December 17, 2023

WordPress Security Checklist for 2024 by Hyrrokkin

WordPress, as a Content Management System (CMS), stands at the forefront of website creation, powering a significant portion of the web. This widespread use underscores the importance of robust web security measures. In the digital age, where cyber threats are constantly evolving, the security of websites, especially those powered by WordPress, has become paramount. The evolution of security challenges demands vigilance and a proactive approach. From brute force attacks to sophisticated phishing schemes, the landscape of cyber threats is ever-changing, making it crucial for website administrators and users to stay abreast of the latest security practices and updates. This article delves into various aspects of WordPress security, offering insights and practical advice to fortify websites against potential threats. We’ll explore why regular updates are vital, the significance of strong user credentials, the impact of hosting choices on security, and the role of specialized plugins in safeguarding WordPress sites. Furthermore, we will discuss advanced strategies like database security, dealing with brute force attacks, and the importance of monitoring and alerts. By integrating real-world examples and expert opinions, this article aims to provide a comprehensive WordPress Security Checklist, highlighting emerging threats in 2024 and beyond.

Regular Updates

Regular updates form the backbone of WordPress security. These updates often include patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities, making them essential for protecting websites against exploits. For instance, a recent update addressed a significant security flaw that could have led to widespread data breaches. By promptly updating, many WordPress users avoided potential compromise. This case study underscores the importance of regular updates, not only for the core WordPress software but also for themes and plugins. Neglecting these updates can leave a website susceptible to attacks that exploit outdated software, making it a prime target for hackers. The most effective defence is to keep your WordPress core, plugins, and themes up to date. Regular updates often include patches for known vulnerabilities​

Strong User Credentials

The foundation of individual account security lies in strong user credentials. Despite widespread awareness, many users still opt for weak passwords due to the psychological comfort of easily remembered credentials. Common mistakes include using predictable patterns, repeated passwords across different sites, and personal information that can be easily guessed or found online. Strong, unique passwords combined with practices like two-factor authentication significantly enhance security. Educating users about the importance of robust passwords and providing tools for generating and managing them can greatly reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

Web Hosting and Server Security

The choice of web hosting plays a critical role in the security of a WordPress site. Traditional hosting environments, while generally reliable, often lack the advanced security features of modern cloud hosting solutions. Cloud hosting can offer enhanced security measures such as automated backups, advanced firewalls, and distributed resources to mitigate the impact of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. However, it’s important to choose a reputable host with a strong focus on security, regardless of the hosting type. Additionally, maintaining server security involves regular updates, secure configurations, and monitoring for any unusual activities, which are crucial practices regardless of the hosting environment.

WordPress Security Plugins

WordPress security plugins play a pivotal role in safeguarding websites. Popular plugins like Wordfence, Sucuri, and iThemes Security offer a range of features including firewalls, malware scanning, and intrusion detection. Each plugin has its pros and cons, and its effectiveness can vary based on recent updates and user feedback. For example, Wordfence is known for its comprehensive firewall and live traffic monitoring features, but it can be resource-intensive. On the other hand, Sucuri excels in its security hardening and post-hack features. Users need to evaluate these plugins based on their specific needs, considering factors such as ease of use, impact on site performance, and the nature of their website. Regularly reviewing and updating these plugins ensures that they provide optimal protection against emerging threats.

Website Backups

Website backups are critical to WordPress security, offering a safety net in case of data loss or cyber-attacks. There are different types of backups, such as full backups that encompass the entire website, and incremental backups that only save changes made since the last backup. Full backups provide a complete restore point but can be storage and resource-intensive, while incremental backups are more efficient but rely on the integrity of previous backups. Regularly scheduled backups, ideally stored in a secure, off-site location, ensure that in the event of a security breach, the website can be restored to its previous state with minimal data loss. The choice between incremental and full backups should be based on the website’s size, update frequency, and available resources.

Limiting Access

Limiting access to various parts of a WordPress site is a key security strategy. Real-world scenarios demonstrate that restricting user permissions can prevent significant security issues. For example, granting administrative access only to essential personnel, using role-based access control, and limiting the number of login attempts can effectively reduce the risk of unauthorized access. This approach minimizes the chances of internal security breaches and reduces the website’s vulnerability to external attacks. Implementing features like two-factor authentication and regularly reviewing user roles and permissions are also important in maintaining a secure access control system.

Protecting Sensitive Files

Securing critical files in WordPress is essential for maintaining overall site security. Advanced tips for protecting sensitive files include implementing strict file permissions, using .htaccess to restrict access, and encrypting sensitive data. For instance, setting correct file permissions (like 644 for files and 755 for directories) can prevent unauthorized access. Code snippets in the .htaccess file, such as ‘deny from all’ directives for specific folders, further enhance security. Additionally, regularly scanning for and addressing any unauthorized file changes can prevent potential exploits. These measures, while technical, are crucial in safeguarding against data breaches and ensuring the integrity of the WordPress site.

Database Security

Securing the database is a vital aspect of WordPress security. This includes practices like using strong, unique database passwords, changing the default database prefix to something less predictable, and regularly updating and backing up the database. Protecting against SQL injection attacks, a common threat to databases involves ensuring that plugins and themes are secure and up-to-date. Regularly scanning for vulnerabilities and implementing security measures like prepared statements in custom code can significantly enhance database security. Keeping the database isolated and inaccessible from unauthorized users and external networks is also an effective security strategy.

Dealing with Brute Force Attacks

Brute force attacks, where attackers try numerous password combinations to gain unauthorized access, are a significant threat to WordPress sites. Recent trends show an increase in such attacks, making it imperative to implement robust security measures. Strategies to counter brute force attacks include limiting login attempts, implementing two-factor authentication, and using strong passwords. Monitoring tools can detect repeated failed login attempts, triggering alerts and automatic countermeasures such as temporary IP blocking. Educating users about the importance of strong, unique passwords and the use of password managers can also help mitigate this threat.

Monitoring and Alerts

Effective monitoring and the use of alerts are critical components of WordPress security. The latest tools in this domain offer real-time monitoring of website traffic, user activities, and system changes, providing insights into potential security threats. Setting up alerts for unusual activities, such as multiple failed login attempts or changes to sensitive files, enables quick response to potential security breaches. Integrating these tools with other security measures ensures a comprehensive defence strategy against cyber threats.

To defend a WordPress website against popular attacks targeting WordPress Websites, the following solutions can be implemented for each attack type. However, some points mentioned in this security checklist would need technical assistance.

  1. WordPress Core Version Enumeration: Hide or remove indications of the WordPress core version from your website. This includes removing the version number from the HTML source, the meta generator tag, and the readme.html file.
  2. Server Vulnerability Testing: Regularly scan your server for vulnerabilities and ensure that services like MySQL, FTP, and SSH are secured and not unnecessarily exposed
  3. Bypassing Web Firewalls (Sucuri or CloudFlare): Ensure that your DNS settings and firewall configurations are robust and regularly reviewed to prevent bypassing.
  4. Brute Force Attacks (wp-login.php and xmlrpc.php): Implement plugins like Limit Login Attempts Reloaded to restrict the number of login attempts. Using long, complex passwords and changing the default admin username can also significantly reduce the risk of brute force attack
  5. Denial of Service (DOS) via xmlrpc.php: Disable or restrict access to the xmlrpc.php file if it’s not required for your website’s functionality. Secondly, Implement a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to help mitigate DDoS attacks. A WAF can filter out malicious traffic and prevent it from overwhelming your site

Emerging Threats in 2024

As we progress into 2024, the landscape of cyber threats continues to evolve, presenting new challenges for WordPress security. Among these emerging threats are sophisticated phishing schemes that target website administrators through deceptive emails and links. These schemes are becoming more convincing, often masquerading as legitimate communications from hosting providers or WordPress itself. Another growing concern is the rise of AI-powered attacks, where artificial intelligence creates more effective and adaptive malware or automates hacking attempts. These AI-driven threats can quickly identify and exploit vulnerabilities, making traditional security measures less effective.

The increasing use of IoT (Internet of Things) devices also introduces new vulnerabilities. These devices, often connected to the same network as WordPress sites, can serve as entry points for attackers if not properly secured. Additionally, the growing trend of API integrations in WordPress sites opens up new avenues for potential attacks, particularly if APIs are not securely implemented.

Ransomware attacks on WordPress sites are also on the rise. These attacks involve encrypting a website’s data and demanding payment for its release. The sophistication of these attacks is increasing, making it challenging to recover data without succumbing to the attackers’ demands.

In response to these emerging threats, WordPress site administrators must adopt a multi-layered security approach. This includes keeping all software up to date, using advanced security plugins, regularly backing up data, and educating users about potential threats. Staying informed about the latest security trends and best practices is crucial in this constantly changing environment

Securing a WordPress site is an ongoing process that requires vigilance and adaptation to the evolving landscape of cyber threats. If you want to implement WordPress Security from experts, we recommend to avail a Free Website Security Scan from Hyrrokkin.