As one of the most user-friendly content management systems (CMS) currently in usage, WordPress has become incredibly popular amongst tens of millions of users.
Unfortunately, it’s popularity and high visibility has made it a favorite target for the bad guys. In fact it is believed that there are nearly 90,000 attacks per minute against WordPress websites.
While it’s tempting to place the blame squarely on WordPress, there is much that individuals and companies can do on their end to prevent cyber attacks and protect their personal information.
Here are a few of the most common types of cyber attacks your WordPress site may see. Let’s see the steps you must take to prevent future attacks and protect yourself.
Brute Force Attacks
Similar to a safecracker trying to guess the right code, brute force attacks try different usernames and passwords until they hit upon the right combination.
Having a complex password does help some – but it might not be enough. Hackers use automated programs to try several versions or spellings of commonly used passwords. Also, the image of a hacker laboriously typing away at a keyboard is outdated.
These days, automated programs work in record time to try all types of combinations. It’s fairly fast and easy for hackers to start the program and just step away. The brute force attacks just keep going until the right password is reached. Then, the hacker can return and take control of your website.
How to stop these attacks?
Limit the number of login attempts on your WordPress site so that after a specific number of tries (usually three), your account is locked and you’re immediately notified.
Another option is to use multi-factor authentication. When logging into your website, you’ll need to confirm your identity by answering security questions or providing a security code. This is easily set up through your profile and is a quick way to protect your data.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
DDoS events are widely regarded as one of the most destructive types of cyber attacks. Simply put, a DDoS means a hacker has redirected a website’s traffic or made the network server inoperable. They do this by spamming the website with heaps of traffic until it crashes.
Once this happens, the cybercriminals can hold the website hostage for ransom or install malware to steal sensitive information. There have been several instances of highly publicized ransomware events, and some companies simply pay up to regain control of their website. Naturally, this is something that anyone wants to avoid.
To prevent a DDoS, use a firewall that scans for malware. Next, install plugins that block websites that seem suspicious. Most importantly, always use the latest version of your firewall and plugins. Hackers are always looking for ways around these security layers, so keep one step ahead of them with constant updates.
Structured Query Language (SQL) injection
Using vulnerable or outdated plugins, hackers exploit security loopholes to gain access to a website. Once inside, they access sensitive information and either hijack websites or make unauthorized changes.
Particularly harmful to retailers and banks, these types of cyber attacks can potentially void financial transactions or disclose personal data. They can even switch your site traffic to a competitor or take it offline or – worst of all – redirect your traffic to an inappropriate website. As you can imagine, this can irreparably harm a business’s reputation, leading to a huge erosion of their customer base.
Using trusted plugins is the single best way to prevent SQL injection. They will log user activity and block anyone who seems to be inserting code or SQL queries into your database. Likewise, use a firewall that can detect suspicious activity and block unfamiliar IP addresses.
Also known as an XSS attack, this widespread cyber attack refers to the uploading of malicious code to collect data or redirect website traffic. Cross-site scripting is commonly called a code injection.
This attack often targets newsletter subscriptions or forum posts since they are places where a website’s users might input sensitive information such as email addresses or other identifying data. Even a contact form or a search box can be vulnerable.
Using a WordPress plugin is a great way to avoid this type of attack, since these tools address common weaknesses in WordPress. Of course, periodically check that you’re using the most recent plugin.
Since it’s incredibly user friendly with hundreds of themes and plugins to customize your site, WordPress has quickly become a popular CMS. Across industries, it’s the top choice for retailers, restaurants, small business owners, and even some government sites.
WordPress is an open-source framework, meaning the source code is public information and open for anyone to use. This often means developers have the opportunity to flag any issues and work through any bugs. However, this can be a double-edged sword since hackers can easily use this information to exploit any security vulnerabilities.
So, how can you fix this inherent problem?
Always use the most updated version of WordPress to protect yourself and your website. You only have to visit the Dashboard and select “Updates.” However, make sure you backup your website before updating since conflicts between plugins sometimes happen after updates.
Update Your Plugins
This bears repeating, so we will say it again — always use the most updated plugin available.
If you’re looking to add versatility to your website or just a cool new look, plugins are the way to go. That’s fine, but understand that they can also be the weak spot in your cyber security fence.
Since WordPress relies on plugin developers to keep their apps safe from security breaches, they can quickly become liabilities.
First off, outdated plugins tend to have security gaps. The developers will publish a new version, but your website might not automatically install it. If you fail to update the program, hackers can slip between the cracks and attack your website.
Secondly, some developers stop supporting their plugins. For various reasons, there are countless plugins on WordPress that have not been updated in years. If you use an old plugin, hackers could have compromised it and use it to slip right past your firewall. Since you installed the infected plugin, you granted the hackers permission to all types of data.
Always make sure your plugins are up to date. If not, install the new version or look for a replacement.
Know Your Sources
This type of mistake is usually made by individuals who aren’t particularly tech-savvy. Using outdated third-party plugins can contain viruses or leave you open to security breaches.
Likewise, looking for a bargain hosting site may cost you more in the long run. In an effort to attract clients by offering low hosting rates, these sites may forgo simple security measures like appropriate firewalls or neglecting to update their malware. These sites often host several sites on a single server, so if one site is compromised, yours could also be at risk.
Obviously, knowing who or what you’re dealing with goes a long way in protecting your WordPress site – and your personal information! Always use trusted and known developers. If you found a plugin that is not on the official list of WordPress plugins, it might be too good to be true.
You know your website better than anyone else. If you see suspicious activity, don’t just ignore it.
A small retail owner who gets multiple orders going to the same address should definitely take note. Likewise, pay attention if you see a drastic increase in site traffic. Sure, it may mean that you’ve suddenly become popular, but it may also mean that hackers have found a security loophole and are trying to exploit it.
Most importantly, look at unexplained login attempts. If you’ve received an alert informing you of an unsuccessful login and neither you nor your business associates made this attempt, immediately check your firewall to track the IP address. Then, set up a blocker to prevent further attempts.
Let the Pros Handle It
If you’re unsure how to go about it or just don’t have the time, you can outsource security.
Although it’s tempting to think you can handle it yourself, the truth is cybersecurity professionals are at the cutting edge of technology and are up to date with the latest cyber threats. They know how to find and prevent all types of cyber attacks.
These experts often have several levels of service available, so you’re sure to find a package that works with your budget. They can recommend an appropriate firewall and/or malware and can often test your website for any vulnerabilities or security holes. For a relatively small sum, you can enjoy peace of mind.
Back It Up
It’s tempting to think that once you’ve created your website, your work is done. Sadly, it is not.
Backups are an absolute must and you must ensure that you have one AT ALL TIMES.
Having a copy of your data means you can quickly get back online, with no loss of data or time. For a small business owner, this can mean the difference between quickly recovering or having to start from scratch.
Any decent web hosting company will provide backups for free to their customers. For example, Siteground offers daily backups for up to 30 days.
You can also choose to run your own backups manually. There are countless plugins to help you back up and save your website, and some even do it automatically. Just be sure to store it offline or in a trusted cloud server.
My recommended plugin for backups is the All-in-one WP migration plugin. You can check out my YouTube tutorial on how to use the plugin.
Of course, all the above tips and tools only work if you’re vigilant about your cyber safety. Taking responsibility for securing your website is a great, proactive way to protect yourself.
When accessing your WordPress site, always use a secured, known network and a long, complex password.
Also, keeping your firewall updated and having all the right antivirus software is essential. Remember to check your Dashboard for any WordPress updates and always have the most recent plugin installed. These concerted efforts go a long way to protecting yourself and your data from cyber attacks.
Summing It Up
While it’s an unfortunate reality that all websites can be compromised, there is much that you can do to protect yourself. Installing a firewall is an important first step. Using a complex password is also critical. Most importantly, check your website at least once per week for updates.