12 WordPress Security Vulnerabilities & Risks and Tips to Fix Them

WordPress websites are always at the risk of attacks and hacks though WordPress is inherently a secure platform. Why is that? One reason is the sheer popularity of the WordPress platform that makes it a favorite of hackers. The other is that WordPress sites do not operate in isolation, they work along with many third-party elements like plugins/themes and web hosting platforms. These elements and a lack of attention to security practices cause WordPress security issues that leave sites vulnerable.

So, what are these issues and how can you avoid or fix them? Read on to find out.

12 WordPress Security Issues and Risks You Should Know of

Let us begin by understanding the five most common security issues with WordPress sites that hackers often exploit.

1. Poor Login Security

Lack of login page protection is the biggest reason for even basic attacks like brute force attacks to succeed. These attacks use automated bots to guess your username and password and sign in to your WordPress account. What does poor login protection look like?

  • Use of weak user credentials like default usernames or weak passwords like “password123” or “p@ssw0rd” that are easy to guess
  • An unlimited number of failed login attempts to user accounts
  • Lack of two-factor authentication (2FA) for logins
2. Outdated Software

Another common WordPress security issue is that most websites are run on outdated software versions. This applies to the Core WordPress installation, as well as installed plugins/themes. Even though updates are free to download, most users continue to operate their sites on outdated versions out of oversight or fear of breaking their site.

How do hackers exploit this security issue?

  • They look for security flaws or bugs that exist in outdated software and then exploit this weakness in all websites using the same outdated software.
3. Nulled Plugins and Themes

Nulled plugins/themes are pirated versions of the original plugins and themes. WordPress users often get lured into installing nulled plugins/themes as they are free of cost. However, they often don’t know that nulled plugins/themes often have backdoor infections that hackers can exploit to gain access to your website.

Avoid installing any nulled plugins/themes on your website to save a little money. It can be a costly mistake. Instead, always opt for paid plugins/themes from trusted sources.

4. Improper User Roles

WordPress allows you to configure 6 different user roles – Super Admin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber. While users with administrator (or admin) roles have the most privileges, other user roles have limited authorizations and permissions. Hackers regularly target admin user accounts to inflict maximum damage on websites.

By designating many users with the “admin” rights, you risk causing multiple WordPress security problems as hackers can now target multiple accounts. Limit the number of WordPress administrators and assign lesser roles to other users to prevent a WordPress security breach.

5. Poor Web Hosting

Even if you manage to take care of all your internal security issues on your WordPress site, it is still not 100% safe until it is hosted on a secure web host. Your web host is the foundation that your website stands on. A poor or insecure web host is the ideal gateway for hackers to sneak into all websites hosted with it. This is especially the case with shared web hosting where a hacker can compromise one website and then proceed to attack all the other co-hosted websites.

Other host-related WordPress security flaws include lack of firewall protection, high server downtime, and the use of outdated software, which can compromise your site.

Next, let us look at the 7 biggest WordPress security risks or attacks that every WordPress site faces.

1. SQL Injection

If you’re familiar with database management, you would know that SQL is used to store or retrieve database records using commands. SQL is also used for WordPress databases.

How does an SQL injection work? In this form of attack, hackers exploit vulnerabilities in plugin input form fields to insert malicious PHP scripts in the WordPress database. Through these malicious scripts, they take control of your backend database and steal or damage confidential records.

2. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

An XSS attack is another attack that exploits vulnerabilities in installed plugins or themes. It is similar to SQL injection, except that the malicious code is inserted into the web page itself. For example, a harmful link could be inserted into the user comments field on your web page. 

Once an unsuspecting user clicks the link, they are then redirected to a fake website or directed to enter their contact details into a fake contacts form.

3. Denial of Service Attack

Also known as Denial-of-Service or DoS attack, this type of attack is aimed at crashing the target website so that its intended users cannot access it. How does it do this? DoS attacks flood the website with huge volumes of traffic that its server can’t handle. 

It can also block all the website administrators from signing in to their accounts during the attack. DoS attacks often originate from multiple computers at the same time so that they cannot be traced back.

4. Phishing

Phishing is another attack that exploits any vulnerability in plugins/themes to illegally gain access to your WordPress site. Once hackers gain website control, they send spam emails containing spam links to your customers. When your unsuspecting customer clicks the link, they are either redirected to unsolicited websites or fooled into sharing sensitive data like their credit card details.

5. Pharma Hack

As the name suggests, a pharma hack is used by hackers to exploit a website’s SEO rank to sell their “fake” pharma products. It targets a website and infects it with spam keywords or pop-up ads which redirect users to unsolicited websites selling fake products. If search engines find spam links where you are linking to malicious sites selling illegal pharmaceutical drugs, they will warn the users or blacklist your site.

6. Privilege Escalation Hack

You already know how hackers use brute force attacks to target user accounts with admin privileges. To reduce the damage, you can configure some users with lesser privileges like that of a contributor or subscriber. What happens when hackers gain access to contributor or subscriber accounts?

In this scenario, hackers deploy the privilege escalation hack to override the user privileges and escalate them to that of an admin user.

7. Japanese Keyword Hack

This is similar to pharma hacks that target websites with high SEO rankings by displaying Japanese words in the title and description of the infected pages on Google search results. Once any search engine user clicks on these spam links, they are redirected to malicious websites selling fake products.

These are just seven ways by which hackers exploit WordPress security vulnerabilities to their advantage. So, how do you fix these WordPress security issues to secure your site from hackers and their malicious ways? Let us discuss that in the next section.

How to Fix WordPress Security Issues

Here are seven tested, trusted, and recommended ways to deal with WordPress security concerns and issues.

1. Keep Your Website Updated

The first and easiest step is to always keep your website updated to the latest version of WordPress and the latest theme/plugin versions.

You can perform this step through your WordPress web hosting account or by installing a WordPress management tool like ManageWP or MainWP.

2. Stop using Pirated WordPress Plugins/Themes

As a security policy, only download original plugins/themes from trusted sources. Pirated plugins/themes are a security threat as they don’t receive any timely updates from their developers.

3. Implement Login Security Measures

To protect your login page from brute force and DoS attacks, here are some simple and effective security measures you can implement:

  • Enforce strong user credentials through unique usernames and strong passwords that are at least 12 characters in length and contain a mix of alphabets, numbers, and special symbols.
  • Implement CAPTCHA protection (using a CAPTCHA plugin) to limit the number of failed logins.
  • Implement 2-factor authentication (using a 2FA plugin).
4. Define proper user roles

As a practice, assign administrator roles to a few and trusted users in your organization. For the rest, assign the other lesser user roles or what is required for them to perform their daily operations. 

You can assign (or change) user roles from your WordPress web hosting account.

5. Install a WordPress Security Plugin

One of the most effective and comprehensive ways to secure your website is to invest in a WordPress security plugin. They are designed specifically to protect your site against WordPress threats and can easily detect all the security attacks we spoke about earlier. For a nominal cost, security plugins like MalCare combine malware detection and malware removal with additional safety measures like firewall protection, login page protection, centralized core, and plugin and updates so you can handle all security issues in one place. MalCare also comes with an inbuilt automated malware removal so you can clean your site without relying on external technical support.

6. Invest in the Right Eeb Hosting

Lastly, you can improve your website security by hosting it on a safe and efficient web hosting platform. Even if you want to go for shared hosting, make sure to select a trusted and reliable web hosting company like Bluehost or Siteground that adopts the best WordPress hosting practices. The best option is to host your website on a managed web host with dedicated resources just for your site.

7. Harden your WordPress Site

You can further harden your WordPress site by implementing recommended measures like disabling file editing, blocking the installation of plugins, and changing security measures. These hardening measures are rather technical and require advanced knowledge, but tools like MalCare make this simple enough to run with a few clicks on their dashboard.

Conclusion

WordPress security is never a one-time activity, improving your understanding of WordPress and staying updated on the latest developments in the space is the only way to grow your site and your business without compromising security. 

We hope this article has helped you get a better understanding of all the WordPress issues, vulnerabilities, and risks your site faces today. Is there anything we missed or that you’d liked us to cover? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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