As the most recent stats show, WordPress CMS is by far the widely-used platform with a 35 percent market share of all websites. With millions of websites built with WordPress, it effectively outdoes its rivals such as Joomla and Drupal in flexibility and adaptability. Despite being so popular, however, WordPress security issues are always a matter of concern for developers, designers, website owners, and bloggers.
Unfortunately, many users exercising this platform don’t have a grasp of basic WordPress security issues and their causes. Various potential attack vectors, including improper installation, misconfiguration, and vulnerability in the code or plugins, lead to the hacking of a website and its information. Hackers and cybercriminals try to find inconsistencies and vulnerabilities in WordPress users’ websites, core files, databases, hosting, and network to hack their way into their systems and acquire critical information. These security holes pose greater security and privacy risks to users’ business, financial, and personal data. Also, there’re some common mistakes repeatedly made by WordPress users that could be avoided easily. For instance, not using a strong password for the WordPress account, not deleting unused plugins, and not managing extensions.
In this article, we’ll take a look at various WordPress security issues along with possible solutions and appropriate steps one should take to keep these problems and threats at bay.
|Table of contents|
|1. Cross-Site Scripting|
|2. URL & SQL Injections|
|3. Insecure Administrator Login|
|4. Unlimited Number of Login Attempts|
|5. Brute Force Attack|
|6. Not Backing Up Your Data|
|7. Remote File Inclusion (RFI) Vulnerability|
By initiating a WordPress XSS attack and executing insecure scripts in web pages, hackers can:
- Steal WordPress users’ session cookies and hijack their WordPress accounts;
- Pose as victims and gain access to their sensitive data and information;
- Perform any actions that a victim user can do;
- Gain complete control over their site’s functionality and data; and
- Steal the user’s credentials (username and password).
While an XSS or cross-site scripting is the most common vulnerability, it puts users’ accounts, private messages, and critical data at risk. To avoid this, establish a proper input data validation across the site, both server-side and client-side. Here is a combination of some tips that will help you prevent a WordPress XSS attack:
- Convert and validate the untrusted user input in a simple HTML form
- Filter the user input as soon as it’s received
- Clear-up the untrusted user data with WordPress’s Sanitization functions such as filename, text fields, Meta values, etc.
- Use basic escaping functions to secure all data in WordPress
- Encode the user-controllable data in HTTP responses
URL & SQL Injections
WordPress SQL injections and URL hacking are very common just like the WordPress XSS attacks, but they are more harmful. With WordPress websites using MySQL databases to operate, attackers try to insert snippets of arbitrary code or injections in SQL queries to gain access to the user’s database. When the server responds towards such injected SQL queries, they start attacking the corresponding database and all of the data present in it. By modifying the input tags, hackers can run SQL commands, compromise the integrity of the database, modify its content, and even destroy it entirely.
With WordPress SQL injections, hackers can also add incorrect, spammy links to malicious websites. If not dealt with correctly, these injections and codes can be extremely problematic and disclose critical information and data tables stored in the database.
WordPress SQL injections appear due to a lack of appropriate sanitization of the user input. You can protect your database and website components against SQL injection attacks with these best security practices:
- Update your WordPress software to the latest version available of PHP.
- Make sure that the underlying server is updated as well.
- Use only reliable plugins and always check them for prior patches and vulnerabilities.
- Limit field entries to reduce the risk of incorrect validation of user input and backend sanitization.
- Change and customize the norm database prefix in WordPress.
Insecure Administrator Login
If you are one of those users who retain their admin accounts with the default username ‘admin’ you are helping attackers out there with their job. Leaving your account as admin is similar to putting all of your sensitive information and database content in the hands of hackers. When hackers try to break into a WordPress site, they use username “admin” first as most people don’t change the default administration username.
You should change the standard WordPress administration user name “admin” to something else. Make sure that the user name you set is not easily guessable. This simple yet effective method will improve your site’s security significantly. Here’s how you can change your username effortlessly:
- Login to your WordPress account and open the dashboard.
- Create a new user and then select the ‘administrator’ role for it.
That’s it! Your brand new user name is updated.
Unlimited Number of Login Attempts
Since there are no restrictions on how many times a person can try login attempts, it turns out to be a disaster and serves as a security hole that attackers can drill into and get to your account. Not using the best login practices can land you in trouble and enable bots to carry out rapid strikes on your login credentials. On top of that, multiple failed attempts can slow down your website and pages and overload the system.
If you limit the number of invalid or failed login attempts within a specific timeframe, you can secure your WordPress site and data from brute-force attacks and other potential security threats that inflict havoc on a server. You can install plugins that block a visitor’s IP address if the login attempts fail and the threshold limit exceeds.
Brute Force Attack
WordPress brute force attack is similar to a guessing game in which intruders get access to a website by exploiting multiple usernames and password combinations. In this WordPress security issue, they try various combinations over and over until they crack the right password or the site gets compromised. This trial-and-error issue is another reason you should change your default administration username because attackers first try “admin” user name. If the attacker gets success in cracking to your account, they get access to your account and control over the information, like passwords, data, and PINs.
By taking the following basic measures, you can prevent website attackers from breaking into your WordPress account and system.
a. Strong Password: Keep a password for your WordPress account that is long and not easy to guess. A longer password, usually of 15 characters, with a mix of numbers, capital letters, lower-case letters, and symbols will be even durable. Also, avoid using a password which contains your name, birth-date, or your website’s name. If you are unable to come up with a unique, strong password by yourself, a password manager can surely assist you to generate complex, exceptional password strings in a flash.
b. Limit Login Attempts: As already mentioned and explained in the above point, not limiting the number of login attempts and trying out the username and password combinations is another reason for a successful brute-force attack on your WordPress website. To prevent hackers from mounting an attack and exploiting this security threat, you must limit multiple automated login attempts and sessions on your account.
c. Two-Step Authentication: Also known as 2-step verification, Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is an approach to add an extra layer of security to your WordPress account beyond your password and reduce the risk of your site getting compromised by a malicious actor.
d. Security Questions: This is another effective and simple method to improve the security of your WordPress website. Think of them as passwords for your account. Set up a security question that only you can answer and no one else. It could be your favorite drink, the name of the place you were wedded, or something else. Make sure that the answer to your security question is not common or predictable.
Not Backing Up Your Data
When sudden disaster attacks or things go wrong, backup proves to be a real lifesaver. It’s one of the quickest and easiest methods to restore your website content, online operations, and all the data when needed. If the attacker somehow gets access to your WordPress website, they can wipe all of your files and database or corrupt the website with spammy content and buggy scripts.
This WordPress security issue can be easily tackled with a strong and reliable scheduled backup and recovery plan. Backups are a constructive security and crisis management measure that you can apply to better protect your website and information. Offsite backups and local backups are two ways to create a backup of your website and data.
- Offsite WordPress Backup: Use plugins such as UpdraftPlus and Vaultpress to regularly back your data up to a third-party off-site storage solution, like Amazon S3 and Dropbox.
- Local Backups: By hosting your WordPress website with a trustworthy and reliable hosting company, you can create a local backup on the provider’s server.
Remote File Inclusion (RFI) Vulnerability
Your WordPress website is prone to a remote file inclusion issue that usually occurs when the attackers target vulnerable files and code. In this, they remotely inject a malicious script/code within a file, which gets executed on a WordPress site or its server. This WordPress security issue is of high severity and poses serious problems as attackers can get a complete takeover of your WordPress website. If the RFI vulnerability is exploited successfully, it leads to the Remote Code Execution (RCE) issue in which the attacker can execute and run any custom coded/malicious code on the webserver.
If you suspect RFI vulnerability, you need to take immediate action to prevent any damage. Here are some useful tips:
- Always check your file and server permissions and allow specific file extensions only.
- Properly validate, sanitize, and filter the user input before passing it.
- If any file is fetched from the web, check and validate its content.
- If possible, you should store your files in a directory that is not publicly accessible.
- Serve fetched files from your application rather than directly via the webserver.
- Assign the file and directory permission to only authorized and reliable users.
- Make sure your sensitive files and data can’t be accessed by anyone.