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How to Secure Your WordPress Website

What Are the Essential Steps to Secure a WordPress Website?

The essential steps to secure your site involve regular updates, using strong passwords, secure hosting, and employing robust security plugins.

Table: Key Security Features and Their Benefits

FeatureBenefit
SSL CertificateEncrypts data, securing user transactions
Strong PasswordsProtects against unauthorized access
Security PluginMonitors threats and blocks attacks
Regular BackupsEnsures data recovery is possible

This table summarizes critical security features necessary for protecting WordPress websites from cyber threats and ensuring data integrity.

Keep WordPress Updated

Core Updates

Always keep your WordPress core files up to date. Regular updates patch security vulnerabilities and boost performance. Keeping up with the latest PHP versions is crucial—it’s your website’s best defense against cyber intrusions.

Theme and Plugin Updates

It’s essential to keep your themes and plugins updated. Neglecting this area is like leaving your digital front door unlocked, potentially welcoming unauthorized visitors.

Protip: When we manage WordPress sites for clients, we typically update plugins once a week.

Choose Secure Hosting

Quality Hosting Provider

Choose a hosting provider known for comprehensive security measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection, and malware scanning. Your hosting provider is like the neighborhood for your website—opt for the safest one.

WordPress hosting is a topic of its own, that we have covered in several posts. It is not a one-size-fits-all situation; we covered typical solutions like cloud hosting, self-managed, and managed hosting.

Managed WordPress Hosting

Consider managed WordPress hosting, which includes advanced security configurations, automatic updates, and specialized support. This type of hosting acts like a dedicated security guard for your site.

Features to look for include:

  • Keeping software up-to-date, for example MySQL and PHP
  • Compartmentalization of hosted sites
  • Staging feature
  • Fast, friendly and helpful support staff
  • Daily backup (at least)

Use Strong Passwords and User Permissions

Strong Passwords

Implement strong passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols—the digital equivalent of a deadbolt.

The best practices for creating strong passwords are:

  1. Use a unique password for each account.
  2. Make passwords long, at least 12 characters.
  3. Use a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters.
  4. Avoid using personal information, common words, or simple patterns that can be easily guessed.
  5. Consider using a passphrase with random words instead of a single password.

By following these best practices, you can create passwords that are much more secure and difficult for hackers to crack through brute force, dictionary, or other password-guessing attacks. 

Examples of Good and Bad Passwords:

Good PasswordsBad Passwords
1. P@ssw0rdStr0ng!1. Password123
2. 3L3phant$Jump!2. 123456789
3. Sunsh1neRainb0w$3. qwerty

In the table above, the "Good Passwords" column shows examples of strong passwords that follow best practices like using a mix of characters, numbers, and symbols, while the "Bad Passwords" column demonstrates weak passwords that are easily guessable or commonly used.

If this sounds like too much of a hassle, we can definitely recommend that you use a password manager to generate and store strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts on different platforms online.

User Role Management

Limit user permissions according to their roles. Not everyone needs full access; limit critical settings to minimize risks.

In WordPress, there are six default user roles with varying access levels:

RoleDescription
AdministratorThe most powerful role, with full control over the website, including adding, editing, and deleting posts, managing users, and installing themes and plugins.
EditorHas control over content sections, including adding, editing, publishing, and deleting posts, as well as moderating comments.
AuthorCan write, edit, and publish their own posts, delete their own posts, and add tags to posts, but cannot create new categories.
ContributorCan add and edit posts but cannot publish them, choose from existing categories, and view comments but not approve or delete them.
SubscriberCan log in and update their own profile and password. Mainly useful for membership sites where users need to register and log in.
Super Admin(only in multisite networks) Can add and delete sites, install plugins and themes, add users, and perform network-wide actions.

Implement a Security Plugin

Some hosting providers such as SiteGround offer their own security plugin which can be a benefit of using a managed hosting provider. If your hosting provider doesn't you should consider installing one.

Popular security plugins for WordPress:

Use a reputable security plugin such as Wordfence, Sucuri, or iThemes Security. These plugins act as watchdogs for your website, aggressively defending it against threats.

Wordfence Security:

  • Offers a free version with features like web application firewall (WAF), malware scanning, and two-factor authentication.
  • Known for its user-friendly interface and comprehensive security capabilities.

Sucuri Security:

  • Considered an industry leader in WordPress security.
  • Provides a free plugin with features like activity auditing, file monitoring, and security notifications.
  • Offers robust firewall protection and performance improvements through its CDN.

iThemes Security:

  • Offers both a free and premium version with features like brute force attack prevention, malware scanning, and strong password enforcement.
  • Known as one of the most trusted and popular WordPress security plugins.

Configuration

Proper configuration of your security plugin is crucial. Ensure it is updated regularly and set to perform vulnerability scans to maintain a strong security posture.

Enable HTTPS

SSL Certificate

Securing your site with an SSL certificate is essential—it encrypts data in transit, protecting it from interception.

Today, most hosting providers provide a Let's Encrypt integration and can generate a certificate for your site out of the box. This is a nice, easy solution that fits most businesses.

Force HTTPS

Configure your site to automatically use HTTPS to ensure that all data sent and received is encrypted, providing a secure browsing experience.

Secure wp-config.php

Move and Protect

Enhance the security of your wp-config.php file by moving it from the public root or adjusting its file permissions, keeping it inaccessible to unauthorized users.

Secure Keys

Update the security keys in wp-config.php to strengthen the encryption of your site cookies.

Disable File Editing

Edit the wp-config.php

Add define('DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT', true); to your wp-config.php to disable file editing through the WordPress dashboard, preventing potential misuse.

Regular Backups

Backup Solution

Opt for a robust backup solution like UpdraftPlus. Regular backups are your safety net in case of data loss.

Regular Schedule

Maintain a schedule for regular backups to ensure you always have a recent copy of your site's data, stored securely offsite.

Monitor and Audit Logs

Logging Plugin

Utilize a logging plugin to monitor activity on your site. It's like having CCTV, providing visibility into every action taken within your site.

Several plugins can keep track of who changes what on you site, and this can be very helpful if your site has many users with editing permissions.

Here is one example: Simple History can track who changed what and when.

Regular Checks

Regularly check these logs for any unusual activity to catch potential security issues early.

Limit Login Attempts

Brute Force Protection

Implement measures to limit login attempts. This helps prevent brute force attacks by blocking repeated attempts to guess passwords.

Update Database Prefix

Change Prefix

Changing the default database prefix from wp_ to something unique can significantly deter SQL injection attacks.

Additional Security Measures

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Implement two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security at login, making unauthorized access significantly harder.

It typically involves something you know (like a password) and something you have (such as a code sent to your phone). 2FA is crucial for enhancing security and is widely recommended by experts to protect accounts and sensitive data. While not foolproof, 2FA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access, especially when compared to using passwords alone.

Disable XML-RPC

If you don't use XML-RPC, disable it to reduce the risk of targeted attacks.

XML-RPC is a WordPress API that allows remote access and communication with a WordPress site. While it was useful in the past, it has become a security vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers to gain unauthorized access or launch DDoS attacks.

To disable XML-RPC in WordPress, there are a few options:

  • Use the Disable XML-RPC plugin. This is the easiest method - simply install and activate the plugin, and it will disable XML-RPC functionality.
  • Add a code snippet to your site's functions.php file or create a custom plugin. This involves adding the line add_filter('xmlrpc_enabled', '__return_false'); to disable XML-RPC.
  • Modify your .htaccess file to block access to the xmlrpc.php file, which is the entry point for XML-RPC requests.

Disabling XML-RPC is recommended for most WordPress sites, as it removes a potential attack vector without impacting normal site functionality for most users. However, if you rely on remote publishing or other XML-RPC-dependent features, you may want to explore more selective disabling options like the "Disable XML-RPC Pingback" plugin instead.

Regular Security Audits

Conduct regular security audits to check the health of your site. These are vital for ensuring your security measures are up-to-date and effective.

By following these steps and incorporating advanced security practices, you can significantly enhance the protection of your WordPress site. Remember, effective security requires continuous effort and adaptation.

Don't hesitate to reach out if you want help identifying weaknesses and opportunities in your setup. We can audit your setup or implement necessary changes to harden your site.

portrait of Kim Dofler

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