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By Chester Avey
Mon | Feb 19, 2024 | 4:38 AM PST

Hundreds of millions of websites on the internet today rely on the content management system WordPress. 

A platform that started as a blogging tool has evolved into a globally renowned solution that makes website design and development more accessible and easier than ever. Its relative simplicity of use, SEO friendliness, customization potential, flexibility, and built-in security setup are just some of the reasons why web developers and marketing professionals choose it to power their websites.

However, despite the platform's immense popularity, no WordPress site—or any website solution for that matter—is immune from cyberattacks and exploitation.

WordPress: a prime target for intuitive cybercriminals?

Vulnerabilities and loopholes exist everywhere, often in the areas that inexperienced web designers might overlook. Given WordPress' innate ability to appeal to those without extensive programming or coding knowledge, overlooking a site's security can leave it—and the data that sits in the back-end—vulnerable to compromise. However, even experienced coders can make mistakes when assessing and bolstering a site's security.

WordPress sites can be structured in an almost infinite number of ways, integrating with numerous other open-source plugins and third-party systems. Using themes and plenty of customization features, functionality options, and plugins, creating a website has never been easier. However, users must be mindful and methodical when setting up, for example, an eCommerce site in WordPress; it's wise to look beyond the real-world SEO benefits and design flexibility and consider factors like data integrity and security. 

According to recent statistics, there are close to 90,000 attacks on WordPress sites every minute, with 8% due to poor passwords, 61% due to poor update management, and 52% due to outdated plugins.

While most cyberattacks are opportunistic rather than calculated, it's important to understand the evolving threat landscape to a degree. Familiarizing yourself with some of the common attack methods that hackers and malicious actors use can give you more impetus to refine your cyber defense strategies. 

Much of the advice you read about cybersecurity may be completely vendor-agnostic, but the same salient points about security apply. However, for WordPress, there are some important steps to take, and given its popularity, it's prudent to outline some of the proven techniques to harden security and reduce your attack surface.

Therefore, if you run one or more WordPress sites, constant vigilance and oversight are required to lock down any potential vulnerabilities.

Keep core, plugins, and themes updated

Outdated WordPress setups are low-hanging fruit for hackers and their automated botnets scanning the web for vulnerable targets. 

Core WordPress software, alongside installed plugins and themes, may contain dangerous security flaws that get patched over time via updates. It's important to maintain constant oversight over the security of all components in your estate.

  • Ensure your WordPress core installation is always kept fully updated. Depending on the site's complexity, the auto-update feature may be more efficient. Regularly check and install updates for any third-party plugins. Remove inactive and abandoned plugins along with ones that don't offer vendor support. Extend the same approach to choosing the right website theme that follows good coding standards and receives patches regularly, as well as open-source APIs relying on third-party device tracking.
  • If possible, deploy updates for a version of your site in a testing environment to confirm the updates' validity and whether they will impact real-world applications or features. If the testing environment works as intended post-update, then updates can be rolled out on a live server.

Staying clued into patch releases eliminates exploit targets and significantly reduces exposure.

Practice least privilege with user accounts

The WordPress dashboard offers an array of privileged controls for admins. Not only can administrators alter site content, but they can modify software configurations and edit site files. While this top-level visibility is handy for experienced developers and site managers, inexperienced users may need to have privileges lessened.

Admins should only utilize the admin account and create individual accounts for each user, only upgrading permissions as necessary. Only delegate access to users based on the principle of least privilege (i.e. only the privileges they need to do their job). For example, only allow senior developers to disable PHP file execution in directories using .htaccess.

Fundamentally, across the site, strong password policies and multi-factor authentication (MFA) must be enabled. Establishing atypical usernames and secure passwords including mixtures of letters, numbers, and symbols, will make it incredibly difficult for these to be compromised. Backing this up with MFA—via a third-party authenticator app—will ensure all login attempts are valid and verified, which will help if multiple users are trying to access a WordPress back-end.

Choose secure hosting providers and plugins

Your web hosting provider controls physical hardware, sensitive data storage, and network configurations. Be sure to verify that they are using approved Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) and secure FTP capabilities. 

Many WordPress site owners opt for a shared hosting platform as a cost-saving measure, but this can open up sites on such infrastructure to hacking. Deploying a dedicated server with hardened SFTP/FTP file editing capabilities and enterprise-grade firewalls will ensure a much more resilient and rigid environment for your WordPress site. Work in tandem with your hosting provider to leverage managed WordPress specialty hosting assistance, enquiring about their incumbent technologies, proactive monitoring, malware detection, backups, and DDoS mitigation, among others.

At the back-end level, deploying a high-quality security plugin is a must to ensure your WordPress site and its content remains secure. Security plugins will typically include traffic firewalls, scanners, brute-force protection, and real-time notifications. This will ensure that anything added to or removed from your WordPress dashboard is above board and not exposing you unknowingly.


Browsers are essentially mandating that sites use HTTPS in their configuration as a way to encrypt communications between your site server and the users' server. This means that site owners should purchase a valid SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certification from a verified provider. If an SSL has expired, it must be renewed.

SSL as an added layer of protection between every HTTP request makes the connection details impossible to decipher from outside sources. Comparatively, standard HTTP offers no such protection.

It's easy to tell whether a site does or does not have HTTPS enabled, as a small padlock icon will usually appear in the specific browser URL bar beside the domain name. If it doesn't, before landing on the page, a browser will usually alert the user that the connection is not encrypted, which can affect click-through rates. So there is clearly a marketing imperative to invest in SSL encryption from the outset, as well as a privacy need.

Perform frequent backups

Despite upholding security best practices, some threats may succeed and "slip through the cracks." Should a site be compromised severely, full-site backups provide a valuable insurance policy for restoring uptime and recovering data.

While backups don't inherently prevent hacking, they offer additional peace of mind that your site can be reinstated again quickly and without the excessive risk of losing your important work.

  • Schedule daily backups to create multiple restore points.
  • Store backups externally from your web servers.
  • Test restoration periodically by importing backup archives in staging environments.
  • Automate backup tasks via dedicated plugins or host-level tools.


Hardening WordPress security requires a concerted effort across multiple facets of your site infrastructure. However, with proactive planning and execution, vulnerabilities can be kept to a minimum and sites can remain free from malicious actors.

While no single WordPress solution promises flawless, airtight security, disciplined adherence to the techniques and priorities outlined here will enable greater peace of mind for those using this tried-and-tested platform, minimizing threats over time.