There can be no doubt about the dominance of WordPress as a content management system. There are millions of websites and businesses that depend on WordPress. Hence, it must be a piece of grim news when data and research say that hundreds of thousands of WordPress-hosted websites get hacked every year. Also, almost 90% of these websites are WordPress sites. What might be the possible reasons a WordPress website might get hacked? What makes WordPress the most favorite target of malicious hackers? Does it mean WordPress is vulnerable and we should start looking for alternatives right this second?
Well, let’s have a look at what vulnerabilities WordPress possesses and how hackers can attack your site and then find a solution.
Possible reasons why WordPress website might get hacked:
1. Nulled or Outdated Plugins & Themes
The most common reason hackers take unwarranted control of your website is themes and plugins that are outdated or nulled. Since both of these have become the lifeline of most websites, these needs tending from time to time, sometimes to fix a previously unnoticed flaw or to introduce new features, or to improve security measures. Sometimes, WordPress updates their security policies to improve security and the theme/plugin developers should make their software compatible with the modifications. If the developers don’t do this, the same software that helps you run your website can open the door to hackers to take control of the website. Site owners, who fail to do proper updates can also be the reason for these attacks. The same applies to nulled themes and plugins as well. Such pirated software lets hackers gain access through backdoors.
2. Login Issues
Very often, websites get hacked due to weak passwords. Giving default passwords like “admin” or “password” is like handing the key to the hacker. Hackers can also attempt brute force attacks to design a bot that carries out multiple attempts accessing your site. Even if unsuccessful, they can slow down your server or even crash it, as the wp-config.php file loads the entire website along with the login page. The login page itself is very easy to access. Just append /wp-admin or /wp-login.php to the site URL and you can reach the login page.
3. Poor Hosting Environment
One of the main reasons why a WordPress website gets hacked is the poor hosting environment. The choice of a good hosting environment plays a significant role in your website security. Always go for reputed hosting plans. Unheard hosting companies stay in obscurity for a reason. Never choose a hosting service that uses PHP 5.6 or below. Even a shared hosting service under well-known hosting providers can also open up to vulnerabilities.
4. Outdated core software
With time, every software technology develops vulnerabilities due to progressing technology. Hence, revisiting security protocols is an important activity. WordPress consistently rolls out updates that enhance the available features as well as introduces new security functions to the sites built using WordPress. But the responsibility of updating these rollouts lies on the site handlers themselves. If you fail to do updates on time, your site may be prone to attacks. An outdated software also results in the inability to update themes and plugins, amplifying the vulnerabilities of your site.
5. Poorly managed user profiles
WordPress offers 6 separate user roles for every website.
Each role has a different set of accesses and permissions. If you don’t modify the default setting of a WordPress site, then everyone is an admin by default. Coupled with this, a hacker that exploits any other vulnerability gains access to your site, then he too becomes an admin. Relegating proper permission to even authorized website users is a key responsibility the admin must take.
Techniques hackers employ:
1. SQL Injection
SQL injection is a method by which hackers enter special characters into contact forms or input fields of your site and enters SQL queries that target your backed database. The hackers can then either steal information stored in your site, modify the data, or take control of your entire site. If your choice of plugins and themes are vulnerable to such exploitation, so is your site. Introducing proper restrictions in entering special characters can curb this threat. A good security plugin can do that for you.
2. SEO spams
Similar to SQL injection, these hacks gain access to your best pages and fill them with keywords and affiliate links to sell their merchandise using your hard-earned SEO ranking. The variations of these hacks include pharma hacks and Japanese keyword hacks. The vulnerabilities that lead to this type of attack can be weak credentials or old plugins/themes.
3. Cross-site scripting
Also knows as an XSS attack, the attacker plants malicious code to access the web page. The hacker then goes on to display links to your trusted users to obtain their information. A poorly maintain or unattended plugin can pave the way for this type of attack.
Hackers try to spam visitors of your site targeting the visitors. Once the visitors click on the spam links, the hacker steals their data. Again, out-of-date plugins or themes are the culprits through which hackers access your site and take unauthorized control.
5. Denial-of-service attack
This attack blocks or ‘deny’ authorized users or visitors of a site from accessing the site. The hacker usually attacks by sending massive traffic to the website server causing it to eventually crash. Such attacks are performed to affect the reputation of the website. The weak link that helps a hacker, in this case, is your website’s hosting. A good hosting service protects your site from DoS attacks.
These constitute only some of the ways hackers can target your website intending to cause you or your site visitors harm or to steal money or information from them.
So, we have seen the top reasons why a WordPress website gets hacked. As you may have noticed, the vulnerabilities mentioned here aren’t weaknesses that WordPress suffers alone. A completely secure content management system is a myth. No matter how good the security features are, vulnerabilities increase with time. The reason a high number of WordPress websites getting hacked is only because of the massive number of WordPress users. WordPress has a dedicated security team that works round the clock to roll out better and tighter security protocols to protect our websites. However, to truly secure our websites, we must take responsible actions at the appropriate time. WordPress announces every update that they announce and it is up to us to make use of them.
Choose trustworthy themes and plugins that get consistent updates over nulled or obscure ones. Once you have them, keep monitoring them, and install updates that are relevant to you.
Always opt for strong passwords. Also, maintain a routine to change passwords periodically. Brute force approaches are miserable against passwords that contain combinations of different types of characters (alphabets, numbers, special characters). Additionally, other methods like 2-factor authentication and limited login attempts can bring about considerable differences to your website’s security. Use a secure hosting environment that makes use of newer technologies and protocols even if it costs you more. Many good hosting plans provide security features like 2-factor authentication by default.
Read more: How to Backup and extract a WordPress site?