November 18, 2022

Website Security Best Practices – WordPress Edition

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As a small business owner, did you know that owning a WordPress-powered website can be one of your business's greatest assets?


Because the WordPress content management system currently powers over 40% of all websites globally, are you aware that it also powers about 14.7% of Fortune 500 companies?


According to recent research, businesses prefer to build their websites using the WordPress CMS. Not only for its user-friendly features but also for a wide range of other reasons. So, if you've yet to have a website for your business, it's high time you consider getting one now.


However, with the ever-increasing number of cyber-attackers every day, it's rumored that WordPress-powered websites are more prone to hacking compared to other CMS websites.


Whether this is true or not, we can generally agree that it's not just enough to own a business website. What's more important is ensuring you have a secure website.


Unfortunately, ensuring maximum security for your website can be somewhat challenging, especially if you don't have a guide. Luckily, this is what this report is here to teach you.


Discover all the best website security best practices you should follow to ensure you achieve maximum security for your WordPress business website. 


Secure Your WP-Admin Directory

wp admin security

If you've ever attempted to secure your luggage from being robbed, chances are you used the strongest form of security, starting from the zipper. Imagine your WP-Admin as the briefcase and your website as the content in the suitcase.


The WP-Admin is a short-term for the WordPress Admin panel. And every WordPress website has its own WP-Admin Panel.


It is the dashboard for your WordPress website where you install plugins and themes, add content to your website, and more. It also contains all the files and folders needed for the website to function correctly.


But because accessing the WP-Admin of a WordPress website is relatively easy, this makes it more prone to cyber attackers and correspondingly puts the business at risk.


If hackers gain access to your WP-Admin Panel, they can log you out and take control of your entire website. They may decide to steal and sell off confidential business data and information found on your website, use it to spam, distribute malware, or create a wide range of other attacks.


One of the WordPress security providers, WordFence, reported about 1 billion cyber attacks known as Brute Force in 2017. Apart from that, WordPress websites also experienced several cases of unreported cyber attack attempts in the same year. This is one of the primary reasons WordPress websites top the list of the most targeted CMS-powered websites for cyber-attackers.


That was then and now, these claims no longer hold water as there are many more ways business owners can be sure they get top-notch security for their WordPress sites.


Below are some ways you can explore to achieve maximum security for your WP-Admin Panel:


Create a Unique and Strong Username and Password


By default, adding /wp-login.php to your website's URL can allow anyone to  log onto the page. For instance, if your website address is www.sample.com, your login page will appear when anyone enters www.sample.com/wp-login.php in the search bar.


Also, at the point of initial installation, WordPress assigns the username "admin" as the username and pass for the password. If you continue to use this username and password, or if it forms part of your password, it won't be long until the hacker has it figured out. This action explains what is referred to as "Brute Force."


So, using a unique and strong password is one way to prevent hackers from accessing your account. You can derive a unique password by choosing a random name you can easily remember with a mix of numbers and WordPress's accepted alphanumeric characters.


You can also allow WordPress' built-in password generator to choose for you. But make sure you note this down so you can easily access it. Or you can install a password keeper to help you keep your password safe instead of forgetting it.


Furthermore, if you've used the default "admin" as your username and password, here's a simple step you can follow to help you change that.


  • Step 1: Log in to your WordPress Control Panel
  • Step 2: Click on Users > All Users in your dashboard sidebar,
  • Step 3: Click on "Profile."
  • Step 4: Locate the account Management section
  • Step 5: Click on the “Generate Password” tab.

A password is automatically generated for you. You can also decide to change the password, but ensure you choose a unique one. Then click on the Update Profile tab. You’ve successfully secured your wp-admin from invaders.


Customize Your Login URL


Another way you can secure your WP-Admin is to change your login URLs to personalized addresses. That way, hackers will find it difficult to access your WP-admin account.


Customizing your login URLs can be done quickly with the help of a free WordPress security plugin called WordFence.


Whenever a hacker wants to force access to your website, it can protect your admin panel by sending the hacker to your homepage, counting the number of login attempts, or displaying the 404 error page. This process makes the hacker's mission almost impossible to accomplish.


Adopt the Use of 2-Factor Authentication (2-FA)


Two-factor authentication is a well-known method that you can also use to secure your WP-admin in the area. It helps you add an extra layer of security to your website. A code will be sent to your phone number via text or email previously linked to the account.


Using 2-factor authentication is a much safer way to go. That's because unless your website hackers can access your device to copy the OTP code, they can't guess the authentication code.


Integrate the Login Lockdown Feature


This feature helps you to fix the number of times an unknown individual can guess your login details. Any attempt beyond that, the system will block such a person from further attempts.


Another reason why this feature is a good fit is that it can notify you via your linked email address of suspicious attempts on your account. And you can restrict the IP address from gaining access to your WP-admin dashboard.


Whitelist IP addresses


Whitelisting IP addresses means allowing some specific IP addresses to access your website's dashboard. Every internet network has its own IP address, so every internet user is allowed to have only one. So, IP addresses not on the whitelist would be denied access to the wp-admin area.


Whitelisting your IP address helps you monitor who accesses your dashboard through an IP address. It can be an effective way to secure your WP-admin Panel, especially if you have a small team of website managers, since everyone gets to share their IP addresses.


It is also a straightforward approach because it only requires the addition of a few codes to the ".htaccess" file. However, this method requires you to back up your website just in case the process doesn't go as smoothly as expected.


Impose Responsibilities on Your Website Security Management Team

website security team

Whether your small business handles customers' credit card information or not, credit card information is not the only customer confidential information. Some customers can also demand that personal information such as location be kept confidential when using your website. Thus, the onus of ensuring this remains confidential is on you.


Securing your business's data and information shouldn't be your responsibility alone. Your cybersecurity team should also be able to ensure maximum security for your business's website. Your team also needs to understand your website threats, their potential vulnerabilities, and their role in taking on responsibilities if any breach occurs.


A practical approach to this involves educating your employees from time to time. To be successful, you must create a team that must communicate with one another about what they're doing and why. This includes maintaining a public record of these efforts and having regular meetings to discuss their progress and next steps.


But even more importantly, this team should clearly understand the consequences of not following through on their responsibilities. That way, you can fill the cybersecurity skills gap as the security management task will not rely on you alone but the security management team. Even though this process takes time and work, the result is worth the effort.


Update Themes and Security Plugins Regularly

update themes

You might be wondering why there's a need to update your website's themes and security plugins once you've downloaded and installed them. Yes, it's a very crucial practice when it comes to ensuring maximum security for your website.


Hackers lurk around your website’s security plugin codes, looking for loopholes to access your website. According to WP Beginners statistics, 83% of WordPress websites affected by cyber threats do not upgrade their security plugins.


An outdated security plugin or theme is vulnerable and is one of the routes hackers can use to penetrate your business website.


So, as part of the website's provider’s security measures like WordPress, they correct any noticeable vulnerabilities in their security plugin (known as patching). Then a new version of the theme or plugin is quickly released.


When you refuse to update your security plugins, you leave your website vulnerable to hackers' attacks.


Another importance of regularly updating your plugins is that an outdated security plugin or theme can make your website respond slowly. So, since ensuring a satisfying user experience for your online customers is your top website goal, there is no doubt that updating your software and plugins at all times is inevitable.


Besides this, search engines like Google won't rank a website that loads slowly. That's because, regardless of how valuable your website's content is, Google will overlook a website with incompatible or outdated plugins. This will significantly affect how profitable your website will be for your business.


Another best practice for plugin updates is deactivating plugins that are not in use. This prevents them from running any longer, preventing your application from being susceptible to vulnerabilities and exploits.


Here’s a list of relevant WordPress website security plugins:


  • Sucuri Security 
  • iThemes Security
  • Wordfence Security
  • All In One WP Security & Firewall
  • BulletProof Security
  • Patchstack

To ensure you're taking advantage of all available security features, you must keep up-to-date with the latest patches for each plugin.


Getting to know when your website's software is outdated is not tricky. Updating the themes or security plugins is not a tedious job either.


Your website provider constantly notifies you via email whenever a new version is released. Suppose a particular plugin has been patched recently by WordPress.


In that case, we recommend restarting the server so that it can apply those patches automatically when started again (this is called "rolling back" a patch). You can also download new versions manually if needed.


Getting notified of a new update multiple times a week can sometimes be overwhelming. But when you look at the benefits, it's worth more than the stress.


Opt for a Trusted Web Hosting Provider

secure web hosting

A web hosting server is a resource rented online to house the website's data and files so that they can be accessible to the public via the internet. This space is what’s needed for a website to function effectively. While the website’s data and files may contain customers’ personal information, the web hosting service provider is responsible for the data’s security.


The cost of not securing your business’s information is more than just the cost of a new website. When leaked customers’ information is traced to your website, it can cost you customers, a bad brand reputation, and potential lawsuits. When your customers’ information is not secured, what is left of your brand?


This implies that a trusted hosting provider is integral to running a secured website.
But before we delve into the things to consider before deciding on which hosting provider you can trust, let's look into the common types of web hosting plans available, and their relationship with website security:


Shared Hosting


Shared hosting is a web hosting plan that allows many website owners to share a single server's resources. These resources include the website's needed memory and processing power. This means that several website users can share the same server at once.


The Shared hosting plan is advantageous because it is very cheap compared to other service plans. But it’s only ideal for blogs and businesses that do not require a high-end security server. That is businesses that do not require their customers to share credit card details or transact strictly confidential information across the website. That’s because security resources are also shared.


Dedicated Hosting


As the name suggests, a dedicated web hosting server is dedicated for use by only one website user. Each website user owns its server resources. Security is strictly monitored on this server.


The dedicated server is the most expensive compared to the other web hosting service options. It’s most suitable for large and e-commerce companies because each owns its website server.


VPS {Virtual Private Server)


As the name implies, a VPS is a central server divided into multiple virtual servers—each able to host a website privately. The number of websites allowed by VPS on one server is low compared to shared web hosting.


Websites on VPS are given their own private resources even though they need to share more advanced resources. Its private resource system implies that the resources of each of them will be large enough not to affect one another during operation. Here, security is also on the high-end, better than shared hosting but a bit less than dedicated hosting.


Seven Key Factors to Consider Before Choosing A Web Hosting Service Provider

secured web hosting factors

While there are many web hosting plan providers claiming to offer your website everything it needs, it can be challenging to find one that is reliable and trustworthy. It requires a lot of research and understanding of the company's offerings. While some businesses do not require an extreme need for high-end security, others do.


To make it easier for you, we have compiled a list of things to consider before choosing a web hosting service provider:


Better Security


A trusted web hosting provider should always be able to provide security for your website. A trusted web hosting provider is responsible for assuring you that your customers’ data and information are secured without you having to worry about a data breach. Here’s one way your web hosting provider secures your website’s data:


Your website should have the HTTPS seal when you click on the web address search box. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. The purpose of the HTTPS seal is to ensure that all the information that goes through the website gets encrypted, which makes it impossible for hackers to steal information from your website.


On the contrary, if you visit your website and get a prompt message that reads, "Your connection to this page is not secure." This means that any information you type into that site is at risk. And with that, your hosting provider isn't responsible for that.


A trusted web hosting provider should be able to notify you immediately if your HTTPS seal is withdrawn or tampered with.


Frequent Website Backups


Another benefit of a trusted web hosting provider is that it frequently backs up your website's data. You can accidentally delete essential files while trying to resolve or update problems while protecting your website against hackers. Website backups let you recover files.


A trusted web hosting server backs up everything, and the changes made on your website go more smoothly when the site is backed up often. Website backup not only helps you to save your files regularly but also records your website's progress.


Better Support


A trusted web hosting server should also be able to give adequate support when needed. Sometimes you wouldn't be able to get things done on your own. For instance, your website goes down due to an interruption in your server's response. A good web hosting service provider should be able to give you quick and practical support.


Better Website Load Time


A good web host helps you achieve faster load times. It doesn't matter if your website is designed by a great website designer who has an excellent eye for attractive designs. A poor server that hosts your website can increase its loading time. An increased loading time will increase your bounce rate, of course.


Business/website Growth


Chances are that your website will want to welcome more website visitors as your company grows, as this may alter the rate at which your current web hosting plan delivers. So, you'll need a web host that can accommodate the increase in website visitors in the future by switching to a more accommodating schedule.


Some web hosts only allow you to switch within a specified package. So you'll need to do proper research to know if your web hosting provider will allow you to choose plans that match your objectives in the near future.


Set Up/update an SSL Certificate


An SSL Certificate is an acronym for a Secure Sockets Layer Certificate. It is a security measure that allows website visitors to access the site securely by creating an encrypted link between a web server and a web browser.


An SSL Certificate protects internet connections and stops cyber thieves from accessing or changing data sent between two computers, making this information impossible to read or translate.


These critical pieces of data, which are encrypted, include things like names, addresses, credit card numbers, and other financial information. A padlock icon beside the URL in the address bar denotes SSL protection for the website you are currently visiting.


Without an SSL certificate, the only characters that display are the letters: HTTP, i.e., the S for Secure will not display. The URL address bar will not show the padlock icon. Visitors' information on the website is at risk of theft, and not only that; cybercriminals can clone your website.


As a business owner, you need to add SSL certificates to your websites to secure your customers' online transactions and keep their information private and secure. Not only that, but it also gives your site a boost in search engine rankings.


An SSL certificate you buy expires after a certain period. It can only live for a maximum of 27 months. Essentially, this implies that if you renew your SSL certificate with time left on your old one, you can carry over up to three months in addition to the two years.


Because information must be frequently re-validated to ensure accuracy, SSL certificates expire just like any other type of authentication. Things change as businesses and websites are purchased and sold on the internet.


Information about SSL certificates is transferred along with them. In order to make sure that the data used to authenticate servers and organizations is as current and accurate as possible, the expiry period was created.


A website's security is compromised when an SSL certificate expires. Visitors will be warned if the SSL certificate expires: "This website is not secure." Owners of websites will experience a significant impact on bounce rates as a result of users leaving the homepage quickly and visiting other pages.


An expired SSL will drastically reduce your customer's trust in your website and your business. This explains why you need to update your SSL Certificate before it expires. You can prevent this by setting up a reminder to remind you at least a few months before the expiration date.


The SSL Certificate also helps to affirm your identity during this period, as your information entered during the certificate purchase remains intact.


Configure And Update Your Web Application Firewall

secured firewall

While top companies are prone to complex cyber attacks, small businesses are also the criminals' targets. Complex cyber-attacks, which range from cookie poisoning to malware attacks, may need sophisticated defense mechanisms to prevent malicious attacks. This is where web application firewalls come in.


Web Application Firewalls, or WAFs, are very effective in securing web servers by monitoring the traffic between the internet and the web application. It filters or blocks traffic based on set rules or policies. But because WAFs don't combat all types of cyber attacks, they work best when used with other security software.


WAFs are most useful for businesses that share confidential information between customers online, provide online financial services, or companies that sell online commercial products. So, if that’s your business, regardless of the size, a WAF is indispensable to your business website.


Not only will your customers' identities remain safe with you, but a web application firewall will also notify you whenever any malicious attack is about to occur.
However, there are many types of WAFs, each with its own security features and defense mechanisms.


To maximize the use of your Web Application Firewall, ensure that it aligns with your website application security objectives.


Before implementing your WAF, you'll also need to test and evaluate the security resources you already have. And finally, you'll provide the human skills required to carry out the process or determine if your current security team can handle it.


In addition to protecting against all types of malicious attacks, many people find that their existing firewalls aren't up to date enough regarding maintenance. So, regularly updating them has become more critical than ever!


Regular Website Maintenance

website maintenance

One of the ways to observe website routine maintenance is by checking website uptime and performance. Website uptime and performance are two of the most critical factors regarding website security.


There are many ways to keep an eye on your site and test it for any vulnerabilities. One way is to use a service like SiteLock, which will monitor your site for viruses, malware, and other threats.


Another way is to use an uptime service like Pingdom or UptimeRobot, which will monitor your site's availability by periodically pinging it from different locations worldwide. These services can also notify you when your server goes offline or has downtime - so you can take action before customers start complaining about not being able to access your website.


Also, if your site is slow, that means you're not getting any customers in the door.


Why Website Routine Maintenance?


There are more reasons why routine website maintenance is essential. The first is that it can help ensure your site complies with the latest web standards, making it easier for search engines to index and rank your site. Also, it enables you to keep track of any changes that need to be made to the site and ensures that all content on the site is relevant and up-to-date.


Most importantly, it’s worth noting that website maintenance tasks are not always about doing things for the site; sometimes, they're also about doing some things for you. For example, it helps to prevent malware from getting onto your site, which could cause various problems.


To ensure your site remains compliant with the latest web standards, you might need to do a regular content audit by ensuring all of your latest blog rules are up to date.
Below are some of the best practices you can follow to minimize the chance of being compromised.


  • Keep up with regular updates. As soon as new vulnerabilities are discovered in software or operating systems, you should update them as quickly as possible. This is especially important regarding web applications that handle sensitive data like credit card numbers or social security numbers (SSNs). 
  • You should immediately install updates after they're released by software vendors so that hackers have no time to exploit them before patches are available for download from their sites. The same goes for updates on operating system releases. Suppose Microsoft releases one every four months instead of annually. In that case, each release needs an update deployed at the start of each new cycle, so users aren't left vulnerable until enough time has passed since last year's release date.
  • Don't rely solely on automatic updates; manually check them once every few months so that you know how far behind your system might currently be compared with its peers' versions.
  • Ensure all employees understand what happens during an attack—and what steps must be taken afterward.
  • Do not let anyone into any account without verifying their credentials (email address plus password). And while you are calling them on the phone to confirm their address, set up a system that allows you to reference their names, employee numbers, and department before allowing access to their new account—especially those with administrative privileges.
    Do not allow users to use the same password for their work and personal accounts. If hackers compromise one, they'll likely be able to use it for the other.

Turn Off Directory Indexing and Browsing

turn off certain browsing features

Directory indexing and browsing are two web features that can be used to boost your website's performance. It is a technique used to crawl through the web and find content.


With directory indexing, search engines can find your site without you having to submit it manually. Also, visitors can read the website's content clearly when websites load slowly due to poor internet connection, and direct indexing is turned on.


However, many people misuse these features and end up hurting other people’s websites. Attackers now exploit directory browsing and indexing of a website to view the list of files stored within a directory through a web browser. This can help them identify your site's vulnerable scripts or configuration files.


It can also help them identify any sensitive information that's shared publicly, such as usernames and passwords. Directory indexing can cause severe issues for your website because it allows people who are not authorized access to sensitive areas of your site, like wp-admin. While directory indexing can negatively affect your website, it is important not to panic and take quick action.


  1. Here’s how to disable directory indexing using the Apache web server.
    Go to the public_html directory under your web host file manager, using an FTP/web host file manager.
  2. Create a file and name it “.htaccess.” … Most of the time, you already have the “.htaccess” file on your web host server.
  3. You’re only going to write a short line of code, which is: “Options-Indexes” (quotations not included).

The directory indexing and browsing will print out “error 403 pages”. This is what it will always print out for users that want to browse your directory index on your website.
That way, you'll be able to change the behavior of the Apache web host file manager, and hackers won’t be able to read essential files from your website pages anymore.


If you don't, your site may be vulnerable to attack by malicious users who have access to your server.


Back-Up Your Site

back up your site regularly

Backing up your WordPress site is one of the most critical best practices for your website’s security. It protects against accidents, data loss, and other problems that can occur with a website. Sometimes the unpredictable may happen with your site. You'll want to be able to restore backups in case this happens.


Backing up your site is essential for many reasons. Not only will it help you protect the content on your website, but it can also be used as an extra layer of security if something goes wrong with your hosting.


Backups are helpful if you change hosting providers. If you decide to move your site from one hosting provider to another, backing up all of the files on the old server before deleting them can prevent lost data and headaches when restoring from backup.


If your website doesn't have a backup, you need to know that you can lose all the content on your website.


Backups are easy to set up and don't cost much. It takes a little time on Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS), or other backup services' websites, then downloading the software needed for each service onto whatever device you choose.


Once set up, backups will keep track of all changes made on the server over time in case something goes wrong with their servers, or they get hacked again. They'll still have access to all those files in case they need them later down the road.


Restoring from a backup is time-consuming, so make sure you schedule this task when you're not busy with other things and ensure there won't be any interruptions during restoring from the backup.


Also, it can be difficult because sometimes files get corrupted during transfers between servers and databases.


You can restore your backups quickly with BackupWordPress + Dropbox. It makes it easy to back up your site and fix it if you have problems or need to go back in time for any reason.


Dropbox is a cloud storage service that allows users to store files in the cloud, accessible from anywhere on any device (using the internet).


This means you don't need a computer or server of your own—you can use someone else's if they have one available!


Automate Your Security Backups


In the world of IT, automation is becoming a popular and life-saving tool. This is because humans are getting more consumed with essential responsibilities, while simple tasks are delegated to intelligent machines. Website security management responsibilities are also not left out, as data breaches and other cyber-attacks are becoming more common.


In support of this, there are multiple ways you can automate your security backups to ensure your website is always protected. For example, you could use an online backup service like Backblaze or Carbonite. These services can automatically back up all of your data so that it's stored in the cloud and not on your computer or hard drive. This means that even if someone gets access to your computer, they won't be able to steal any of your data because your files are in an encrypted format.


Also, automated security backups are error-free and do not require human intervention. Furthermore, backups made in the cloud can be restored quickly within a short period.
Examples of automatic backup software for WordPress websites include:


  • UpdraftPlus
  • VaultPress (Jetpack Backup)
  • BlogVault
  • BoldGrid Backup
  • BackWPup
  • Duplicator
  • BackupBuddy
    (Source: WP-Beginner)

How To Use Website Security Best Practices To Keep Your Online Assets Safe

why you need website security for protection

Owning a business website is not enough. You need to make sure that your business information and assets are secure. That's why it's so important to do everything you can to prevent your business website from malicious attacks and safeguard your business reputation at all times.