WordPress is by far the most popular content management system (CMS). Worldwide, well over 40 percent of all websites are based on WordPress. However, this popularity also has its downsides: It makes the CMS an attractive target for cyber attacks. In addition, especially the great strengths of WordPress - the flexibility and the modular structure - ensure that WordPress can tend to be quite insecure.
In this article you will learn which WordPress security vulnerabilities there are in general, what the most important gateways for hackers are and what you should pay attention to in order to close the vulnerabilities. Most of the known WordPress security problems you get fortunately quite easily under control.
1. vulnerability in WordPress Core
WordPress consists of a core software, the core, and various plugins and themes. The WordPress core itself is constantly being developed and re-released - including security updates. The biggest danger in relation to the core software lies with the users themselves: For many, a WordPress update is long overdue, be it because of incompatible plugins and themes, ignorance or lack of time. Only about 46 percent of all WordPress installations are currently running on the latest version 6.2.
✅ The solution: Use the latest version of WordPress.
The WordPress security team continuously checks the WordPress code for critical vulnerabilities. These are fixed immediately as soon as they are discovered. The WordPress developers usually work very reliably and quickly - especially when it comes to critical errors. Only a fraction of all WordPress security vulnerabilities are therefore due to errors in the core. So if you always work with the latest version of WordPress and perform updates promptly, you protect yourself quite reliably from hackers who exploit security vulnerabilities in outdated WordPress versions.
Updates can sometimes cause problems on your website as well. However, ignoring them out of fear should not be the solution. Instead, always make a complete backup of your system before applying updates. This way you are protected against problems and can restore your website with a few clicks if necessary. How exactly you create a backup, you can read in our article WordPress Backup: So important and so often forgotten.
2. security problems due to plugins and themes
Plugins and themes are one of the favorite attack points for hackers in practice. Analyses by Sucuri from 2022 show: 36 percent of all hacked websites had at least one vulnerable plugin or theme installed. What's more, there are currentlymore than 60,000 extensions for the open source platform available at wordpress.org alone. The probability that cybercriminals will find some plug-ins with a gap in the code is therefore high. This gap is then exploited to open the doors to the backend of your website for SQL injections, cross site scripting (XSS) or malware, for example.
✅ The solution: To avoid security vulnerabilities caused by plugins and themes, you should consider several things at once:
- Keep plugins and themes up to date: What applies to the WordPress core, of course, also applies to extensions. Outdated software is one of the most common reasons why WordPress websites fall victim to cross site scripting, malware & co. Therefore, make sure that you always have the latest version of plugins installed. Read our article about (automatic) WordPress plugin updates.
- Install only trusted plugins and themes: The WordPress repository is considered a relatively safe source for plugins and themes. The plugins that are listed there are checked for bugs before they are deployed. Moreover, reputable and well-maintained plugins are the most likely to have any security holes closed quickly. In principle, however, all sorts of developers can provide plugins and themes for the WordPress community. From small WordPress plugins and themes from unknown third parties you should better keep your hands off.
- Delete unused themes and plugins: Use only the plugins that are absolutely necessary for your website. If you don't need them anymore, you should not only deactivate plugins, but uninstall them directly. The same applies to themes.
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3. the WordPress login as a vulnerability
A large percentage of WordPress hacks consist of "blunt force" at the front door, i.e. against your wp-admin site. So-called brute force attacks are used to try to grab your WordPress credentials (or the data for FTP and hosting). The method itself is quite primitive, but still effective in case of poor protection: Basically, the attacker:s keep guessing until they find the right username and password combination. The whole thing can be automated very easily. If the password is weak, or the login area is not protected, a brute force attack can either lead to a successful login - or paralyze your servers by the sheer amount of login attempts.
✅ The solution: To prevent hackers from getting the key to your website in a brute force attack, there are three ways that you can best combine:
- Use strong passwords: Sounds trivial, but it has a great effect and is actually mandatory anyway. Brute force attacks are quite simple, basically just guessing. A strong password with upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters can ensure that an attack fails. In addition, two-factor authentication makes sense (this is standard at Raidboxes anyway).
- Limit login attempts: You can limit the number of logins to your WordPress website. This way, you prevent countless failed login attempts from crippling your website. An IP will then be blocked for a certain time after a few failed attempts. At the next forced timeout, the blocking period becomes successively longer - and the attack increasingly useless. Such protection can be retrofitted via plugins (e.g. Login Lockdown). If you host WordPress websites (or e-commerce stores) at Raidboxes, you are directly equipped with an extra brute force protection. With the RB Login Protector you can define in your Box exactly after how many login attempts and how long the lockdown should take effect.
- Blacklisting: In certain countries there are servers from which cyberattacks come particularly frequently. You can blacklist the corresponding IP addresses and exclude them from accessing your website to prevent attacks. If the regions do not belong to your target group, this can make sense. You can either create the blacklist yourself on the server side or implement it using a suitable security plugin.
4. shared hosting as a gateway
Hosting also plays a significant role when it comes to WordPress security. Shared hosting in particular can affect your website - through the so-called Bad Neighbor Effect: With shared hosting, several websites "live" on one server and also share the IP address.
If, for example, it is blacklisted because another website on your server was affected by spamming, this can also have a negative impact on you and your business. You don't even have to be affected by hacking yourself.
In addition, it can happen in rare cases that there are not enough resources left on the server if another website is involved in a DDoS attack, for example. At least if the resources are not reasonably limited by the shared host . The result: overloaded servers, on which your website also no longer runs stably at times.
✅ The solution: rely on a reliable Managed WordPress Hosting.
WordPress hosting, where you no longer share your server with other websites, provides that extra bit of security. In addition, with hosters that specialize in WordPress, you benefit from a team of WordPress experts and fast support in case of a fire.
If you are looking for secure WordPress hosting from Raidboxes, you are protected from WordPress security vulnerabilities by the following measures, among others:
- When you create a Box (i.e. a new WordPress website), it is mandatory to enter a strong password.
- The RB Login Protector switches itself in front of your WordPress login area and "blacklists" IP addresses that repeatedly try to log in with false data. This way you are protected against brute force attacks.
- The WP Session Eraser deletes the WordPress sessions of all your users from the database after a specified time. This way you stay GDPR compliant and store as little data as possible.
- The XML-RPC interface is blocked by default. Thus, it does not provide a starting point for direct hacker attacks when it is not needed.
- Managed updates (optional), whether for WordPress itself or for your plugins, ensure that your system is always up-to-date.
In addition, countless server-side measures ensure maximum protection without you having to take care of it yourself.
Extra protection: Provide security for WordPress with plugin
As for almost everything, WordPress also offers numerous security plugins that you can use to protect your website from threats. This can be useful as an additional measure in some cases - depending on how well your WordPress website is already secured on the hosting side and which setup you use otherwise.
When a WordPress Security plugin is really useful and what features it should bring, you can read in our article WordPress Security: How useful are security plugins really? It also presents an overview of the three best security plugins.
Conclusion: Many WordPress security holes are easy to close
All in all, there are a number of entry points through which hackers could attack your WordPress website. However, many WordPress security holes can be closed relatively easily if you know what to look out for. For this you often do not need an additional plugin or complicated firewalls. Because most security holes in WordPress are not due to technical, but to human errors. It is much more important to keep your system up to date, use strong passwords and maintain your WordPress regularly. If you keep this in mind and additionally rely on a secure WordPress hosting, you should be well armed against hackers in the future.
Frequently asked questions about WordPress security vulnerabilities
How secure is WordPress?
No CMS is one hundred percent secure, not even WordPress. The modular structure with numerous themes and plugins offers attack surfaces and tends to make WordPress appear insecure. The fact that WordPress is the most widespread CMS in the world also makes it an attractive target. However, the WordPress core itself is quite well secured and receives regular security updates. However, most WordPress vulnerabilities can actually be traced back to a lack of WordPress maintenance and are easy to fix.
What are the most common WordPress threats?
The most common hacks against WordPress websites include malware, backdoors, SEO spam, brute force attacks, SQL injections, DDoS attacks and cross site scripting.
What are zero-day vulnerabilities?
Zero-day security holes are holes that have not yet been discovered and are unknown to the developers of a software. This means that no security update exists yet for these types of security issues. As soon as they become known, they can easily be used for widespread attacks.