Nineteen years after its creation, WordPress remains one of the most popular and used content management systems (CMS) on the world wide web. To put it in numbers, over 60% of Internet sites are built on WordPress!
This popularity comes with many benefits, such as a large developer community, extensive tools, and a preponderance of tutorials and guides. But it also has some disadvantages. One of them is an increased susceptibility to hacking.
Hackers love to hack WordPress. In fact, 83% of all hacked CMS-based websites are based on WordPress. They love to find vulnerabilities to exploit, and unfortunately WordPress has a handful of them.
In this article, I will look at 8 common WordPress vulnerabilities and explain how each of them can be mitigated. Feel free to use the following links to jump to each vulnerability section.
1. Poor hosting environment
A host is a server computer on the Internet where the files that power your website are stored. If you want your WordPress site to be accessible on the internet, you need to put it on a web host.
One of the main reasons WordPress sites get hacked is a poor hosting environment. According to Kinsta stats, the figure is around 41%. Therefore, nearly half of all WordPress site hacking cases occur due to a poor hosting environment.
You can conclude from the above statistic that using a reliable and secure hosting provider automatically reduces the chances of your site being hacked by a significant percentage.
Some of the top tier hosting providers for WordPress sites are Siteground, WP Engine, Hostinger and Bluehost. Before choosing a hosting provider for your site, make sure you do thorough research to find out the quality of service delivery and the level of customer satisfaction.
2. Random themes and plugins
A WordPress theme determines the look and feel of your site while a plugin is used to add extra functionality to your site. Both are a collection of files that include PHP scripts.
Since both themes and plugins consist of code, they can be infested with bugs. This is a very popular method that hackers use to gain illegal access to affected WordPress sites.
In fact, according to Kinsta, 52% of vulnerabilities are related to plugins and 11% are caused by themes.
Hackers can insert malicious code into a theme or plugin and post it to market on the internet. If it is then installed on a WordPress site by an unsuspecting user, the site is automatically compromised, often without the owner’s knowledge.
The best way to avoid these problems is to only install themes and plugins from trusted and reputable sources.
3. Outdated plugins and themes
Besides avoiding random plugins and themes, you should also keep the ones you have installed on your WordPress site up to date.
This is because hackers often look for specific themes or plugins (or specific versions) that are known to have vulnerabilities. So they look for sites using such themes or plugins and try to hack them. If successful, they can perform malicious actions on sites, such as searching their databases for data or even injecting malicious content into websites.
To access installed themes from within the admin panel, go to Appearance > Themes on the sidebar. To access plugins, go to Plugins > Plugins Installed.
Typically, you’ll receive an alert notification in your WordPress dashboard when it’s time to update any of the themes or plugins used on your site. Never ignore these warnings unless you have a good reason to.
4. Weak passwords
Weak and easy to guess login credentials are one of the easiest paths for hackers to gain access to your WordPress backend. About 8% of sites built on WordPress are hacked due to a weak password combination or stolen passwords
Hackers often use brute-force scripts to iteratively test common username and password combinations on as many WordPress sites as possible. They do this until they find a match, upon which they log into the target site and also resell the credentials to other hackers.
For this reason, you should always avoid using terms like user, admin, administratorAnd user1 as your login username. Instead, create a less generic and more personal username.
To create strong and secure passwords, here are some rules to keep in mind:
- Never use personal information (name, date of birth, email, etc.).
- Create longer passwords.
- Make your passwords as obscure and meaningless as possible.
- Don’t use common words.
- Make sure it includes a number and a special character
- Never repeat passwords.
To secure your site, you need to specify a strong username and password combination when you first set up WordPress.
Additionally, you should set up two-factor authentication (2FA) to add an extra layer of security to your WordPress site.
Finally, consider using a security plugin like Wordfence or Sucuri Security to thwart brute force attacks (and other malicious attacks) from logging into your WordPress site.
5. Malware injections
Malware is malicious software that a hacker can place on your site and run it whenever they want to carry out their plan.
Malware can be inserted in various ways. It can be injected through something as simple as a well-formatted comment on the WordPress site or through something as complex as uploading an executable file to the server.
In the best possible scenario, the malware won’t cause any problems and could do something as innocuous as show a product ad to your customer. In this case, the malware can be removed using a malware scanner plugin such as Wordfence Security.
But in many extreme cases, the malware will perform malicious actions on the server which may lead to data loss in the database or something similar like creating an account on the WordPress site.
Fixing such worst-case scenarios usually involves restoring your site from a clean backup before figuring out how the hacker managed to get into your system and fix the hole. This is why backing up your site on a regular basis is very important.
In a phishing attack, the attacker sends an email using an address that appears to come from your server. The attacker will typically ask your site’s user or customer to click a link to do something, which the user might do, not knowing it’s not actually coming from your server.
Phishing attacks come in many different styles, with names like cat-phishing, spear-phishing, and so on. Regardless of the type, phishing always involves a fake (but genuine-looking) email address and a link to a malicious page.
Often, the attacker displays a fake form that looks identical to your website’s real login form. If the user does not reach in time, they may submit one or more different login credentials to the malicious website.
The end result is that the hacker now has different usernames and passwords to brute force attacks on other sites, as well as accurate login credentials to access the user’s backend.
Because of the way email was originally designed, it’s easy to spoof an email’s “from” address, making phishing attacks slightly harder to stop.
However, nowadays, technologies like SPF, DKIM and DMARC allow email servers to verify where an email is coming from and validate the originating domain. As long as these are all set up correctly, all phishing emails will be detected by the recipient’s server and either marked as spam or completely removed from the user’s inbox.
If you’re not sure if you’ve configured SPF, DKIM, and DMARC correctly, ask your web host. Most top-rated web hosts have easy-to-follow instructions on how to set them up.
7. Denial of service attacks (Dos and DDos)
A Denial Of Service attack occurs when an attacker floods a website’s server with bad requests that prevent the server from processing normal requests from legitimate users.
In WordPress, caching services help mitigate DDoS attacks. You can use WordPress plugins like WP Fastest Cache on your website to check for DDoS attacks. Also, most top-tier hostings have DDoS mitigation systems built into their infrastructure.
8. Cross-site scripting (XSS)
Cross-site scripting is another type of code injection attack and is similar to the malware injection we learned about earlier.
The attacker can use this opportunity to impersonate your site visitor (using their data) or send them to another malicious site that they created to trick you.
One of the most effective ways to thwart XSS attacks on your WordPress site is to install a powerful firewall plugin like Sucuri, which you can also use to scan your website for XSS vulnerabilities.
Keeping your WordPress website safe and secure requires taking proactive steps to discover vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit. In this article, we have covered eight vulnerabilities and offered a solution for each of them.
Keep in mind that the best way to mitigate vulnerabilities in your WordPress site is to keep all site components up-to-date. This includes plugins, themes, and even WordPress itself. Don’t forget to update your PHP version as well.