As the world’s most popular CMS, WordPress enables thousands of website designers, developers, and business owners to build and run their websites. It owes its popularity to its ease of use, its features, and a thriving ecosystem of plugin and theme developers, and the WordPress community. However, there’s a flip side. This popularity is why hackers target WordPress sites to launch various and common WordPress attacks. What exactly is a WordPress attack, and which are the most common types of attacks hackers use? Let us discuss them in detail.
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What is a WordPress Attack?
While there are many ways of attacking WordPress websites, any attempt that takes advantage of security weaknesses or vulnerabilities in WordPress sites can be termed a WordPress attack. Does this mean that WordPress is inherently insecure or prone to attacks? Not at all. WordPress in and by itself is secure. WordPress sites have vulnerabilities because website owners often fail to follow recommended security guidelines for their sites.
So, how do hackers attack WordPress websites? Here are 5 of the most common attacks that hackers unleash on WordPress sites around the world.
5 Most Common WordPress Attacks – and How to Avoid Them?
While hackers have devised new and innovative ways of putting WordPress sites under attack, here are 5 most common types of WordPress attacks:
- Brute force attacks
- SQL injections
- Vulnerable plugins and themes
- Phishing and Data thefts
- Cross-site scripting (XSS)
Let us discuss each of these five attacks in detail – along with how you can avoid them.
Brute Force Attacks
This is probably the simplest WordPress malware attack where hackers target your WordPress login page. Brute force attacks utilize automated bots that repeatedly try to guess the credentials to gain access to user accounts, particularly those with admin rights. Once hackers break into an admin user account, they can take complete control of your entire website and inflict maximum damage.
Most users make it easier for hackers to break in by using weak usernames like “user123” or “admin” or weak passwords like “password” or “123456” that are easy to guess for hackers.
How to avoid brute force attacks
Here are a few measures you can take to protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks:
- Change your default WordPress administrator username from “admin” to something more unique.
- Make strong passwords mandatory for all users. A strong password must be at least 10 characters long and should have a mix of alphabets, numbers, and special characters (@,$, _).
- Limit the number of login attempts on any account to a maximum of three.
- Deploy Two-Factor authentication (or 2FA) that involves a 2-step login process for all user accounts.
- Change your user passwords at regular intervals.
This WordPress attack is directed at your WordPress database using malicious SQL commands. Look at any WordPress website, and it is sure to contain user input fields like online forms, comments section, or search bars. Some websites also allow you to input images or documents.
Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in these input fields through SQL injections to inject their queries or SQL statements. Through them, they can take control of your WordPress database and then corrupt or steal valuable database records.
How to avoid SQL injection WordPress attack
Here’s what you can do to protect your WordPress site from SQL injection attacks:
- As successful SQL injections are facilitated through insecure plugins/themes, make sure you install them only from trusted developers or companies.
- Always keep your installed plugins/themes updated to their latest versions.
- Validate every user entry into online forms or comments to make sure they do not contain any suspicious entries.
- Change your WordPress database’s default name or location, making it difficult for hackers to break into them.
Vulnerable Plugins and Themes
WordPress plugins and themes offer a convenient way to add functionalities to make a user-friendly WordPress site or design a website with the look and feel of your choice. However, insecure plugins/themes can prove harmful to WordPress sites as hackers take advantage of their vulnerabilities to break into sites. With websites containing hundreds of plugins/themes, hackers can use these vulnerabilities to target all websites using the same plugin/theme version.
To prevent this, developers of the most popular plugins/themes fix any security-related bugs and release updated versions to plug any security gaps.
How to avoid vulnerable plugins and themes
Here are a few measures you can take to enable WordPress attack protection against vulnerable plugins/themes:
- Install your WordPress plugins/themes only from trusted sources or developers.
- Update all your installed plugins/themes to their latest available version.
- Remove any inactive or abandoned plugins/themes that their development team has not recently updated.
- Avoid using nulled or pirated plugins and themes, which often contain malware code to infect your website.
- Restrict the number of installed plugins/themes on your WordPress site and uninstall those you no longer use. Besides the security risk, too many plugins can also impact your website speed.
Phishing and Data Thefts
As mentioned earlier, hackers do not just want to damage your WordPress site but also look to steal valuable data such as customer records and financial information from your business. Hackers try to pose as “genuine” users and dupe unsuspecting users to part with important details such as login credentials or credit card details.
This is what makes phishing a severely damaging type of WordPress attack. Using phishing, hackers can break into any business website and send emails to their customer base. Unsuspecting customers are then driven to click links that redirect them to unsolicited websites selling fake or illegal products. Or, they are tricked into revealing their personal information or making payments.
How to avoid phishing and data thefts
Here are a few measures you can take to prevent phishing and data thefts on your WordPress site:
- Secure your WordPress site by making it HTTPS enabled using an SSL certificate. HTTPS websites encrypt all the data transmitted between the website and the user’s browser, so hackers cannot exploit the data even if it is intercepted. Moving your site to HTTPS is also part of a holistic SEO strategy since search engines like Google favor HTTPS sites for the security of their users.
- Install a WordPress security plugin like MalCare or Sucuri that can detect any suspicious activity on your website and remove malware.
- Install a website firewall to secure your website by detecting and blocking IP requests from suspicious sources.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
XSS attacks are far more dangerous than other attacks as they can target admin users and gain the authority to perform high-privilege tasks. This includes viewing or changing user passwords, tracking payment information, or viewing confidential database records. XSS attacks also use phishing techniques like targeting email newsletter subscriptions or online forums to target unsuspecting users.
How to avoid Cross-Site Scripting attack
Here are a few ways you can prevent Cross-Site Scripting or XSS attacks:
- Filter every user input into your WordPress website and allow only valid inputs.
- Use whitelisting techniques like allowing only predetermined characters in input fields.
- Develop a complete content security policy for your website.
- Install a WordPress XSS plugin or a security plugin like MalCare or Sucuri, which can prevent all types of code injections.
We have looked at five of the most common WordPress attacks deployed by hackers – and how you can prevent them. However, it’s important to remember that hackers do not restrict themselves to these attacks. They are constantly devising new ways of compromising websites. The best way to ensure ongoing protection for your site is to use a dedicated WordPress security plugin that can detect the latest and as yet, lesser-known WordPress attacks. Security plugins like MalCare are developed exclusively for WordPress and combine multiple security measures like a firewall, login protection, plugin and theme updates, WordPress hardening, etc. with malware removal and scanning so you can secure your website in a few clicks.