Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 02:39 pm
Securing your WordPress website by identifying potential vulnerabilities, checking for known threats, and taking steps to strengthen security. Be aware of signs of WordPress compromise and take proactive steps to protect your website against security risks.
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Securing your WordPress website is crucial in today’s digital world where cyber-attacks and data breaches are becoming more frequent. As a WordPress website owner, you may wonder “Is my website vulnerable?” The answer is, unfortunately, it could be.
In order to ensure the safety of your website and protect against potential threats, it’s important to check for known vulnerabilities and be aware of the signs of compromise. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the importance of WordPress security and provide valuable tips and tools for determining if your website is vulnerable, checking for known vulnerabilities, and strengthening your website’s security to keep your site safe and secure.
WordPress is a popular content management system used to develop and manage websites. While it is an effective and powerful platform, it can be vulnerable to security threats. It is important to be aware of the signs of WordPress vulnerability and to take steps to strengthen website security.
Is My Website Vulnerable? Identifying WordPress Vulnerabilities
WordPress vulnerabilities can be caused by various factors, including outdated software, lack of security measures, and poor administration practices. It’s important to be aware of the potential risks and to take steps to protect your website. The best way to identify WordPress vulnerabilities is to conduct a security audit. This will help you to identify any potential security issues and to take the necessary steps to secure your website.
You should be conducting regular security audits of your WordPress website. In a security audit, you’ll check for standard hardening tactics to ensure the site is protected as much as possible. Some of the items you should be checking are the following:
Ensure that WordPress Core, Themes, and Plugins are Updated
If there’s one thing you should do when securing your WordPress website, this is it. Digital forensic research has shown that about 80% of WordPress websites that are compromised or hacked are done so through vulnerabilities in plugins which had been patched by the developer, but the site owner never applied the update. It is the single most important thing that can increase your website’s security posture.
All WordPress updates generally come with a changelog that will tell you exactly what was fixed, including if a security vulnerability was patched. Any update that includes a security patch should be updated immediately.
In addition, you should check to ensure that everything you’re using on your website is still supported by the vendor or developer. If you have a plugin on your site that hasn’t had an update released in over a year, you should be weary of whether it’s supported or not. Unsupported items could have vulnerabilities for which no patch has been released and they’re exceptionally dangerous to keep on your website.
Never used nulled or stolen plugins.
Audit The Use of Two-Factor Authentication and Strong Passwords
Using strong, unique passwords for all user accounts and enabling two-factor authentication can add an extra layer of security. Special importance should be given to users with more than just subscriber access to your website. Editors, authors, and administrators should be required to use strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
You can use a WordPress security plugin such as WordFence to perform these audits. It can even tell you if an administrator is using a password that was leaked in a known breach.
Audit Users and Their Level of Access
Only grant user access to those who need it and limit the privileges of those who do not need administrative access. This is a critical aspect of WordPress security and should go without saying, but as a website owner, you should ensure that the users who have accounts on your website only have what they need and not more.
Every user account you create is another potential entry point for hackers. Keep a lookout for new accounts created on your site that you don’t recognize. Limiting the number of user accounts and their access will help to reduce the attack surface of your website.
Audit Your Logs
Keeping an eye on activity logs can help detect and respond to potential security threats. Your webserver will keep a log of every action taken on your site. These logs can be a bit difficult to read, but learning how to do so is important.
While WordPress itself don’t come with any native logging mechanism, there are several plugins out there which provide this type of functionality. One plugin I really like and install on all my websites is WP Activity Log by WP White Security. It monitors actions taken on your site by users and the premium version can even send you email alerts for critical actions in real time.
Audit File Permissions
Set appropriate file permissions to limit access to sensitive files and prevent unauthorized access or modifications. You should also check regularly to ensure these permissions have not been changed.
Checking for Known Vulnerabilities
In addition to conducting a security audit, it’s important to regularly check for known vulnerabilities. There are several tools and services available that can help you to identify potential issues and to take steps to strengthen website security. Additionally, some services can provide real-time monitoring of your website and alert you of any changes or activity that could indicate a security threat.
Tools like the WordPress Vulnerability Database will tell you if there are any known/published vulnerabilities in the versions of the themes and plugins you’re running on your website. Other tools like Sucuri SiteCheck can scan for known vulnerabilities and other potential security issues.
Have You Been Hacked? Common Signs of WordPress Compromise
There are several signs that can indicate your WordPress website is vulnerable. These include slow loading times, unexpected redirects, and sudden changes in website content. If you notice any of these issues, it is important to investigate further and take steps to secure your website. Additionally, if you receive reports from users regarding strange or suspicious activity, it is important to take action immediately.
Many types of malware will hide themselves from logged-in administrators to help avoid detection so it’s important to regularly interact with your website in the way a normal user would. This means being logged out and visiting the site from either an incognito-mode browser or your mobile device. Visit your site, all of it’s pages and posts to make sure everything loads properly.
Here are some things to look for to determine if your WordPress website has been hacked:
Malicious redirects occur when someone clicks a link to your site (or an internal link on your site) and is redirected to a different site, usually with malicious intent. Redirects usually take the user to a site that attempts to steal their information, serves up adult (or illegal) content, or presents malicious advertisements.
Slow Loading Times
A hacked site generally is loading more than just the site contents, it’s loading all the malicious stuff that it’s been infected with. This can result in slow loading times. Slow loading times can also be caused by a high CPU usage on your hosting account which is also another sign of infection (see below).
High CPU Usage
This is a common and often overlooked statistic that can indicate your site has been compromised.
Common WordPress malware will cause your site to reach out to thousands of other WordPress sites in an attempt to infect them. This activity will drive up your CPU usage on your host. Keep a lookout in your host’s usage reports to make sure you know the source of any CPU spikes. As an example, I use UpdraftPlus to back up my websites every day, so I expect a CPU spike to occur during the backup job.
Another way malware might drive up your CPU usage is by mining cryptocurrency. Many malware programs will hijack your CPU on your hosting account in order to mine cryptocurrency on behalf of the hackers. Imagine the value to a hacker if they can get thousands and thousands of websites mining for them at the same time.
Pop-Up Ads You Didn’t Authorize
Nobody likes annoying pop-up ads. And it’s even worse if your customers and site visitors are getting ads you didn’t make – this is a clear indication that your site has been hacked. You should look into having your site fixed as soon as possible.
Search Engine Indexing Unknown Pages on Your Site
You can head over to Google and find out all the pages it has indexed on your site by simply searching for “site:domain.com” where domain.com is your website url. Google will return a list of all your indexed pages.
Sometimes if your site has been hacked, there will be pages you didn’t even know existed. Usually in foreign languages, these pages are used to drive unknowing visitors to malicious locations or to commit something known as SEO Spam (see below).
SEO Spam is a black hat technique where your site gets infected with changes that create thousands of links out to other websites for the benefit of backlink-based SEO. Usually these links are hidden by being placed far off the page so they’re out of view and you never notice them.
SEO Spam might not directly affect your site in any noticeable way, but it damage your domain reputation over time and should be monitored.
Strengthening Website Security: Securing Your WordPress Website
Once you have identified any potential vulnerabilities, it is important to take steps to strengthen website security. This includes updating software, implementing security measures, and conducting regular security checks. Additionally, it is important to be aware of the latest security threats and to take steps to protect your website from any potential risks.
Use a Secure Web Hosting Provider
Your website is only as secure as the hardware it’s hosted on. One of the most important things you can do when securing your WordPress website is choosing a host that runs a secure hosting environment.
No matter how much you secure your website, it can all be for nothing if your host doesn’t take security seriously.
Look for a host that properly isolates different accounts, so if one site gets compromised, it can’t jump to other sites on the same server. Also consider hosts that provide DDoS protection, firewalls, and hosting security applications such as Immunify360.
Use a Security Plugin
Installing a security plugin such as Wordfence or iThemes Security can help with firewall protection, malware scanning, and security alerts. My favorite security plugin is Wordfence, but I also use All In One WP Security as well. Both are very good and you can even use them together if you’re careful about configuration.
Perform Regular Backups
Regularly backing up your website is a critical aspect of website maintenance and security. In the event of a security breach, cyber-attack, or accidental data loss, having a recent backup can save you a significant amount of time, effort, and resources.
Having regular backups gives you the option to restore your website to a prior state, before the date of infection or data loss. This way, you can quickly and easily recover your website, minimizing the impact on your business operations and avoiding the need to start from scratch.
Whether you choose to back up your website manually or use a backup plugin, it’s crucial to ensure that your backups are taken regularly and stored securely. Having a solid backup strategy in place can provide peace of mind and give you the confidence to know that you can recover your website in the event of a disaster.
There are many tools you can use to back up your WordPress website including UpdraftPlus, All-in-One WP Migration, and Duplicator. My favorite one to use is UpdraftPlus Premium which is very competitively priced and has a bunch of extra features that make it worth the money.
Regularly Scan for Malware
Regularly scanning for malware using tools like Sucuri or Wordfence can help detect and remove any malware on your website.
While no scanner is 100% perfect, I really like Wordfence as it has the ability to scan all of your existing core, theme, and plugin files against those currently in the repository and notify you if your files have been changed.
Wordfence also will email you whenever it finds plugins that need updating, which is a great feature to have since it keeps you reminded of outdated code.
Disable File Editing
Disabling the ability to edit WordPress files through the dashboard can prevent attackers from altering core WordPress files. This is an easy change to make and will help ensure that anyone with back-end access can’t arbitrarily modify your files and add malicious code.
Final Thoughts on Securing Your WordPress Website
WordPress is a powerful platform for managing websites but it can be vulnerable to security threats. It’s important to be aware of the signs of WordPress vulnerability and to take steps to strengthen website security. This includes conducting a security audit, checking for known vulnerabilities, and implementing security measures. Taking these steps will help to ensure your website is secure and protected from potential risks.
Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He’s also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover bands, Liquifaction and Minority Report.
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