Talk by Otto Kekäläinen at WordCamp Manchester 2016
## WordPress Security 101 ##
Unfortunately WordPress has reputation of weak security and the web is full of guides and plugins to enhance WordPress security. Unfortunately some advice is misleading or just false sales pitch. Understanding what is truly essential for security and what is irrelevant can be difficult. In this talk I explain, based on my experience of maintaining hundreds of WordPress sites, what I don’t consider relevant and what you don’t need to worry about, and what are the actually important things you need to care for.
● Corrupted orders database: webshop unable to ship anything or
● Leaked customer database: angry customers, lawsuit for neglect of
● Visitors get redirected to shady sites: lost reputation, marketing
budget goes in vain
● Site spreads malware: Google might detect and ban from showing up
in search results
● Site sends spam: could become blacklisted and legit email stops
“BUT MY SITE IS NOT IMPORTANT!”
Your site can be used to mount further attacks!
If you have clearly neglected the maintenance
of your own site, you could be held partly liable
for attacks on other sites.
What is REALLY important
in keeping your WordPress
Example case: Mossack Fonseca aka Panama papers
● The site www.mossfon.com was running WordPress
● Unauthorized access of WP lead to unauthorized access of MS Exchange
email server on internal network and other sites at *.mossfon.com
● The intruders most likely came through an old and insecure version of the
Revolution Slider plugin.
○ Well known vulnerability, WordPress.org even has a patch as a separate plugin
(https://wordpress.org/plugins/patch-for-revolution-slider/) as Revolution Slider itself is not
available at WordPress.org.
Example case: Mossack Fonseca aka Panama papers
● Case analysis at
WP PLUGIN REVIEW GUIDELINES FOR
If the logo is red and
name contains revolution,
don’t install it on your system!
* a small dose of parody can’t hurt?
1. Minimize the attack surface by minimizing the amount of
plugins (and themes) you have
2. For the plugins you really need, make sure you have
updated to latest releases
You will not minimize vulnerabilities
by installing more plugins!
Quickly, install a
DON’T WASTE TIME ON
● removing generator meta or hiding version numbers
● hiding login errors
● changing wp-admin location
● disabling xmlrpc
● removing readme.html or other files
Only for WP geeks who love to research the pros and cons.
For normal users WordPress default settings are secure.
Feels like a lot has been done
when really very little has.
Example: useless readme.html blocking
WordFence was used just as an example. It still the best guy in town.
Many other security plugins are much worse.
..and other WordPress integrity checks trigger
SECURITY PLUGINS ARE NOT THE SOLUTION
Scan results require interpretation. Recommended only for professionals.
The only recommended ones:
WPScan and Google Webmaster Tools
Almost no false positives and no business model based on spreading fear.
IF YOU RUN YOUR OWN SERVER
Also remember to harden and keep updated
● operating system
● web server
● database server
● PHP environment
INSTALL ONLY FROM TRUSTED SOURCES
Avoid random 3rd party repositories that don’t have any maintenance policy.
PROTECTION AGAINST DDOS
What if the problem is not unauthorized access but the
lack of authorized access?
DENIAL OF SERVICE ATTACKS
Detect, withstand and block
● high performance servers and good caching
● detect repeated offenders and block at network level
○ e.g. failtoban + iptables
● detect and block at http level
○ e.g. Nginx rate limiting
● If you are trying to block at PHP/WordPress level, you’ve already lost
DDOS is a constant race of new techniques of attack and defence. Try to find a
good hosting provider that takes care of DDOS at least on the network level.
BACKUP AND RECOVERY
Because some day,
sooner or later,
everything else fails.
BACKUP GUIDELINES 1/2
Make sure your backup system meets these requirements
● automatic: not dependant on human action
● complete: both files and database
● incremental with a history: at least 30 days
● frequent: daily is good
BACKUP GUIDELINES 2/2
● offsite: in case access to the original site is lost
● pull, not push: original site should not have access to the backups,
otherwise an attacker can delete both the original site and all backups
Personal favourite: mysqldump + rdiff-backup over SSH
WORDPRESS SECURITY 101
1. Always follow password hygiene.
2. Use captchas to stall robot users.
3. Use HTTPS (and SFTP and SSH) – never submit passwords in plain
text on any network connection.
4. Remove unnecessary software to reduce attack surface.
5. Keep WordPress plugins and all other software too updated to have
all known vulnerability fixes installed.
6. Install software and update only from trusted sources.
7. Have a good backups system in place.
8. Choose a good service provider and trust them to take care of the