Your website is like a home – secure if you take the appropriate precautions, but vulnerable to burglars if you don’t. In the website world, however, sites don’t get burgled, they get hacked. The number of sites that get hacked every year continues to increase.
How do WordPress sites get hacked? And, is it possible to safeguard your site?
The following tips will arm you with the knowledge to protect your site from malicious attacks and keep your data and content safe.
1. Brute Force Attacks
It’s easy to imagine someone trying to break down the front door of a home using brute force. If the robber puts enough effort into it, they’ll eventually succeed, leaving your door in splinters.
A brute force attack in the tech world is very similar: hackers use automated software to try and guess your WordPress username and password over and over until they successfully hack into your site. They’ll frequently use a list of the 500 most common passwords, trying each one against your site’s WordPress login page. It can take only a few minutes for a bot to try a few hundred combinations. You’d be surprised by how many people use ‘admin’ as a username,
Unfortunately, brute force attacks are extremely common on content management system sites like WordPress: an average of 26 million attacks occur every day.
Securing Your Website Against Brute Force Attacks
Thankfully, there are a few ways to protect your website against brute force attacks. One of the simplest defenses is to use a strong password for your WordPress login. This applies to every user account in your WordPress site. To safeguard your site, review all the user accounts every few months. For security reasons, always remove unused accounts, including those from former employees after they stop working for your company.
Enabling 24/7 security monitoring is one of the best security steps against attacks on your site. Security monitoring software can detect and block attempts to hack into your site. When reviewing different monitoring options, consider an option that is set up on the server level instead of using a security plugin.
2. Accessing a Site through an Unsecure Hosting Server
Your website hosting environment plays a big role in the security of your WordPress site and the hosting server can be a common access point for breaches.
A simple way to understand the impact of the hosting server is to consider how the safety of the community you live in also influences the safety of your individual home. This is most obvious within an apartment complex. If your complex has a broken parking gate that never quite closes properly, or if the main entryway is always propped open, then your home isn’t secure and you have a greater chance of being robbed.
The same goes for your website. If you’re on a shared hosting platform, your site is most likely on a server with thousands of other sites. No matter what you do to secure your individual site if the server is not secure, your site has a higher risk of getting hacked.
Additionally, if just one of the sites on the server becomes compromised, it puts every site at risk. After all, if a burglar manages to break into your neighbor’s apartment, they may be eyeing the rest of the complex as equally easy to break into.
How to Secure Your Hosting Environment
Your hosting environment can impact everything from security to performance. It can be tempting to put your website on a cheap server, but you could pay for it in the long-term with security issues.
WordPress sites tend to perform poorly on shared environments, so seeking out a managed WordPress environment is the best choice when it comes to both security and performance.
A managed WordPress environment is an ideal set up. In a managed environment, the hosting service takes care of all the technical details such as backup services and updates to the server.
For security, make sure there are disk-write limitations and protections on the server level. This means the server environment limits the processes that can write to disk. With this setup, it is harder for an attacker to exploit a vulnerability in a theme or plugin. Every attempt to write to the disk is also logged, which helps a developer track down the source of malware if there is a security breach.
3. Hacking a Site Through a WordPress Plugin
Another way that hackers can gain access to your site is through a vulnerability in a WordPress plugin installed on your website.
In the case of your home, you may hire a landscaper to tend to your yard, a handyman to fix a leaky faucet, or a contractor to redo your bathroom. Rather than opening your home to strangers outright, you probably vet them to make sure they’re trustworthy. Even with vetting, you could end up inviting someone into your home who isn’t trustworthy.
Plugins on a WordPress site are very similar to this. Every WordPress site requires plugins to do different functions, and a big advantage of WordPress is that developers are constantly building new functionality and features. The problem is that every plugin requires maintenance and monitoring. A plugin may work great for years until a security vulnerability is discovered. That previously hidden security vulnerability is an open door to hackers until the developer creates an update to patch it. If you don’t implement that plugin update, you are essentially giving the keys to your site to a hacker.
Maintaining Your WordPress Plugins & Themes
The best way to prevent security issues with plugins and themes on your WordPress website is to have an experienced developer update all the plugins on a monthly basis. Outdated plugins and themes are a major security risk.
Just like you would vet a company or contractor before having them work on your home, it’s a best practice to have a WordPress developer review a plugin before you install it.
Keep an eye on your plugins, in case the developer who built the plugin stops testing and updating it. This is called “plugin abandonment” and once a plugin is abandoned, any security vulnerabilities can then be left un-patched.
Eventually, WordPress.org will remove an abandoned plugin from the repository, but this typically occurs only after a major breach has occurred to sites with the plugin. For instance, a recent vulnerability was discovered in the Duplicate Page plugin and over 800,000 websites were affected.
In addition to plugins and themes, you’ll want to keep the WordPress core up-to-date. Every few months, a new version of WordPress is released and there can be security patches in the core itself. Before updating to the latest version, always have a development team test the latest version in a staging area. This gives you the chance to uncover any potential issues, including compatibility issues with current plugins before the change goes live on the site.
Protecting Every Site, No Matter How Small
As a website owner, you may think that your website is like your home: if you have nothing valuable in your home, there’s not much need for fancy security systems. So, if you have a small site with no financial transactions occurring on the site, no one will hack it, right? Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.
Small informational WordPress sites can be easy targets, allowing a hacker to infect a not secure site and put your web visitors at risk. Protect your website and web visitors by investing in proper WordPress security and maintenance.