WordPress Vulnerabilities and Top 5 Security Issues

Last updated
October 20, 2021
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Read time
6 min

WordPress shares 40% of the CMS marketplace and is available to everyone who wants to build a website. So it’s not surprising that more and more websites switch to WordPress as they believe that its popularity and list of benefits will make website building easy.

However, the truth is that WordPress comes with its own risks. If you choose a CMS that most Internet users share with you, it’s unavoidable that you confront some security issues and vulnerabilities.

Even WordPress fans admit that it has some big security problems. But don’t get too afraid. Even though you might come across some of the WordPress vulnerabilities, it will be easier to fix them if you know what exactly they are. WordPress itself keeps on top of potential WordPress vulnerabilities.

One of the most vital things regarding security is ensuring WordPress, plugins, and themes are always kept to the latest version to avoid all potential WordPress vulnerabilities. However, it still does not guarantee that your website will be 100% secure.

So we have prepared a list of common WordPress security issues that you should be aware of. Before we get into them, let’s go through some of the WordPress security basics.

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Table of Contents

WordPress Security Basics

Starting with a simple question:

Why should you care about WordPress security?

The answer is simple. If your WordPress site gets hacked, it will harm your business reputation, and you could lose many loyal customers. Hackers can steal your users’ personal information, such as passwords and credit card credentials.

In some cases, they can even spread malware to your user’s devices. So ensuring your website security is the bare minimum you can do for a good user experience. All the other factors will not matter if your WordPress website is not trustworthy enough.

How do you know if your WordPress site is secure?

To check whether your WordPress site is safe enough, you can use a WordPress vulnerability scanner that will alert you of all the potential security issues.

Here are a couple of good scanners you can try:

Sucuri

Sucuri is a famous online WordPress vulnerability scanner that detects malware and tells you if your website appears on any blacklists. It also scans to find the problems that could harm your overall site security, like the lack of a website firewall or an outdated WordPress version.

WP Hacked Help

Another great tool is WP Hacked help. This tool allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the hacker and find the common vulnerabilities of your WordPress site.

After a thorough analysis, it gives you detailed reports with which you’ll be able to detect the weakest aspects of your website. It also tells the level of criticality of all the vulnerabilities and how you can fix them.

The WP Hacked Security scans your website across its comprehensive WordPress vulnerability database, looking for malware infections like:

  • Google SERP Warnings
    Defacements
  • WordPress Backdoors
  • Japanese SEO Spam
  • Malicious Redirects
  • Google Warning Removal, and so on

Web Inspector

Web Inspector is an entirely free online malware scan. It uses the same logic as the tools mentioned above: you only need three simple steps to get a detailed security overview of your website:

1) Submit your website
2) Get it scanned for securities across an extensive WordPress Vulnerability database and fix it within 15 minutes
3) Get your WordPress vulnerability report

Web Inspector uses the advanced, cloud-based scanning technology to scan your page for possible malware infections, security holes, and possible viruses. It also suggests how to protect your website from all potential security threats.

How do I ensure security in WordPress?

There are a couple of ways you can make your WordPress site more secure. First, choose a good hosting provider and make sure they perceive the seriousness of website security.

Also, don’t forget to download a good security plugin that will constantly scan your WordPress site for malware and block attacks.

Now, let’s jump into the most common WordPress security issues and understand how to solve them:

5 Main WordPress Vulnerabilities And Security Issues

1. Brute-Force Attacks

Brute-force attacks refer to the attacking strategy where the hackers submit as many passwords as possible, hoping to eventually guess the right one.

It might sound impossible, but in fact, the success rate for brute attacks is pretty high. For instance, when Taobao, the Alibaba eCommerce site, got stuck with brute force attacks, and 21 million websites were attacked, the success rate was one in five.

So how can you protect your website from brute attacks?

First, make sure you choose a good password. Trust us, although setting “PASSWORD” might be fun, it’s a pretty easy guess for hackers.

But even if you choose a pretty strong password that would be hard to guess, make sure you also use two-factor authentication to add another level of security to your website.

We use iThemes Security Pro on all our websites as it has pretty thorough measures against brute force attacks. Not only does it have local brute force protection, where it blocks IPs with too many wrong login attempts. But if you submit your email, you can join the network brute force protection, where IPs blocked on other sites will also be blocked from yours. Additionally, you can change the default /wp-admin/ address to something unique, and enable two-factor authentication. 

You can learn more about the steps we take against WordPress vulnerability issues here.

2. Old Plugins and Themes

We get it. Sometimes you install a plugin, use it a couple of times and then completely forget about its existence.

But while you’re out there working on your website’s blog, keeping your favourite plugins up to date, hackers can sneak into your website using that one innocent, outdated plugin that you never thought could do you any harm.

The same goes for themes. The old plugins and themes usually do not correspond to the updated security requirements set by WordPress. So they become an easy pathway to your page for attackers.

How can you avoid it?

Make sure you constantly update all of your themes and plugins: it’s as easy as that! Or, if you think that you no longer use the plugin, it’s better to delete it and save yourself from the entire hassle.

Also, don’t forget to download plugins only from credible sources. As WordPress is open-source, pretty much everyone can add a plugin in the WordPress plugins directory. So, you never know what the real motives of the plugin developer were. To keep yourself safe, check the reviews, number of installations, and when it was last updated (hopefully not more than a few months ago!) before installing the plugin or theme.

3. Outdated version of WordPress and PHP

Besides plugins and themes, you should also make sure you always keep your overall WordPress and PHP versions updated. If you’ve been using WordPress for some time, you have certainly noticed that it comes up with core updates pretty often. These updates bring improvements to the overall functionality of the platform and also make it more secure.

The developers will release big updates approximately every three months, and it is strongly recommended that you always follow these updates. Remember, your WordPress does not get updated automatically; you should do it manually.

Although it is possible to set these updates to be automatic, one day there will be a conflict on your site, something will break, and as you weren’t the one doing the updates manually, you won’t know which update broke your site. We always back up the entire website before updating anything. This ensures that if there is an issue, we know the cause and can instantly restore the original website.

WordPress PHP versions, as of October 2021

4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Spam

These attacks target the most valuable asset of your website: SEO. In essence, they use your most ranked pages and then stuff them with spammy pop-ups and keywords to deceive your users and make them buy their dubious products.

How do the hackers get access to your well-ranked pages? As we’ve mentioned before, one of the most common ways attackers enter your page is through outdated core software, themes, and plugins. The brute attacks or undefined user permissions can also make your WordPress accessible to hackers and lead to SEO spam attacks.

What is an easy fix here?

Again, if you keep your WordPress and everything in it updated, the chances of the SEO spam attack will get reduced. You can also take the game to the next level by checking yourself for sudden changes in the SERP positions or increased traffic to your website without an apparent reason. If you notice anything suspicious, then start paying attention to it right away.

5. Hotlinking

There’s nothing hot about hotlinking. In fact, it’s one of the worst things that can happen to you as a content creator. It’s when hackers steal your content and use it for their own profit without giving you any credit.

So, what can be done as a content creator to protect your intellectual property? If using your own illustrations and visuals, add a watermark so your logo is embedded in the image.

General FAQ

In general, WordPress is considered to be pretty safe. But no software and website are entirely secure from hackers and attacks. And as WordPress is open-source, it too has its vulnerabilities and security issues.

Big updates usually happen 2 or 3 times per year.

There are a bunch of alternatives to WordPress. They each have their pros and cons in terms of price, flexibility, and SEO. You can read more about that here!

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