Let's Perform a WordPress Security Audit
WordPress security audits are a proven way of regularly detecting hidden vulnerabilities in websites before they fall prey to exploitation.
If your cybersecurity strategy revolves around a security audit, be it your WordPress site or any other website, then you’re on the right track. WordPress security audits or pentesting are a proven way of regularly detecting hidden vulnerabilities before they fall prey to exploitation.
The first step of security is to take all the recommended steps of maintaining security, WordPress hardening measures, installed security plugins, and update everything. The second step is conducting a WordPress security audit.
Around 90% of CMS-powered sites attacked by hackers run on the WordPress platform. In May 2021, many WordPress sites fell victim to SQL injection attacks and the personal information of many customers were compromised. As time-consuming as WordPress security audits can be, an important requirement is to repeat them at periodic intervals.
With the progress in security advancements, hackers are also employing the latest tools in their arsenal for attacking your site. The repercussions in case it isn’t conducted makes it a better choice to spend your resources and efforts in regularly conducting these audits.
5 Steps for a Successful WordPress Security Audit
Efficient and regular web security testing detect all security issues before hackers get to them. It also allows you to gain a picture of the existing security posture of your WordPress site and enlist the potential security risks from there as well. Here are some steps that a standard WordPress security audit should include:
1. Recheck your backups
Your backups are your immediate relief against the most compromising WordPress site breach. They ensure that your hard work isn’t destroyed and customer service isn’t let down during and after an attack. This makes it crucial to regularly test your backup and ensure it’s working.
Some host backups don’t offer the option of testing - in this case, download a plugin that allows you to take a backup of the entire site. Plugins like BlogVault should provide the option of testing your backups to check if they restore the site completely.
2. Verify your security plugin
While it’s optional, WordPress security depends on the base strength provided by a security plugin. It’ll protect you from the most common attacks (e.g. brute force) and supervise the site constantly to detect vulnerabilities that could be manipulated. Some plugins monitor all kinds of suspicious activity in real-time, alerting you via email if any is detected.
Other basic features of a good security plugin are:
- Scanning for malware (and clean-up) - Hackers always resort to placing malware on sites they wish to manipulate and use for their purposes. Your plugin should provide both regular and comprehensive scans for all the core files and folders to detect such malware. If it also provides clean-up options, then you’ve made the right choice.
- Firewall - This is another useful feature of good security plugins, providing silent protection and driving away suspicious IP addresses, automated bot requests, etc.
- Scanning offsite - Constant scanning and supervision consume a lot of the server’s resources, which means your site will slow down. To avoid this, the security plugin should be able to use its own servers.
3. Revisit role-baed access levels / User access controls (UAC)
The great part about using WordPress is the ability to bring multiple people on board to contribute ideas and content. However, every contributor has their own work cut out for them and don’t need access to the entire site. Even if it’s easier to provide all-around access, this could be exploited by a hacker to place malware.
The six user roles WordPress provides are - Super Admin, Editor, Author, Administrator, Contributor, and Subscriber. Each has different permissions allotted and it’s your job now to verify accounts given admin access and re-evaluate accordingly. Take this chance to go through the existing admin accounts on your site and remove any that you don’t recognize.
Ensure that all accounts on your site have taken adequate security hardening measures - stronger credentials, two-factor authentication, etc.
4. Plugins, Themes, and Extensions
It often happens that we end up installing themes and/or plugins that we liked or wanted to try out but end up not using at all. This poses its own danger as these plugins remain unused but active and may have coding flaws or misconfigurations that can be misused. Some plugins run out of popularity and their own developers forsake frequent updates or checks for security issues.
Beyond this, you need to recheck the plugins and themes installed, remove any that you don’t recognize, and keep pirated or unverified installations to a minimum.
5. Reconfirm your hosting provider and plan
Most WordPress sites operate on shared hosting since it provides the space and resources they require without being too heavy on the costs. However, as the site grows, there may be a need for an upgrade.
Moreover, shared hosting carries its own risks since your site shares the server and its resources. Another hacked site on the same server could lead to a slow site (at best) or an unexpected malware infection (at worst).
These are a few of the points that one needs to ensure under a WordPress security strategy.
Kanishk Tagade is a B2B Marketer and corporate contributor at many technology magazines and security awareness platforms. Editor-in-Chief at "QuickCyber.news", his work is published in more than 50+ news platforms. He is also a social micro-influencer for the latest cybersecurity defense mechanisms, Digital Transformation, Machine Learning, AI and IoT products.