WordPress Security for Your Website: A Beginner’s Guide

Establishing an online presence has become second nature for individuals, businesses, and bloggers alike. WordPress has emerged as a go-to platform for millions to create and manage their websites, including blogs. However, a critical aspect of website ownership often takes a backseat amid content creation—as in website security. More so with WordPress security.

WordPress Security

Whether you’re a seasoned webmaster or someone new, WordPress security (websites, in general) should be a paramount concern. The internet is a double-edged sword, offering endless opportunities for growth and connection while also harbouring potential threats that can hinder your efforts. In this article, we’ll shed light on why security should be at the forefront of your mind, especially when using WordPress, and even more so when relying on third-party plugins.

From the vulnerabilities tied to usernames and passwords commonly used by website owners to the notorious “admin” username, we’ll dissect the issues that make your site susceptible to malicious attacks.

WordPress Security - the default login page and how usernames and passwords can be a risk

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ll also equip you with the knowledge needed to create usernames and passwords that are tough to crack. Furthermore, we’ll explore the top two or three security plugins that should be in every WordPress website owner’s toolkit.

Please keep in mind that while security measures can significantly enhance the protection of your website, there is no such thing as a 100% secure website.

The Significance of Website Security

When information is transmitted, shared, and stored digitally, the importance of website security cannot be overstated. Whether you’re a small business owner, a passionate blogger, or an e-commerce entrepreneur, the security of your website should be a top priority.

I wrote an article about why backups are important and are just one part of the WordPress security equation. But, let’s look at why website security (including WordPress security) matters.

Why Does Website Security Matter?

  1. Protecting Your Data: Your website likely contains valuable data, whether it’s personal information, customer details, financial records, or intellectual property. Inadequate security exposes this information to potential theft and misuse.
  2. Preserving Your Reputation: A security breach can tarnish your online reputation and erode trust among your audience. News of compromised websites spreads fast, and the damage to your brand can be long-lasting. You have a good chance of losing your business.
  3. Avoiding Downtime: Hacks, malware, or other security incidents can lead to website downtime, disrupting your online presence and potentially causing financial losses if your site serves as a revenue source.
  4. Complying with Regulations: Depending on your website’s purpose, you may be subject to legal requirements for data protection, making security not just a choice but a necessity. GDPR comes to mind.
  5. Fighting Malware and Cyberattacks: In the digital realm, malicious actors are constantly looking for vulnerabilities to exploit. Effective security measures act as a strong defence against these threats.
  6. Safeguarding User Trust: Your website visitors trust you to keep their information secure. Building and maintaining that trust is paramount for your site’s success.

GDPR Compliance

Let me touch base about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). The GDPR is a European Union regulation on information privacy in the European Union and the European Economic Area. GDPR regulations require organizations to implement stringent measures to protect the personal data of EU citizens. A security breach that exposes this data can lead to severe fines and legal consequences. By prioritizing website and WordPress security, you not only shield your visitors’ personal information from unauthorized access but also demonstrate your commitment to respecting their privacy and complying with global data protection standards.

If you want to read a bit more about how GDPR relates to WordPress, you may want to check out this article about GDPR and WordPress.

WordPress Security and Third-Party Plugins

WordPress, with its vast library of themes and plugins, offers a world of possibilities for creating feature-rich websites. However, this abundance of third-party plugins also introduces a unique set of security challenges.

The Connection Between WordPress Themes and Plugins

At the core of WordPress’s popularity is its flexibility. You can customize your site with various themes and extend its functionality with plugins, which are like add-on apps. While this flexibility is a huge advantage, it’s also a potential vulnerability. Here’s why:

  1. Theme and Plugin Vulnerabilities: Not all themes and plugins are created equal. Some may have security vulnerabilities, be poorly maintained, or lack updates. These issues can create openings for cyberattacks.
  2. Compatibility Risks: As WordPress itself and its plugins update regularly, compatibility issues can arise. Outdated plugins can become a weak link in your site’s security chain.
  3. Theme and Plugin Source Matters: While the official WordPress Theme and Plugin Repository are generally trustworthy, themes and plugins from unofficial sources or unverified developers can pose greater risks.

Luckily, our themes and plugins at Rough Pixels first get reviewed at WordPress.org before they go live. They must go through a stringent review process to ensure coding standards and secure code pass 100% before they get added to the repository. However, it’s not always foolproof.

WordPress Security in the Theme and Plugin Ecosystem

To mitigate these risks, it’s essential to understand that security doesn’t start and end with WordPress itself. You must also consider the security of the themes and plugins you install. Regularly updating either one, using trusted sources, and monitoring for vulnerabilities are crucial steps in safeguarding your WordPress website.

Usernames and Passwords: The Achilles Heel

Your website’s first line of defence against unauthorized access is the combination of usernames and passwords. However, this fundamental aspect of security is often where vulnerabilities arise. Let’s dive into the common pitfalls and why “admin” is a WordPress security crisis as a username when it comes to website administrators, but usernames, in general.

Common Username and Password Mistakes

  1. Weak, Easily Guessable Passwords: Many website owners opt for passwords that are simple and easy to guess. These can be cracked by automated tools in no time; many times in seconds.
  2. Password Reuse: Reusing the same password across multiple accounts is a risky practice. If one account is compromised, others become vulnerable as well.
  3. Predictable Usernames: The use of predictable usernames like “admin” is akin to handing cybercriminals the keys to your website. It’s a common target in brute-force attacks. To add to the simplicity, most know where the login page is located.
  4. Failure to Update Credentials: Neglecting to update passwords regularly can leave you exposed to breaches if a trusted account is compromised elsewhere.

Why “Admin” and Simple Usernames Are Major Problems

While “admin” is a well-known security concern, end-users who choose simplistic usernames like “john” or “mary” can also unwittingly put their websites at risk. These usernames are easily guessable, making it simpler for attackers to target your website. A combination of predictable usernames and weak passwords creates a perfect storm for brute-force attacks and unauthorized access attempts.

In the next section, I will take you through the best practices for both administrators and end-users to create strong, resilient credentials, fortifying your website’s security.

Crafting Strong Usernames and Passwords

When it comes to securing your WordPress website, your usernames and passwords are the first lines of defence. In this section, we’ll explore best practices for creating usernames and passwords that are robust and resilient against common security threats.

Security Implications of Weak Usernames and Passwords: It’s important to note that the consequences of weak usernames and passwords extend beyond your individual security. Weak credentials can compromise the entire website, affecting other users and administrators alike.

Creating Strong Usernames:

  1. Avoid Predictable Names: Steer clear of using common names, words, or phrases as usernames. These can be easily guessed, especially if they are related to your website’s content.
  2. Opt for Uniqueness: Your username should be unique to your site, making it harder for attackers to predict. Avoid using the default “admin” and other generic options. I would even go as far as to recommend creating a password as your username by including symbols, numbers, and other characters.
  3. Consider Role-Based Usernames: If you have multiple users with different roles (e.g., administrators, editors, contributors), choose usernames that reflect their responsibilities. This can help with user management and security.

Generating Secure Passwords:

  1. Length and Complexity: Passwords should be long and incorporate a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters such as symbols. Aim for at least 12 characters. Personally, I recommend 16 characters as a minimum.
  2. Avoid Dictionary Words: Steer clear of using complete words found in dictionaries. Instead, create a passphrase or use a combination of unrelated words.
  3. No Dates: Don’t use birthdays or other date-based associations.
  4. Passphrases are Powerful: Consider using a passphrase, which is a sequence of random words or a sentence that is easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess.
  5. Password Managers: To keep track of complex passwords, use a password manager. It can generate and store strong passwords securely.

Best Practices for Both Administrators and End-Users:

  1. Regular Updates: Whether you’re an administrator or an end-user, update your passwords regularly. Don’t wait for a breach to prompt you to change your login credentials.
  2. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA whenever possible. It adds an extra layer of security by requiring a one-time code in addition to your password. It’s annoying, I know, but this adds another level of security.
  3. Education and Training: Educate all users of your website, not just administrators, about the importance of strong usernames and passwords and how to recognize phishing attempts.

For WordPress security, the next section will introduce the top security plugins for WordPress. These plugins can work in tandem with your strong credentials to create a formidable defence against potential threats.

Changing the WordPress Database Prefix

When it comes to fortifying the security of your WordPress website, changing the database prefix is a lesser-known yet highly effective measure. The database prefix is a string of characters that precedes all the tables in your WordPress database. By default, WordPress uses “wp_” as the prefix.

screenshot showing the WordPress database prefix which is done by default when installing

Unfortunately, this predictability can make your website an easier target for cyberattacks. Here’s why changing the database prefix is a valuable security practice:

  • Deters Automated Attacks: Hackers often use automated scripts to exploit known vulnerabilities in WordPress websites. By changing the database prefix, you make these attacks less effective because they rely on the default prefix.
  • Enhances Security Through Obscurity: While security through obscurity isn’t the sole solution, making it harder for attackers to identify your database structure can add an extra layer of protection.
  • Mitigates SQL Injection Risks: A unique database prefix can reduce the likelihood of successful SQL injection attacks, as hackers won’t be familiar with the structure of your database tables.

To change your WordPress database prefix, you’ll need to do so during the initial installation or by using a plugin designed for this purpose.

IMPORTANT: Changing an existing website’s database prefix is a task best suited for those comfortable with database management, so proceed with caution and ensure you have a backup of your website before making any changes.

By changing the database prefix, you significantly reduce the predictability of your website’s database structure, making it more challenging for potential attackers to compromise your site.

Disable Directory Indexing and Browsing

One often overlooked aspect of WordPress security is the practice of disabling directory indexing and browsing. By default, web servers may allow directory indexing, which means that if there is no index file (like index.html or index.php) in a directory, the server may display a list of files and directories within it.

Screenshot showing website directory indexing as a website security issue

This can inadvertently expose sensitive information and potentially serve as a roadmap for attackers.

Disabling directory indexing and browsing helps safeguard your website from prying eyes and potential attackers, as it reduces the risk of information leakage. Incorporate this practice into your security routine to maintain a more secure WordPress website.

How to Disable Directory Listings

There are several methods to disable directory listings, but here are a few:

  • Adding a blank index.html file in each directory (folder)
  • Using .htaccess with Options-Indexes added to it.
  • Your web host provider’s control panel. Most hosts will have this option and it’s one I recommend because it’s done directly with the host server.

Top WordPress Security Plugins

WordPress offers a robust and diverse library of plugins designed to enhance WordPress security. These plugins can automate many security measures, making it easier for you to safeguard your website. Here, I’ll introduce a selection of top security plugins, each with its unique features and benefits. Depending on your specific needs and expertise, you can choose the one that suits your WordPress website best.

As a side note, I’ve only used Wordfence Security and BulletProof Security in the past. I strongly recommend you check out each one in the list below and try each one to find which one works best for you.

  1. Wordfence Security: Wordfence is a comprehensive security plugin with a range of features, including firewall protection, malware scanning, login attempt monitoring, and real-time threat defence. Its user-friendly interface makes it accessible to both beginners and experienced users.
  2. Sucuri Security: Sucuri is a trusted name in website security, and their plugin reflects their expertise. It offers security monitoring, malware scanning, and a web application firewall. It’s an excellent choice for those who want a hands-off approach to security.
  3. iThemes Security (SolidWP): Formerly known as Better WP Security and now called SolidWP, this plugin provides a suite of tools to enhance your website’s security. It includes features like two-factor authentication, login attempt monitoring, and malware scanning.
  4. All In One WP Security & Firewall: This plugin is designed with user-friendliness in mind. It offers a variety of security features, such as login lockdown, database security, and file system monitoring. It provides a visual security meter to help users gauge their security status.
  5. Akeeba AdminTools for WordPress: Akeeba AdminTools (for WordPress security) offers a comprehensive set of features to enhance website security, including firewall protection and tools to protect against common threats. I’m very familiar with this plugin from my days using the Joomla CMS; they now offer a version for WordPress.
  6. BulletProof Security: This plugin focuses on protecting your website with a firewall, login security, and database backups. It has an in-depth setup process, making it suitable for those who prefer a hands-on approach to security.

Remember that while these plugins can significantly enhance your website’s security, it’s essential to keep them up-to-date and configure them properly. Your choice of plugin may depend on your level of expertise and the specific features you require, but I still recommend reviewing each one and trying them out. Most will offer a free version.

Additional Security Measures

While strong usernames, passwords, and security plugins are vital components of safeguarding your WordPress website, additional security measures further fortify your defences and create a multi-layered security strategy.

1. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA):

  • Enable 2FA wherever possible. It adds an extra layer of security by requiring a one-time code in addition to your password. Many security plugins and services offer built-in 2FA functionality.

2. Regular Updates:

  • Keep your WordPress core, themes, and plugins up to date. Developers release updates to patch security vulnerabilities, so staying current is crucial.

3. Website Backups:

  • Regularly back up your website. In case of a security breach or data loss, having recent backups ensures you can restore your site to a secure state.

4. SSL Certificate:

  • Implement an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to encrypt data transmitted between your website and visitors. This is essential for data security and improves your site’s trustworthiness. This is done through your web hosting provider. Some will offer free certificates while paid versions are also available for more robust security.

5. Security Monitoring:

  • Consider using security monitoring tools or services that actively scan your website for vulnerabilities and provide real-time alerts for suspicious activity.
  • Try to find WordPress security plugins that also incorporate a firewall.

6. Strong User Permissions:

  • Assign appropriate user roles with limited privileges. Only grant administrator access to those who genuinely need it. User roles should reflect job responsibilities to minimize security risks.

7. File and Directory Permissions:

  • Review and set correct file and directory permissions to restrict unauthorized access. Security plugins often include tools to help with this task.
  • Some WordPress security plugins might include a tool to check file and directory permissions, such as the Akeeba AdminTools plugin. However, usually, this can be done from your hosting provider’s control panel (eg: CPanel).

8. Protecting the wp-config.php File:

  • Safeguard your wp-config.php file, which contains sensitive database information. Ensure it is not publicly accessible and regularly monitor it for changes.
  • Don’t keep the wp-config-sample.php file in your site files.

9. Monitoring for Brute Force Attacks:

  • Implement mechanisms to detect and block brute-force login attempts. Security plugins often have features for this purpose.

10. Security Training and Education: – Educate yourself and your team on security best practices, including how to recognize phishing attempts and other common security threats.

11. User Activity Logging: – Use plugins that log user activity to track changes and ensure accountability for any unauthorized actions.

12. Hire a Security Expert: – If hiring a security consultant to review your website’s configuration is an option for you, I would say consider it. This article only brings attention to the basics, but someone who specializes in WordPress security would be ideal.

By integrating these additional security measures into your WordPress website management, you establish a multi-faceted defence system that significantly reduces the risk of security breaches.

Conclusion: Website and WordPress Security

Website and WordPress security is a huge topic to discuss and is one that should never be ignored. Consider the fact that if your website is breached, you can run into a lot of unforeseen circumstances. If your website has users/members, there should be no argument about your website and WordPress security.

Let’s recap the main points of security:

  • Safeguarding your WordPress website is a necessity, whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned webmaster.
  • Weak usernames and passwords, including the notorious “admin,” create vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit. Crafting strong, unique credentials is your first line of defence.
  • Top WordPress security plugins offer diverse features to align with your specific security needs and expertise.
  • But our journey doesn’t end here; the world of cybersecurity is in constant flux. That’s why additional security measures like two-factor authentication, regular updates, backups, and strong user permissions are crucial.
  • By embracing a multi-layered approach to website security, you build a robust defence against the ever-present risks.
  • Seek out a security professional if you feel this will work out better for you and your website.
  • Educate yourself and your team, stay vigilant, and maintain a proactive stance toward security.
  • While no website can be 100% secure, every security measure you implement strengthens your digital fortress and reduces the risk of falling victim to malicious intent.

Security is a continuous journey. As you continue to manage your website, keep one eye on the horizon, anticipating and preparing for the security challenges that lie ahead. By doing so, you not only help protect your website but also safeguard your online aspirations and the trust of your audience.

By no means, does this article cover all aspects of protecting your website and offer a comprehensive WordPress security solution, but it should help guide you to get started.

If you have additional tips on Website and WordPress security, please comment below.

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