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WordPress is getting more popular as a platform for creating e-commerce stores. Because of this, WordPress sites have become attractive targets for hackers to try and break into. There are a few reasons why hackers do this but the main motive has always been for profit. In this article, we will discuss how hackers take advantage of a WordPress site with poor security. You’ll also learn what should be done before a site update and other means to keep your site safe.
How Does a Hacker Take Advantage of a Compromised WordPress Site?
A lot can be done to a hacked WordPress site. It is not just getting sensitive information. Actually, getting sensitive information like credit card numbers is just a “bonus”. It’s not really your website that the hackers want. What they want more is the power of your server resources: computing power, disk space, and anonymity on the internet. So how can they use your server to their advantage? Here are some ways:
Bitcoin mining is the process of adding transaction records to the Bitcoin’s public ledger. One offers processing power to the public Bitcoin community to validate transactions. He gets a portion of the money being transacted as processing fee. Bitcoin mining is intentionally resource and processing intensive so that the number of blocks found each day by miners remains steady. This is where the hackers can take advantage. They will use your server to mine for themselves, hence noticeably slowing down your site.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
This attack is an attempt to crash one’s server. It spams that server with thousands of traffic simultaneously, thus denying service for other users. This is commonly used for cheating in online gaming, online gambling, and in taking down a site. Since you can’t overwhelm a server with traffic using a single PC, the likely scenario is that the attacker will have thousands of hacked servers and personal computers to perform an attack. All they need is a single PHP script saved on each site which they can activate at will.
Anonymous Attacks and Spam
Hackers can also use your server to attack or spam anyone anonymously. Since they are using your servers to do these malicious things, these will point to your name and not theirs. They can be churning thousands of spam emails to other people at your expense. They can send viruses and malware through these emails to infect more PCs to aid their hacking.
Hackers can also just mine sensitive information like credit card numbers, passwords, emails and others.
Most attacks are automated and target small and unsecure sites. This works similar to how a search engine uses search engine crawlers to index information on the web. The hacker’s crawlers roam around the web to find exploitable sites. When a vulnerability is spotted, the hackers will attack that vulnerable point. Attacks vary from brute force attacks to code injection on contact forms.
Importance of Updating WordPress for Security
The people behind WordPress are working hard to increase security against these attacks. This is what most of the minor updates are for. As the attacks get smarter, the security needs to upgrade as well. Fundamentally, there is no such thing as a perfectly secure system. So whenever WordPress developers see or hear about a possible vulnerability, they will try to fix it as fast as possible.
This is why WordPress updates are very important. By keeping your WordPress core updated, you are protecting yourself from the latest known vulnerabilities.
Things to Do Before Updating
Most of the time, updating WordPress is harmless. However, some major updates that involve the core code may break some plugins or theme files which in turn can break some layout or functionality on your site. That’s why it is important to follow a process before pushing through with an update to avoid breaking your site.
Create a Backup
Creating a backup is the best thing that you can do before pushing through with an update. Backups are your last line of defense in case something goes wrong. If you think it is a hassle, you can actually automate backup creation. There are even hosts that automatically do this for you. However, it is best to have your own backup and not depend on your host to make your backups for you.
Testing on a Staging Site
A staging site is an independent copy of your site. Most hosting sites offer an easy way to make them but you can always create your own. Staging sites are used to ensure that everything works perfectly before you present your site to your customers. This is very important especially for e-commerce sites. You can lose your customers’ trust if you let them experience downtime and bugs.
Other Things to Help You Secure Your Site
Aside from the updates, there are a lot of things you can do to harden the security of your site. Here are some examples:
Installing a WP Security Plugin
Like creating a backup, installing a WP Security plugin is one of the best things that you can do. Sucuri Security plugin is highly recommended. Basically Sucuri will act as a firewall for your site. It will protect your website from hackers, malware, DDoS and blacklists. It will receive all the traffic going to your site and filter it before sending it to your host. This allows the plugin to block all the attacks and only send you legitimate traffic. Because the filtering/blocking is happening on the Sucuri servers, your servers are relieved of a lot of load. Sucuri has always been the top go-to plugin when it comes to security.
Password Protect Some Directories
Password protecting /wp-admin directory adds another layer of security to your site aside from the login page. This can be done either manually or using cPanel. This is addressed on sites that have a lot of users accessing the wp-admin; for example large news/blog sites that accept guest authors.
Disabling PHP Execution
Disabling PHP Execution from certain directories protects you from backdoor access file attacks. The attacks come disguised as a WordPress core PHP file and inserted in easy access directories like /wp-includes/ and /wp-content/uploads/. Preventing PHP execution from these directories reduces the risk of backdoor access.
Changing the Prefix of Your Database
The default prefix of a WordPress database is “wp_”. Everything on your database will start with this so changing it will make it difficult for attackers to access your database.
Now that you’re more familiar with how hackers work, you can better equip your site to avoid being a victim. Backup your site and do not skimp on WordPress updates, even the minor ones. Remember that these updates will help you safeguard your WordPress site from the latest known security threats. Updates are one thing but you should also harden your site by implementing the strategies mentioned above.
When was the last time you updated WordPress? Do you have any other security tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.