hosting provider that plays a stronger role in protecting the security of your WordPress site, it would be advisable to evaluate the option of managed hosting. This service is characterized by a deeper commitment on the part of the provider, which extends beyond the simple allocation of server space. In the context of managed hosting, the provider is actively involved in the daily management of your site, with an eye towards security, which goes hand in hand with services such as performance optimization, automatic updates and more technical support. thorough.

Managed Server and Managed Hosting

It must be considered that these additional services involve additional costs. However, the expense can be justified by the importance of feeling confident about the technical skills required to ensure the integrity of the site. Investing in managed hosting can result in a significant increase in peace of mind for the site owner.

Nonetheless, it is essential to definitively dispel a common misconception: unless specific security guarantees are expressly included in the service package stipulated with your provider, the responsibility to protect your website from intrusions or cyber attacks falls entirely on you . This means that the security of your WordPress site, the prevention of unauthorized access and the defense against hacking attempts require your vigilance and direct intervention.

Myth #2: WordPress By Itself Is a Security Risk

It is natural to ask: “If the burden of security is on my shoulders, is it dangerous to rely on a free CMS like WordPress? How reliable can something developed by volunteers in their free time be?” And then there are the advertising campaigns from services like Wix that question the security of WordPress.

We will debunk these concerns one by one.

First, it is essential to recognize a fundamental truth of the digital world: nothing connected to the Internet is completely invulnerable. Every day, thousands of sites are compromised, from web giants to small personal blogs. The reality of online security can be compared to that of real life: there are varying degrees of risk, and the goal is to minimize the likelihood of incidents occurring.

WordPress' popularity makes it a common target, but that doesn't make it inherently insecure. The WordPress project is supported by a global community of dedicated developers who are constantly working on improving the software. Contrary to what you might think, the open-source nature of WordPress is a strength, not a weakness. Thanks to the publicly accessible source code, vulnerabilities can be quickly detected and fixed by the community. Additionally, updates are regularly released that improve security and functionality.

Services like Wix or Squarespace may seem more secure due to their closed and controlled nature, but even these systems are not immune to risks. The security of a site does not depend exclusively on the platform on which it is built, but also on how it is managed and maintained over time. Any platform can be secure if it is used correctly and robust security practices are implemented.

WordPress Has Extensive Security Measures

In this, WordPress is no different than others. Over the years, the platform has implemented a robust system to discover and address security concerns in the core product.

There is a dedicated security team of around 50 experts, including core developers, security researchers, and other web security professionals. Many of them work for WordPress.com, a company that has a vested interest in making the software fail-proof that is the basis of their business.

Additionally, the team consults with the security teams of other hosting and content management system companies.

Their role is to actively monitor WordPress for vulnerabilities and quickly respond to any issues that emerge. If a report is serious enough, they have the ability to create and deploy a patch immediately. This will be automatically installed on any WordPress site higher than 3.7 unless you specifically disable this feature.

Additionally, WordPress receives updates frequently, around two to three new major releases per year, with minor, maintenance, and security updates in between. Each update comes with fixes for potential security issues and an extensive testing process.

The Community is Your Main Resource

It could be that you have a misperception of who these “volunteers” contributing to WordPress actually are. We are not talking about amateurs who dedicate a few hours of their free time to the project; many of these contributors are professionals who work for businesses that generate millions of euros and who rely on WordPress for their business activities. They therefore have a very personal and professional interest in ensuring that the software remains safe and reliable, since their income depends on it.

WordPress Community

The open-source nature of WordPress represents a decisive advantage for its security. Its code is open and accessible to all, which invites constant examination and contributes to rapid identification and correction of any vulnerabilities. This transparency is evident in the vast number of people who contributed to the latest significant update, as can be seen in the list of contributors for WordPress version 6.3.

In addition, the market offers a wide range of dedicated hosting services and security plugins designed to strengthen the protection of WordPress sites. Added to this is a huge amount of educational resources, including blog posts and tutorials, that provide step-by-step instructions on how to improve site security.

So, what ruling can we give to this WordPress security myth? It has no basis. The strategies implemented to ensure the security and integrity of the WordPress core are, in many cases, superior to those adopted by some closed commercial platforms.

Myth #3: WordPress is the Most Hacked Platform

We often come across statistics that label WordPress as the CMS most targeted by hackers. It's undeniable that WordPress has faced some significant security breaches in the past, and this can raise concerns about using WordPress in professional projects.

WordPress Hacking Percentages

Examining the Breadth of WordPress

The spread of WordPress is notable. According to W3techs analysis, WordPress powers over 43% of websites worldwide. In concrete terms, we are talking about more than 470 million websites. These numbers are impressive, and no other CMS comes close to these levels of usage.

WordPress Spread 2023

So, why is WordPress so targeted by hackers? The answer is simple: the larger the number of sites, the greater the number of targets available for attacks.

For a hacker looking for vulnerabilities, it makes sense to focus on the system with the largest number of users and therefore, potentially, with the most weaknesses due to misconfiguration or lack of maintenance.

The Problem Does Not Reside in the WordPress Core

A closer look reveals that only a fraction of successful attacks target the WordPress core. Often, security breaches are the result of using outdated versions of software.

In reality, most of the weaknesses are introduced by third-party plugins.

Therefore, although WordPress is in fact the CMS most subject to attacks, the reasons for this situation are much more complex and detailed than it might seem at first glance.

Myth #4: Then WordPress Plugins Are Not Safe

Common perception might label WordPress plugins as a threat to system security. Given their indispensable role in enriching the functionality of WordPress sites, one might mistakenly conclude that ensuring the security of sites built on this platform is a difficult undertaking.

The Plugin Challenge

Indeed, plugins can be an Achilles' heel for WordPress security. They are often the preferred channel through which attackers can infiltrate websites.

It's essential to highlight the sheer volume of plugins available: the official WordPress repository hosts over 60.000 of them, not to mention the abundance of those offered on external platforms.

The WordPress developer community is aware of this risk and actively works to mitigate it. Plugins with known vulnerabilities have been removed from the repository, and there are ongoing efforts to develop review and control systems to improve the security and reliability of the plugin ecosystem.

The first golden rule to minimize risks is to choose plugins from trusted developers who guarantee regular updates and ongoing support.

The risks of pirated or nulled plugins and themes.

The use of pirated or “nulled” plugins and themes in WordPress represents a dangerous security risk for a website. Many users, looking to save on the costs of premium plugins and themes, turn to nulled versions that may appear functionally identical to the originals. However, these altered versions are often vehicles for malware and backdoors, making them the fastest way to compromise a site.

Furthermore, even if by chance they turn out to be malware-free initially, the lack of official security updates makes them particularly vulnerable to new threats. This is because nulled products do not have access to the support and update channels provided by the original developers; therefore, any security flaws discovered after their release remain inexorably open to attack. As a result, in addition to representing a serious security risk, the use of pirated plugins and themes undermines the integrity of developers' work and violates copyright laws.

Beyond Plugins: Use and Maintenance

The security of a WordPress site is not undermined solely by the presence of plugins, but rather by the lack of adequate management of the latter. Recent data highlights that approximately 36% of websites that suffer intrusions are those that keep obsolete plugins active.

So, the underlying issue is not the innate insecurity of plugins, but the delay with which users apply security updates that are distributed by developers.

In addition, the probability of exposure to security risks increases in proportion to the number of plugins installed: each plugin can introduce a potential vulnerability.

The most reliable solution is to install only the plugins that are strictly essential, making sure to update them constantly. Unused plugins must be removed promptly to prevent outdated components from becoming openings for threats to the site's security.

Myth #5: Your Site Is Not a Target, Nobody Cares

This is a classic among website security myths, not just in relation to WordPress. Many people, especially those who run hobby or small websites, feel that they don't offer a profitable enough target for a hacker to be interested in attacking. If you only post photos of your hamster, what could someone gain from hacking your website?

Hacking does not occur through manual operations, but automatically.

The idea of ​​a hacker breaking a website's security is often dramatized and made spectacular in movies like “Hackers,” “Swordfish” or “WarGames.” However, the reality of hacking is much less theatrical and doesn't necessarily involve a hooded antagonist typing frantically on a laptop, targeting your website with a tailor-made attack.

In the vast landscape of the Internet, the majority of website attacks are not perpetrated manually, but are conducted through the use of automated bots. These programs are designed to relentlessly scan the network, automatically identifying sites with known vulnerabilities. If a weak point is identified, the bot proceeds to exploit it. In this scenario, your site wasn't chosen for personal reasons; it simply fell into the crosshairs of one of these bots as a target of convenience.

Taking Control of Your Site Isn't Really the Goal

Often, when we talk about hacking, the image that comes to mind is of bad actors looking for valuable financial data or sensitive personal information. However, the reality is that many cyber intrusions have different objectives. Hackers, in many cases, aim to take control of parts of your site not to steal sensitive data, but to use them for specific purposes:

  • Embedding your site within a botnet, which can be used to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks
  • Use your mail server to send spam
  • Distribute malware to your site visitors, without their knowledge
  • Insert links to fraudulent sites within the pages of your site

There are also those who compromise websites for the simple purpose of digital vandalism or to flaunt their skills in overcoming security measures.

It is important to understand that in most cases, the attack on your site is not personal; it's purely an opportunity for someone to use your site's resources to their advantage. The key is taking the right precautions to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of such exploits.

Myth #6: Using Strong Passwords Will Keep Your Site Safe

The importance of strong login credentials cannot be overstated in the context of the security of your WordPress site. This is not a myth: login credentials are the first bulwark against unauthorized intrusions. Here's how weak login information can become the Achilles' heel of your site's security:

  • Brute force attacks: These attacks are carried out using software that performs countless attempts to match the username and password until it guesses the correct one.
  • Credential stuffing: This is a more sophisticated form of the brute force attack, where the hacker uses username and password combinations leaked from other breaches. Take advantage of people's common tendency to reuse the same credentials across multiple platforms.

Implementing strong, unique passwords is a critical step in protecting your WordPress site. However, this aspect often appears in lists of security myths because using strong passwords is not a panacea; rather, it is one element in a broader arsenal of security strategies. If you ignore other critical aspects such as regularly updating your software or configuring your security settings correctly, you leave your site exposed to avoidable risks.

Beyond passwords, an effective login page defense includes additional measures such as limiting failed login attempts, adopting two-factor authentication, and installing an application web firewall. Each of these tools adds an additional layer of protection against unauthorized access attempts.

Additionally, it's essential to remember that security isn't limited to the login page of your WordPress site. Strong credentials are equally crucial for the hosting, email, database, and FTP accounts that interact with your site. A weak point anywhere in this ecosystem can make the entire system vulnerable. Therefore, it is important to approach security holistically, strengthening all digital touchpoints related to your website.

Myth #7: Just Install a Security Plugin and You're Done

Using security plugins is a vital step in protecting WordPress sites, especially for those who are still learning the ropes of online security. Plugins like WordFence, MalCare, and Sucuri provide users with powerful, accessible tools that can deploy meaningful defenses with just a few clicks, helping make sites less vulnerable to a myriad of threats.

For beginners, these plugins may seem like a panacea, as they automate complex security processes, offering features like malware scanning, bruteforce blocking, core file protection, and more. These tools are, without a doubt, excellent at preventing and countering a wide range of attacks directed at your site.

Hardening Sucuri

However, it is crucial to understand that the security provided by these plugins has its boundaries. They are designed to safeguard the website itself and its immediate interactions. This means that many areas outside their scope of control remain exposed. For example, if your hosting shares resources with compromised sites, this could create vulnerabilities that security plugins can't handle. Likewise, if the server infrastructure is outdated or poorly configured, or if the hosting provider does not follow best security practices, the risk increases regardless of the power of the installed plugin.

Additionally, a weak password for your hosting account can be the Achilles' heel of your security. Hackers who gain access to this layer can easily bypass the security measures set by the plugin. So, while security plugins play a critical role in keeping your site secure, their effectiveness is compromised if the rest of the ecosystem—the server, server software, hosting environment, FTP accounts, etc.— it is also not safe and well managed.

It is therefore essential to take a holistic approach to security, where plugins represent only one element of an overall security strategy. This should include implementing strong security practices for hosting and other services, regularly updating all system components, training users on good security practices, and implementing backup and security policies. incident response. WordPress site security is a shared responsibility that goes beyond installing a plugin; It requires constant attention and proactive effort to keep your site safe from ever-evolving threats.

Myth #8: WordPress Security Is Complicated

The idea that keeping your WordPress site secure is a difficult task is a myth that often discourages users. In reality, by following some recommended practices, you can significantly improve the security of your site:

  • Choose reliable hosting: Prioritize hosting providers that offer advanced security measures and dedicated support, opting for managed hosting if possible.
  • Update regularly: Keep WordPress, along with plugins and themes, updated to the latest versions to protect against known vulnerabilities.
  • Minimize extensions: Install only necessary plugins, disable and delete unused ones, and ensure that active ones are well maintained and updated.
  • Use secure credentials: Create strong, unique passwords, limit failed login attempts, and implement two-factor authentication for an extra layer of protection.
  • Perform regular backups: Set up periodic backups of your site to ensure it can be recovered in the event of an incident.
  • Apply security plugins with knowledge: Use security plugins as support tools, without forgetting that they cannot protect against every threat and are not a substitute for an overall security strategy.

By taking these measures, site security not only becomes more manageable, but also significantly reduces the likelihood of compromises, allowing you to operate with greater peace of mind.

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