WordPress is well-known for its user-friendly interface and extensive functionality, making it the most popular Content Management System (CMS) that powers approximately 43% of all websites.
However, its popularity makes it a common target for hackers and cybercriminals. Therefore, it is crucial to take proactive measures to secure your website and minimize potential risks.
But how do you keep a WordPress site secure?
While it might seem like a daunting task to completely eliminate all security risks, there are numerous steps you can take to significantly reduce vulnerabilities. With the right steps, you can ensure that your WordPress site is safe and secure.
Throughout this in-depth article, we will explain how to secure your WordPress website, providing actionable instructions. Consider this as your ultimate WordPress security checklist for safeguarding your website.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Is WordPress secure?
A recent study on WordPress security found that hackers target WordPress websites 90% more frequently than any other platform. This raises the question of whether WordPress is secure or not.
The primary reason for the frequent targeting of WordPress websites by hackers is its open-source nature and widespread popularity. Hackers can access the platform’s blueprint, making it easier for them to identify vulnerabilities to exploit.
Fortunately, WordPress takes security seriously and consistently works on improving its platform to protect users’ websites from potential threats.
Additionally, it benefits from a dedicated community of developers who actively monitor and update security features.
However, like any other CMS, WordPress is not immune to cyberattacks. Therefore, it is crucial to take the necessary steps to prevent malicious actors from compromising the security of your WordPress website.
While WordPress is a popular and trusted CMS, the ultimate security of the platform depends on the actions and precautions taken by the user.
WordPress security: why is it so important?
In today’s digital landscape, ensuring the security of your WordPress website is more crucial than ever.
Top reasons why WordPress security should be a priority
In the online world, keeping your WordPress site safe is a must. With so many websites using it, hackers are drawn to it.
Let’s explore why making your WordPress site secure should be at the top of your to-do list:
1. Safeguarding data
Personal information can be exploited by hackers for malicious purposes. Your website may contain sensitive data, login credentials, and financial information, making security breaches a gateway to privacy violations, identity theft, and potential legal consequences.
With global cybercrime damage costs projected to reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, protecting your site from becoming a hacker’s target is of utmost importance.
2. Preserving brand reputation
A secure website plays a pivotal role in building and protecting your brand’s reputation. If your website is compromised, you can generate negative publicity very quickly, as your visitors expect your website to be secure.
If you fail to provide this service to them, your visitors’ trust in your brand will be eroded, and they will be less likely to want to engage with your site again. Demonstrating a commitment to security ensures a positive customer experience, encourages engagement, and helps retain loyal customers.
3. Preventing malware distribution
Hackers often inject malicious code into websites, distributing malware or redirecting visitors to malicious sites. A compromised website unknowingly distributing malware not only tarnishes your reputation but also harms users. This can result in a loss of revenues and sales.
4. Boosting search engine rankings
Search engines like Google prioritize secure websites in their search rankings. If your website is compromised, it risks being flagged, deindexed, and negatively impacting your SEO efforts and organic traffic.
However, by implementing robust security measures, you can improve your search rank and visibility. This, in turn, enhances your online presence and drives more organic traffic to your WordPress site.
Now that we understand why prioritizing WordPress security is crucial, let’s explore a checklist of measures to fortify your website:
1. Keep your WordPress version updated
WordPress offers updates for their CMS to fix security issues and enhance performance. It’s important to update the WordPress version as soon as a new version is released so that your website remains secure. You can easily check for new updates in the Updates menu of the dashboard.
Enabling Automatic Updates: You can turn on automatic updates if you don’t want to manually update your WordPress website.
To enable automatic WordPress updates for minor and major releases, you can follow these steps:
- Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
- Access the “Dashboard” menu and click on “Update”.
- In the “Automatic Updates” section, check the box next to “Enable automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress.”
Pro tips: Make sure you backup your website periodically so that you can revert back if necessary.
2. Declutter your plugins & themes
While it may be tempting to install numerous plugins and try out different themes to unlock new functionality and features on your WordPress website, it’s important to exercise caution. Installing too many plugins or themes, even if they are disabled, can increase your website’s vulnerability.
In order to enhance the security of your WordPress website and reduce the risk of being hacked, it is advisable to uninstall any plugins or themes that you are not regularly using. This not only declutters your website but also eliminates any potential security loopholes.
Now, let’s explore how to uninstall WordPress plugins and themes with ease:
- Uninstalling Plugins
- Login to access your WordPress admin panel.
- Locate and click on the “Plugins” option in the dashboard.
- Find the plugin you want to uninstall.
- Click “Deactivate” to disable the plugin.
- Click “Delete” to initiate the removal process.
- Click “OK” to confirm
- Removing Themes
- Log into your WordPress admin panel.
- Click on “Appearance” in the dashboard.
- Locate the theme you want to uninstall.
- Choose and activate a different theme from the list.
- Click on “Theme Details” for the desired theme, then click “Delete” in the bottom-right corner.
- Click “OK” to confirm.
3. Audit your plugins
One of the major advantages of WordPress is its vast plugin ecosystem, which allows you to customize and enhance your website’s functionality. However, since plugins are developed by independent developers, using them introduces some level of risk.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you should avoid plugins altogether. By following a few key guidelines, you can safely leverage the power of plugins for your website.
Here’s what you need to do:
Check the plugin’s reputation: Before installing any plugin, thoroughly research its reputation. Look for plugins that have a large user base, high average ratings, and positive user reviews. This indicates that the plugin is widely trusted and reliable.
Read the plugin description carefully: Before installing a plugin, carefully read its description to ensure that it does not contain any unwanted extras or hidden functionalities that the developer might not advertise on their homepage.
4. Update your themes and plugins
To ensure the security of your website, you should keep your WordPress themes and plugins up-to-date. Outdated themes and plugins can contain security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers.
By keeping your themes and plugins updated, you can make sure that your website is secure and running optimally. Additionally, you should also regularly check for any new security patches or bug fixes that may be available for your themes and plugins.
To update plugins and themes in WordPress:
Automatic updates: WordPress can automatically update plugins and themes downloaded from the official WordPress repository. To enable automatic updates, go to the “Dashboard” menu, click on “Updates,” and check the relevant boxes under the “Automatic Updates” section.
Manual updates: If you have plugins or themes that were not downloaded from the official WordPress repository, you’ll need to manually update them.
To do this, follow these steps:
- Obtain the latest version of the theme or plugin from the official source.
- Extract the files on your computer.
- Connect to your WordPress site using FileZilla.
- Navigate to the wp-content folder.
- Locate the themes/plugins folder and open it.
- Delete the old theme/plugin folder.
- Upload the new theme/plugin folder to the same location.
- Once uploaded, go to your WordPress admin area and activate the updated theme/plugin.
Compatibility and precautions: When updating plugins and themes, it’s important to consider compatibility with your current WordPress version and other plugins or customizations on your website.
Remember to take a backup of your site and consider testing the updated version on a staging site to ensure everything works as expected.
5. Use strong login credentials in WordPress
In order to prevent unauthorized access to your WordPress admin area, you must create strong and unique usernames and passwords.
For secure WordPress login credentials, follow these steps:
- Avoid common usernames: Choose unique usernames instead of using common ones like “admin.”
- Create complex passwords: Ensure your passwords are strong and secure by combining letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Avoid using the same password: Use unique passwords for each of your accounts, including your WordPress admin account.
- Consider password managers: Utilize password managers to generate and securely store your login credentials.
6. Limit login attempts
By default, WordPress allows multiple login attempts, leaving your site vulnerable to brute-force attacks. Implementing a plugin that limits the number of login attempts helps protect your site from unauthorized access.
After a certain number of failed login attempts, the plugin can temporarily block the IP address or introduce a CAPTCHA verification.
Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to limit login attempts in WordPress:
1. Install a security plugin: To begin, select and install a reputable security plugin like Wordfence or Limit Login Attempts from the official WordPress plugin repository. These security plugins offer a variety of features, including the ability to limit login attempts.
2. Configure plugin settings: Once the security plugin is installed and activated, access its settings menu. Look for the specific option related to limiting login attempts.
For example, if you installed Wordfence, you can configure it by following these simple steps:
a. Access the Wordfence settings.
b. Go to the “Login Security” tab.
c. Set the maximum login attempts (recommended: 3-5).
d. Customize the lockout duration for failed attempts.
e. Save the changes.
f. Test the login protection by attempting multiple incorrect logins.
Depending on the plugin you choose, the location and labeling of this option may vary. You can customize the settings according to your preferences, such as the maximum number of log-in attempts. It is typically recommended to set this number between three to five attempts.
By limiting login attempts, you can deter brute-force attacks and unauthorized access attempts.
3. Enable CAPTCHA: One effective way to fortify your login forms is by enabling CAPTCHA verification. CAPTCHA helps ensure that only human users can attempt to log in, making it much more challenging for bots or automated scripts to gain access.
To set up CAPTCHA, you can integrate the widely used Google reCAPTCHA service with your WordPress site.
a. Start by visiting the official Google reCAPTCHA website (https://www.google.com/recaptcha) and creating an account if you don’t already have one.
b. Once logged in, register your website domain to generate the necessary reCAPTCHA keys. You’ll receive a site key and a secret key.
c. Return to your WordPress dashboard and navigate to the security plugin’s settings page. Look for the CAPTCHA configuration section. Depending on the plugin, you may find dedicated fields to enter the site key and secret key, or you may have to enable and select the reCAPTCHA option.
d. Paste the corresponding keys into the plugin’s settings, save the changes, and activate the CAPTCHA feature. This integration will add the reCAPTCHA verification to your login forms, further safeguarding them against unauthorized access attempts.
4. Customize lockout duration: Choose how long a user should be locked out after exceeding the maximum login attempts. It’s best to set a reasonable duration to discourage hackers without causing inconvenience for genuine users.
Limiting login attempts is crucial for increasing security as it helps protect against brute-force attacks. Many hackers use automated bots to try various usernames and password combinations until they succeed. By limiting login attempts, you make it extremely difficult for them to succeed.
This feature also prevents unauthorized users from guessing or cracking passwords, adding an extra layer of defense to your website.
7. Change the login URL of the WordPress admin
Changing the default login URL of your WordPress admin area to a custom one provides an additional layer of protection against bots and automated attacks. Attackers often target the default login URLs in their attempts to gain unauthorized access.
By changing the login URL to something unique and specific to your website, you make it more difficult for automated bots to locate the login page.
There are several methods to change the default login URL. You can use a security plugin like ‘WPS Hide Login” that is specifically designed for this purpose. This plugin enables you to easily customize the login URL in the WordPress dashboard without requiring any coding knowledge.
8. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)
When two-factor authentication is enabled on your WordPress login process, your users must also provide another form of verification, such as a code sent to their mobile device, in addition to their username and password.
The process of enabling 2FA in WordPress is simple and only takes a few steps. Firstly, you need to install and activate a 2FA plugin like “miniOrange’s Google Authenticator” from the WordPress Plugin Directory.
Once activated, you can configure the plugin’s settings to enable 2FA for all users or specific user roles.
Users will then be prompted to set up their 2FA method, which can include options like SMS verification, email verification, or using an authenticator app.
Alternatively, you can use Wordfence for the same purpose.
To enable two-factor authentication (2FA) with Wordfence, follow these steps:
- Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
- Navigate to “Wordfence” in the left-hand menu and click on “All Options.”
- Select the “Two-Factor Authentication” tab.
- Choose your preferred 2FA method, such as using an authenticator app or receiving codes via email.
- Set up and configure 2FA as instructed on screen.
- Test the 2FA setup to ensure it is working correctly.
- Save your settings.
As soon as it is enabled, a secondary verification code will be required during the login process, providing an additional layer of security to your WordPress account.
9. Protect your wp-config.php file
Your website’s wp-config.php contains sensitive information, such as your database username, password, and other important credentials. An attacker who gains access to this file may manipulate your website or gain unauthorized access to your database.
To prevent this, follow these simple steps to protect your wp-config.php file:
- Move the wp-config.php file: The file wp-config.php is usually located in the root directory of your WordPress installation. To enhance security, consider moving this file to a directory one level above the root directory. This way, even if someone gains access to your website files, they won’t be able to directly access the wp-config.php file.
- Restrict File Permissions: Set the file permissions for the wp-config.php file to restrict access. Use the file permissions 400 or 600, which allow the website owner to read and write the file while preventing others from accessing it. In this way, only authorized users can modify or view the file contents.
You can change the permission of this file using an FTP client or a file manager provided by your hosting provider. Locate the wp-config.php file in the root directory of your WordPress installation, right-click on it, and choose the “Permissions” or “File Permissions” option. Set the numerical value to either 400 or 600 and save the changes.
- Disable file editing via the dashboard: By default, WordPress allows administrators to edit theme and plugin files directly from the dashboard. However, this feature can present a security risk if your website is compromised. To disable file editing, add the following line to your wp-config.php file:
This prevents any file modifications from within the WordPress dashboard, adding an extra layer of protection to your wp-config.php file.
- Implement strong access controls: Protecting the wp-config.php file also involves limiting access to it. Consider configuring your web server or hosting environment to restrict access to the wp-config.php file from external sources. This can be done by configuring server rules or using .htaccess directives to deny access to the file.
10. Regularly backup your website
One of the best ways to secure your WordPress website is to back it up regularly. By backing up regularly, you can rest assured that you can revert back if any unforeseen issues arise.
Here’s how to create a WordPress backup:
Step 1: Choose a backup method
There are several backup methods available for WordPress websites, including using a backup plugin or manually backing up your files and database.
Step 2: Install a backup plugin
If you opt for the plugin method, install a reliable backup plugin such as UpdraftPlus or BackupBuddy. These plugins offer automated backups and easy restoration options.
Step 3: Configure backup settings
Once the plugin is installed, configure the backup settings according to your preferences. You can choose the frequency of backups, the storage location, and the specific files and database tables to include in the backup.
Step 4: Schedule automated backups
To ensure regular backups, schedule automated backups at a frequency that suits your needs. It is recommended to perform backups at least once a week or before making any significant changes to your website.
11. Install security plugins
Using security plugins in WordPress is a simple yet important step in increasing the security of your website. With these plugins, you can detect and prevent a range of security threats, including malware, brute force attacks, and unauthorized logins.
Among the essential security plugins is the web application firewall (WAF), which acts as a protective barrier between your website and potential threats. With a WAF, you can identify and block numerous types of attacks, including SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS), and brute force attacks.
To get started, select a reliable WAF plugin that is compatible with your WordPress installation. There are several reputable options available, such as Sucuri, Wordfence, and Cloudflare. Install and activate the chosen plugin on your WordPress dashboard.
Additionally, there are various other security plugins available that can further fortify your WordPress website. You can search for and install these plugins from the WordPress plugin repository or trusted third-party providers.
Once installed, you can customize the plugin settings to meet your specific needs and preferences.
12. Use the .htaccess file to harden security
In WordPress, the .htaccess file allows you to control a variety of website configurations and access. It is found in the root directory of your WordPress installation and is used to modify the behavior of the Apache web server.
Implementing security measures through the .htaccess file can be achieved in a few simple steps:
- Locate the .htaccess file: Usually, the .htaccess file is found in the root directory of your website. If you are unable to locate it, make sure that your FTP client or file manager is configured to show hidden files.
- Backup the original .htaccess file: Before making any modifications, create a backup of the original .htaccess file. This ensures that you can revert back to the previous configuration if any issues arise.
- Add security directives: Within the .htaccess file, you can add various security directives to strengthen your website’s security. These directives can include measures such as restricting access to critical files, preventing directory browsing, enabling SSL or TLS, and blocking malicious IP addresses.
- Save and upload the modified .htaccess file: After making the necessary modifications, upload the .htaccess file back to the root directory.
13. Change the default database prefix
In order to enhance the security of your website, you should change the default WordPress database prefix. By default, WordPress uses the prefix “wp_” for all its database tables.
Hackers often target this prefix, making it easier for them to attempt SQL injection attacks and gain unauthorized access to your website.
To change the default WordPress database prefix, follow these simple steps:
- Before making any changes, it is always recommended to take a backup of your WordPress database.
- Use an FTP program or file manager provided by your hosting company to access the files of your website.
- Locate the “wp-config.php” file in the root directory of your WordPress installation.
- Open the “wp-config.php” file with a text editor and find the line that says “table_prefix = ‘wp_’;”.
- Change the “wp_” prefix to a unique and random string of characters. For example, “table_prefix = ‘xy7a_’;”.
- Save the changes and upload the modified “wp-config.php” file back to your server.
14. Install an SSL certificate
With the increasing number of cyber threats and the rising importance of data privacy, having an SSL certificate is essential. Through it, you can establish a secure connection between your website and its visitors, preventing sensitive information from being intercepted by malicious actors.
Here are the simple steps for installing an SSL certificate in WordPress:
Step 1: Buy an SSL certificate from a trusted certificate authority (CA) or get one for free from Let’s Encrypt.
Step 2: Access your WordPress admin dashboard and navigate to the “Plugins” section.
Step 3: Click on “Add New” and search for the “Really Simple SSL” plugin.
Step 4: Install and activate the plugin.
Step 5: Upon activation, the plugin will automatically detect your SSL certificate and configure your website to use HTTPS.
Step 6: Finally, go to “Settings” and click on “SSL” to review the SSL settings and make any necessary adjustments.
It is possible to install an SSL certificate on your WordPress website without using plugins. One option is to check with your hosting provider if they offer free SSL certificates through services like Let’s Encrypt. Many hosting providers have integrated SSL certificate installation processes that can be easily activated through your hosting account.
Alternatively, you can manually implement an SSL certificate by obtaining one from a trusted certificate authority. In order to do so, start by generating a Certificate Signing Request (CSR), submitting it to the certificate authority, and then installing the issued SSL certificate on your web server.
Although steps may vary depending on your hosting setup, the process typically involves accessing your server’s control panel or using FTP to upload and configure the SSL certificate files.
15. Seek professional assistance
An excellent strategy for enhancing the security of your WordPress website is to seek assistance from a professional web development company. This approach is particularly valuable for beginners who may overlook security vulnerabilities that can be readily identified by experienced WordPress developers.
With their extensive knowledge of current security best practices, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures, these experts can conduct thorough audits and implement robust security measures to safeguard your WordPress website.
Additionally, if you aspire to elevate your WordPress security to a higher level, they can employ a headless approach, which separates the front-end from the back-end. This strategic separation adds an extra layer of protection, making it more challenging for hackers to gain control of your website.
Signs your WordPress site is hacked
There are several signs that may indicate your WordPress site has been hacked.
Here are some common indicators to watch out for:
1. Unexpected changes: If you notice any unexpected changes to your site, such as new pages, posts, or links that you didn’t create, this could be a sign of a hack.
2. Malicious redirects: If your site is redirecting visitors to other sites, especially suspicious or malicious ones, this is a clear sign that your site has been hacked.
3. Slow site speed: If your site suddenly becomes slow or unresponsive, this could be a sign of a hack. Malicious code can slow down your site and cause it to crash.
4. Strange user accounts: If you notice any new user accounts on your site that you didn’t create or if existing user accounts have been modified without your knowledge, this could be a sign of a hack.
5. Suspicious code: If you have some coding skills, you can check the code of your website for any suspicious code that may have been added by hackers.
How to fix your hacked WordPress site
Having a hacked WordPress site can be a frustrating and stressful experience. It’s imperative that you take immediate action if your WordPress website has been hacked to restore its security.
Here are steps to help you recover from a hacked WordPress site:
1. Take your site offline: Temporarily take your site offline to prevent further damage or unauthorized access. You can do this by adding a maintenance page or using a plugin that allows you to put your site in maintenance mode.
2. Scan your site for malware: Use a reliable security plugin like Wordfence, Sucuri, or MalCare to scan your website for malware and malicious code. These plugins can help identify infected files and provide options for removing or repairing them.
3. Restore from a clean backup: If you have a recent clean backup of your site, restore it to replace the compromised files and database with the clean versions. Ensure that the backup is from before the hack occurred to avoid reinfection.
4. Update WordPress, themes, and plugins: Make sure your WordPress themes, plugins, and core are up to date. Outdated software can have vulnerabilities that hackers exploit. Update everything to the latest versions to patch any security holes.
5. Change all passwords: Reset the passwords for all user accounts, including administrators, editors, and contributors. Make your passwords unique and strong by combining letters, numbers, and special characters.
6. Secure your site: Follow the recommendations listed in this article to prevent future hacks.
7. Monitor and maintain: Monitor your site regularly for any suspicious activity or signs of a possible hack.
Remember, if you’re unsure about the cleanup process, consider seeking professional help from a WordPress security expert or a website security service to ensure a thorough and effective restoration of your hacked site.
To effectively secure your WordPress site, it is necessary to be aware of potential vulnerabilities and take appropriate measures to mitigate them. This WordPress security checklist serves as a comprehensive guide to help you secure your site.
By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you can keep your WordPress site against potential vulnerabilities and maximize security for your website.
A secure WordPress site not only protects your data but also preserves your online reputation and helps you ensure a positive user experience for your visitors.
Remember, securing your WordPress site is an ongoing process that requires attention and regular maintenance. By prioritizing security and following this checklist, you will be able to safeguard your website against cyber threats and ensure the longevity and reliability of your online presence.