Protect Your Site from Catastrophic WordPress Security Exploits

Darren Foong
Darren Foong
February 8, 2019
2 min read
Protect Your Site from Catastrophic WordPress Security Exploits

In this article

One of the internet's most popular publishing platforms, Wordpress' ubiquity makes it a target for malicious actors searching for Wordpress security exploits. If you publish on Wordpress, you'll want to check out this infographic on Wordpress security exploits from our friends at Privacy Australia

WordPress continues to be a dominant force in the world of online publishing and business-building, so it's not surprising that hackers are constantly poking holes in its defenses, looking for vulnerabilities within its code and third-party extensions.

Fortunately, there are good-natured hackers out in cyberspace, not just those with malicious intent looking to profit from attacks. As a result, many of the most dangerous vulnerabilities in WordPress have been quickly identified and analyzed for fixes. We captured a number of the most critical in the infographic: [20 Chilling WordPress Vulnerabilities and Exploits].

Below, we’ve pulled out what we consider to be the five most important security issues affecting the WordPress platform, along with the steps to take to resolve them. Let’s get to it.

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wordpress security 2019 exploits - 20 chilling wordpress vulnerabilities and exploits - infograpic privacy australia referralcandy

#1 - Limit Admin Console Access to Reduce Attacks

The admin console in a WordPress environment offers a range of important tools and options, such as adding new plugins, modifying site themes, and controlling URL redirection. These features are critical for any site administrator who needs to maintain WordPress code or respond to issues. However, if the wrong person gains access to the admin console, it can spell big trouble for your organization.

Hackers focus much of their effort on the admin console because, once compromised, it becomes vulnerable to a number of different types of attacks. This is how many of the WordPress data breaches occur, and it's a good way to spread viruses or malware across web hosts.

Keeping your admin console secure is critical. Make sure the users who have full access to your WordPress environment keep their passwords safe. Limit access to only those who absolutely need it, and require them to maintain a complex password with capital letters, numbers, and symbols.

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#2 - Deploy a Network Firewall Rather than a Risky Plugin

At its most basic level, WordPress is a content management system (CMS) that's capable of manipulating text, image, and video data within a blogging format. However, the WordPress platform really gets its power from the large third-party plugin marketplace. These add-on tools can help transform your website into a fully functional online store or interactive experience.

When browsing for new plugins, you'll come across some that claim to add special security features like firewall protection. Before installing any of these plugins, search for reviews and testimonials that attest to their validity and usefulness. In general, most firewall controls should be added at the network layer by a systems administrator rather than using a software plugin.

wordpress security 2019 exploits - deploy network firewall wordpress security plugin

A network firewall is a better solution than risky plug-ins

There's a risk in trusting a firewall plugin on WordPress because the tool could actually be a Trojan horse designed by a hacker to infiltrate web systems. This type of attack has been detected in the past, and it can result in your entire WordPress site being compromised.

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#3 - Update Core WordPress Code Regularly to Avoid New Bugs

As part of designing and running a site based on the WordPress platform, you'll likely want to develop automated ways of communicating with your visitors and customers. The core WordPress code makes use of a framework called PHPMailer, which lets you configure online forms to generate automatic email messages.

In 2016, the PHPMailer code was found to have a vulnerability that is categorized as remote code execution (RCE). This means that, in theory, a hacker could hijack the PHPMailer framework and use it to insert their own commands or scripts. This could result in a data breach or another form of cyber attack, such as ransomware.

wordpress security 2019 exploits - core wordpress code update phpmailer

The best thing to do to protect against email-based vulnerabilities is keep your core WordPress code up to date. You can check for updates through the admin console or set up a script that will install new security patches automatically.

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#4 - Always Connect through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to Foil Phishing Attempts

Instead of targeting a WordPress system directly, hackers try to gain control by focusing on a specific individual with admin access to the platform. This is often done through different forms of social engineering or phishing. A single point of failure can expose your entire WordPress code and the back-end databases that store important and sensitive information.

Virtual private network (VPN) technology has become an effective method to combat phishing. The most popular VPN services bring military-grade encryption to the masses at a modest price point. This type of protection is especially important if you ever work on WordPress while connected to a public Wi-Fi network because hackers can manipulate routers and intercept your web traffic.

A VPN adds an important layer of security by encrypting all data transmissions that occur between your local device and the public internet. In addition, it assigns a different IP address and essentially makes you anonymous while working within the WordPress environment. Thankfully, there are a number of options on the market and many lists of good VPN services out there. A little research will help you identify the best one for your business.

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#5 - Put Expiration Dates on Cookies to Stop Hacker Exploitation

Cookies are an essential element for many WordPress websites because they allow users to maintain a session even after closing and reopening the browser. Browsers store cookies as small bits of text files that should only be visible to the website that generated them.

wordpress security

Unfortunately, WordPress code contains vulnerabilities in regard to cookies. The issue allows hackers to steal cookie strings and imitate a different user when logging in to a WordPress website. Such an attack can lead to a major data breach or other form of sabotage within the WordPress code.

As a mitigating measure, WordPress admins should look into adding timeout restrictions when setting cookies. For example, a cookie can be set to expire after 24 hours or a certain number of days. This lowers the risk of a hacker being able to intercept a cookie string, though it doesn't completely eliminate the chance of an attack.

Many web developers now favor using a protocol called local storage instead of relying on cookies. Local storage variables are harder for hackers to steal or imitate, and they'll give site visitors a better sense of security.

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Conclusion: How To Protect Your Site from 5 Catastrophic WordPress Security Exploits in 2019

Keep in mind that defeating WordPress security exploits is about more than having a pretty website - though we all want one of those. What business owners risk in allowing these bugs to run wild is damage that hurts in the form of lost revenue, compromised data (which can get you in BIG trouble with the new GDPR regulations), and a damaged brand.

Put yourself in a customer’s shoes. Would you be excited to re-visit a website so ridden with vulnerabilities that your lost your credit card number, had your browser hijacked, and picked up a dose of ransomware?

We didn’t think so. You owe it to the continued existence of your business to take action. Now would be a good time. Good luck out there!

[Infographic] 20 Chilling Wordpress Vulnerabilities & Exploits

wordpress security 2019 exploits - 20 chilling wordpress vulnerabilities and exploits - infograpic privacy australia referralcandy
wordpress security 2019 exploits - will ellis privacy australia referralcandy

Will Ellis develops the guts beneath beautiful websites and can't wait to see what the blockchain world will look like once the technology fully emerges. He invests in cryptocurrencies and studies history."

Darren Foong
Darren Foong

Darren is a content/SEO writer and product marketer. He doubled search traffic for the blog and put ReferralCandy on the front page of the Shopify AppStore.

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