Wordpress Security Guide - How to Protect Your Wordpress Site

Published June 01, 2024

WordPress powers many websites on the internet, making it a target for hackers looking to exploit weaknesses. This article will talk about the importance of WordPress security, common security issues, and the results of a hacked WordPress site. We'll also cover tips for securing your WordPress site, including keeping your site updated, using strong passwords, choosing a secure hosting provider, and using security plugins.

Key Takeaways

  • WordPress is a popular target for hackers due to its widespread use, with over 90,000 attacks per minute in 2020
  • Common WordPress security weaknesses include outdated software, weak passwords, and vulnerable plugins or themes
  • The consequences of a hacked WordPress site can be severe, such as site defacement, malware distribution, data theft, and search engine blacklisting
  • To secure your WordPress site, keep it updated, use strong passwords and user permissions, choose a secure hosting provider, use security plugins, and harden your security settings
  • Regularly back up your WordPress site's files and database to protect it in case of a security breach or other issues

Understanding WordPress Security

Why WordPress Security Matters

WordPress powers many websites on the internet, making it a target for hackers looking to exploit vulnerabilities. Here are some statistics that highlight the importance of WordPress security:

Statistic Description
43.2% Percentage of websites using WordPress as of 2023
90,978 Number of WordPress attacks per minute in 2020
$300,000 Average cost of a data breach for small businesses

Common WordPress Security Weaknesses

Several security weaknesses in WordPress can be exploited by hackers:

  • Outdated software
  • Weak passwords
  • Vulnerable plugins or themes

Hackers can use these flaws to:

  • Gain access to your site
  • Steal data
  • Spread malware to your visitors
graph TD A[Outdated Software] --> D[Hacked WordPress Site] B[Weak Passwords] --> D C[Vulnerable Plugins/Themes] --> D

Consequences of a Hacked WordPress Site

The consequences of a hacked WordPress site can be severe:

  1. Site defacement
    • Hacker replaces your content with their own messages or ads
  2. Malware distribution
    • Your site could spread malware to visitors
    • Damages your reputation
  3. Data theft
    • Hackers may steal information (e.g., user login credentials, customer data)
    • Leads to privacy breaches and legal issues
  4. Search engine blacklisting
    • Google may blacklist your site
    • Reduces traffic and impacts search engine rankings

Best Practices for Securing Your WordPress Site

Keep Your WordPress Site Updated

Keeping your WordPress site updated is one of the most important steps in maintaining its security. WordPress releases updates that fix security flaws and bugs, so it's important to install these updates as soon as they are available. Make sure to update WordPress core, plugins, and themes regularly.

You can enable automatic updates for WordPress to make sure your site always has the latest security patches. To do this, add the following code to your wp-config.php file:

define( 'WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', true );

This will enable automatic updates for minor releases, such as security fixes. For major releases, you'll still need to manually update WordPress.

Using the latest WordPress version is key for protecting your site from known security vulnerabilities. You can check your WordPress version by going to the Dashboard > Updates page in your WordPress admin area.

Use Strong Passwords and User Permissions

Using strong, unique passwords for all user accounts is a must for WordPress security. Avoid using guessable passwords and create complex passwords that include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Here are some tips for creating strong passwords:

  • Use a password generator to create complex passwords
  • Use a different password for each account
  • Use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password to store and manage your passwords securely
  • Change your passwords regularly, especially if you suspect a breach

It's also important to limit user access to the WordPress admin area. Only give admin access to trusted users who need it. You can manage user roles and permissions by going to the Users > All Users page in your WordPress admin area.

Change your WordPress username from the default "admin" to something less predictable, as this is a common target for hackers. You can create a new admin user with a different username and then delete the default "admin" user.

Choose a Secure WordPress Hosting Provider

Picking a secure WordPress hosting provider is key for your site's security. Look for a hosting provider that offers strong security measures, such as:

  • Regular server updates
  • Firewalls
  • Malware scanning
  • SSL certificates
  • Intrusion detection

Consider managed WordPress hosting for added security, as these providers often have special security features and expert support. Some popular managed WordPress hosting providers include:

Make sure your hosting provider regularly updates their server software to protect against known security holes. You can check with your hosting provider to see how often they do updates and what security measures they have.

Use WordPress Security Plugins

Installing and configuring a reliable WordPress security plugin can greatly improve your site's security. These plugins offer features like:

  • Malware scanning
  • Firewalls
  • Login protection
  • Two-factor authentication
  • File integrity monitoring

Some popular WordPress security plugins include:

These plugins can help find and block security threats. Make sure to regularly scan your WordPress site for security issues using these plugins and fix any vulnerabilities found.

Example: Install and configure the Wordfence security plugin

  1. Install and activate the Wordfence plugin from the WordPress plugin repository
  2. Go to the Wordfence > Dashboard page in your WordPress admin area
  3. Click the "Scan" button to scan your WordPress site
  4. Review the scan results and fix any security issues found
  5. Configure the Wordfence firewall and login security settings to protect your site from threats

Harden Your WordPress Security Settings

Hardening your WordPress security settings is another important step in securing your site.

To disable file editing in the WordPress dashboard, add the following code to your wp-config.php file:

define('DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT', true);

Change your WordPress database prefix from the default "wp_" to something unique to make it harder for hackers to guess. You can do this by editing your wp-config.php file and changing the $table_prefix variable to a custom prefix.

Enable two-factor authentication for added login security. This requires users to provide a second form of authentication, such as a code sent to their phone, in addition to their password. You can use a plugin like Two Factor Authentication to set this up.

Limit login attempts to prevent brute force attacks. You can use a plugin like Login Lockdown to limit the number of failed login attempts allowed.

Disable XML-RPC if you don't need it, as it can be a security risk. You can do this by adding the following code to your functions.php file:

add_filter('xmlrpc_enabled', '__return_false');

Back Up Your WordPress Site Regularly

Regularly backing up your WordPress database and files is key for protecting your site in case of a security breach or other issues. Here are some best practices for WordPress backups:

  • Do backups regularly, such as daily or weekly
  • Store backups offsite or in the cloud for added security
  • Test backups periodically to make sure they can be used to restore your site

You can use a plugin like UpdraftPlus or BackupBuddy to automate your WordPress backups and store them securely.

Example: Backup schedule

Frequency Retention Period
Daily 7 days
Weekly 4 weeks
Monthly 12 months

Additional WordPress Security Measures

Hide the WordPress Version

Hiding the WordPress version number from your site's code is a simple security measure. When attackers know which WordPress version you are using, they can use known vulnerabilities specific to that version.

To hide the WordPress version:

  1. Open your functions.php file in a text editor
  2. Add the following code:
function remove_wp_version() {
    return '';
}
add_filter('the_generator', 'remove_wp_version');

This code removes the WordPress version number from your site's HTML source code, making it harder for potential attackers to determine which version you are using.

Here's an example of how the WordPress version appears in the HTML source code before and after implementing this security measure:

Example

Before:

<meta name="generator" content="WordPress 5.7.2" />

After:

<meta name="generator" content="" />

Keep in mind that this does not replace the need to keep your WordPress installation updated to the latest version. Regularly updating WordPress core, themes, and plugins is important for maintaining a secure website.

Limit Login Attempts and Enable Lockouts

Limiting the number of failed login attempts and enabling account lockouts can help prevent brute-force attacks on your WordPress site. Brute-force attacks involve attackers trying many username and password combinations to gain access to your site.

To limit login attempts and enable lockouts:

  1. Install and activate a plugin like Login Lockdown or Limit Login Attempts Reloaded
  2. Configure the plugin settings to limit the number of failed login attempts allowed (e.g., 3-5 attempts)
  3. Set up account lockouts to temporarily lock user accounts after too many failed attempts (e.g., 15-30 minute lockout)

Here's an example of how you can configure the Limit Login Attempts Reloaded plugin:

Example

Setting Recommended Value
Allowed Retries 3
Minutes Lockout 20
Lockout Duration 24 hours
Notify on Lockout Yes
Notify Email Address admin@example.com

Use SSL/HTTPS for Secure Connections

Using SSL/HTTPS for your WordPress site ensures that all data transmitted between your site and its users is encrypted and secure. This is especially important for login pages, forms, and other areas where sensitive data is exchanged.

To use SSL/HTTPS:

  1. Purchase an SSL certificate from a trusted SSL provider (e.g., Let's Encrypt, Comodo, GeoTrust)
  2. Install the SSL certificate on your WordPress hosting account
  3. Configure your WordPress site to use HTTPS by updating the WordPress Address and Site Address in the Settings > General page
  4. Use a plugin like Really Simple SSL to force all connections to use HTTPS

With SSL/HTTPS enabled, your WordPress site will display a padlock icon in the browser address bar, indicating that the connection is secure. This helps protect your site and its users from man-in-the-middle attacks and other security threats.

Benefits of Using SSL/HTTPS

  • Encrypts data transmitted between your site and its users
  • Protects sensitive information like login credentials and form data
  • Increases user trust and confidence in your website
  • Improves search engine rankings (Google prefers HTTPS sites)

Monitor and Maintain Your WordPress Site's Security

Monitoring your WordPress site for signs of security breaches is important for catching issues early and reducing damage. Check for any suspicious activity in your WordPress dashboard, such as:

  • Unknown user accounts
  • Unexpected changes to your site's content or look
  • Unusual spikes in traffic or resource use
  • Warnings or alerts from your security plugins

You can use security plugins like Wordfence or Sucuri Security to monitor your site for security issues and get alerts if any threats are found. You can also use Uptimia Virus Monitoring tool to regularly check if your website has been infected with malware.

In addition to using security plugins, check your site's access logs and error logs for any unusual activity. Look for:

  • Failed login attempts from unknown IP addresses
  • Requests for suspicious or non-existent files
  • Errors indicating possible security issues

For example, if you notice multiple failed login attempts from an unknown IP address in your access logs, it could mean that someone is trying to gain unauthorized access to your site.

graph TD A[Check access logs] --> B{Suspicious activity found?} B -->|Yes| C[Investigate and take action] B -->|No| D[Continue monitoring]

If you notice any security issues on your WordPress site, address them quickly to reduce potential damage. Steps to take may include:

  1. Immediately change all user passwords
  2. Update WordPress core, themes, and plugins to the latest versions
  3. Remove any suspicious user accounts or files
  4. Scan your site for malware and remove any infected files
  5. Contact your hosting provider for help if needed

It's also a good idea to have a plan for handling security incidents. This may include:

  • Having recent backups of your site that you can restore if needed
  • Knowing who to contact for help (e.g., hosting provider, security experts)
  • Having a communication plan for notifying users if their data is compromised
graph TD A[Security incident detected] --> B[Activate incident response plan] B --> C[Change passwords] B --> D[Update WordPress and plugins] B --> E[Remove suspicious accounts/files] B --> F[Scan for malware] B --> G[Contact hosting provider if needed] B --> H[Restore from backup if needed] B --> I[Notify affected users]

What to Do if Your WordPress Site Has Been Hacked

Confirm the hack

Look for signs that your site has been hacked:

  • Unusual changes to your site's appearance or content
  • New user accounts you didn't create
  • Strange links or redirects on your site
  • Alerts from your security plugins or hosting provider

If you notice your homepage has been replaced with a message from a hacker or see unfamiliar user accounts in your WordPress dashboard, these are clear signs that your site has been compromised.

Notify your hosting provider

Contact your hosting provider and tell them of the suspected hack. They may help you investigate and clean up the issue.

Many hosting providers offer support for hacked websites:

  • Running security scans
  • Identifying and removing malware
  • Restoring your site from a clean backup

Use these services to help you resolve the issue faster.

Change all passwords

Change the passwords for all user accounts:

  • WordPress admin accounts
  • FTP accounts
  • Database passwords

Tip

Use strong, unique passwords for each account. A strong password should:

  • Be at least 12 characters long
  • Include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters
  • Not include dictionary words or personal information

Consider using a password manager to generate and store strong passwords.

Back up your site

Create a backup of your hacked WordPress site, including all files and the database. This will be useful for investigating the hack and restoring your site later if needed.

You can use plugins like:

to create a full backup of your site. Store the backup on a secure, off-site location, such as a cloud storage service or an external hard drive.

Investigate the hack

Use security plugins like Wordfence or Sucuri Security to scan your site for malware and identify any compromised files. Check your site's access logs for suspicious activity:

  • Failed login attempts
  • Requests for unusual files
  • Traffic from unfamiliar IP addresses

This information can help you understand how the hacker gained access to your site and what changes they made.

graph TD A[Scan for malware] --> B[Identify compromised files] B --> C[Check access logs] C --> D[Analyze suspicious activity]

Remove malicious code and files

Once you've identified the compromised files, remove them from your WordPress site. If you're not comfortable doing this yourself, consider hiring a professional WordPress security service to clean up your site.

Some common places to look for malicious code:

  • wp-config.php
  • functions.php
  • header.php
  • footer.php
  • Plugin and theme files

Be thorough in your cleanup to remove all traces of the hack.

Update WordPress and plugins

Update WordPress core, themes, and plugins to the latest versions to ensure you have the most recent security patches. Remove any unused themes and plugins to reduce your site's attack surface.

Component Action
WordPress core Update to latest version
Themes Update to latest versions, remove unused themes
Plugins Update to latest versions, remove unused plugins

Keeping your WordPress site updated is one of the most effective ways to prevent hacks.

Restore from a clean backup

If you have a clean backup of your WordPress site from before the hack, you can restore your site to this earlier version. This will remove any changes made by the hacker.

Before restoring from a backup:

  1. Verify that the backup is clean and free of malware
  2. Create a new backup of your hacked site, just in case
  3. Test the restore process on a staging site first

Once you've confirmed the backup is safe, you can proceed with restoring your live site.

Harden your WordPress security

Implement security best practices to prevent future hacks:

  • Using strong passwords
  • Limiting login attempts
  • Installing security plugins
  • Enabling two-factor authentication
  • Regularly updating WordPress, themes, and plugins
  • Restricting file permissions
  • Disabling file editing in WordPress

These measures will help make your WordPress site more resistant to attacks.

graph TD A[Strong passwords] --> E[Hardened WordPress security] B[Limit login attempts] --> E C[Security plugins] --> E D[Regular updates] --> E

Monitor your site closely

Keep a close eye on your WordPress site for any signs of suspicious activity. Use security plugins to monitor your site and receive alerts if any new threats are detected.

Some things to monitor:

  • Failed login attempts
  • File changes
  • Unusual traffic patterns
  • Spikes in resource usage

By catching potential issues early, you can prevent them from becoming full-blown hacks.

Having a backup and recovery plan in place is important for quickly restoring your WordPress site if it's hacked. Regularly back up your site's files and database, and store the backups securely off-site. Test your backups periodically to ensure they can be used to restore your site if needed.