You may have heard about and even performed a full WordPress security audit for your website. It wasn’t a process you enjoyed, but you did it out of necessity to keep malicious hackers out. When was the last time you executed a WordPress security audit?
Unfortunately, taking care of your WordPress website security just once is not enough. Malicious hackers are constantly on the rise. The good news is that the preventative measures and security tools at your disposal have evolved with the threats.
A complete WordPress security audit is the best way to determine which security measures have been influential on your site and which have yet to be effective. This process should be done every three months to reduce the chances of a hacker gaining unauthorized access to your site.
Bookmark this guide because here you will learn all the steps for a successful WordPress security audit of your website.
What is a WordPress security audit?
In a nutshell, a WordPress security audit reviews your website’s security measures. By conducting a WordPress security audit, you can identify the additional security measures you need to implement to ensure your website is fully secured and protected.
Performing a full security audit involves a whole series of steps that can overwhelm you if you don’t follow a specific process and have your checklist ready.
Even if you have conducted a security audit in the past, this guide is designed to help you set up a process that you can repeat every three months. In a perfect world, you would conduct a safety review every day. But if you don’t have that kind of time, a review every three months is an excellent place to start.
Why run a WordPress security audit?
With so many threats to your website, making your WordPress website as secure as possible is essential. You can’t protect your website from every possible issue, but you can ensure you’re prepared for the most common threats by performing a WordPress security audit. Performing a WordPress security audit of your website will help you prepare for and prevent successful attacks on your website.
At some point, almost every website powered by WordPress will face security issues. For example, themes and plugins can have vulnerabilities that hackers can manipulate to gain access to your site maliciously.
Once inside, they can display unauthorized ads and content, redirect your website traffic to another website, rip off your customers, or even steal personal data. These scenarios are just the beginning of what a hacker can do when they access the backend of your website.
Performing a full WordPress security audit will help you spot these types of issues right away so you can close any security holes on your site.
How to perform a WordPress security audit: 14 questions to answer
To keep things as simple as possible, here are the numbered steps you should take each time you run a full security audit of your site.
1. Is all the software on your website up to date?
When doing a WordPress security audit, a simple but critical check is whether your site’s software is up to date. Does your website have any pending plugins, themes, or WordPress updates? That includes all plugins, themes, and WordPress itself.
Especially with WordPress, version updates often include security fixes and improvements. If you’re using older versions, security vulnerabilities are usually known and can be exploited. That’s why keeping everything on your WordPress website up to date is so important.
2. Who has access to your website as an administrator?
WordPress allows multiple users to participate and collaborate in the maintenance and development of the website. But not all of your users need full administrative access to your website. Limiting access will limit security issues for users. Know the proper user role for each user – not everyone will need full access.
Know the proper user role for each user – not everyone will need full access. Restricting access limits security issues for users.
A good example is an author. He only needs access that allows him to write and publish content. However, they don’t need access that allows them to make other changes to the site, such as updating themes or installing plugins.
To help you properly categorize your site’s users, WordPress provides six different user roles you can assign to each user.
- Super Administrator
Note that each of these roles has its site permissions.
When performing a WordPress security audit, you should first analyze all the users you have added to the backend of your website.
- How many users have full administrator access?
- How many users need administrator access?
- Can you limit access to the site by giving lower permissions to those who don’t need admin access?
Do you know all the users who have access to the dashboard? If not, delete the users you don’t know, as they could be fraudulent accounts created by hackers on your site.
Next, make sure that a person who is an administrator of a website does not use the name, Admin. That is the most common WordPress username hackers use to gain unauthorized access to the site. If someone has an admin account, you first need to create a new account for that person and assign the existing content to the new user account.
After that, delete the account named Admin.
3. Are you using two-factor authentication?
Two-factor authentication in WordPress is one of the best ways to secure login access to your website. Two-factor authentication requires users to use an authentication token in addition to their username and password to log in to WordPress. Even if a correct username and password are spoofed directly from a user’s email, the malicious login attempt can be prevented if the user uses the mobile app to obtain their authentication token. Two-factor authentication adds a solid layer of security to your WordPress website.
4. Do you have a backup solution for your WordPress website?
If something goes wrong during a security audit, you’ll be glad you have a complete backup of your website that you can use immediately. You can quickly restore your website and resume normal operations if something goes wrong.
But have you ever thought about what you would do if even your backup failed? What would you do if you couldn’t restore your website at all?
That’s why it’s essential not only to have a backup solution but also to test it. If you only use a tool from your host to back up your website, you can only test it in a few cases.
Instead, download and install the WordPress backup plugin called BackupBuddy. This plugin automatically creates full backups of your entire site.
Remember that the first backup of your website may take a little time as it copies your entire website to a backup server. However, future backups will be much faster as it only backs up the changes you have made to your website since the last backup.
Once you have finished backing up your website with BackupBuddy, you can test how it is restored in the dashboard.
5. Do you have any unused WordPress plugins?
Vulnerable plugins are the weak point for so many different WordPress hacks. Plugins are tools created by developers who maintain and keep them updated. But as with any software, various security vulnerabilities can become a problem over time.
Most plugin developers quickly fix these issues and release an update that users can download and install. The updates are often special security patches that fix a vulnerability on your website.
It’s important to download these updates as soon as they become available.
Most WordPress site owners like to try out new plugins to see what they can do. However, they are often not used permanently, and they must remember that they were installed. During your WordPress security audit, look at the list of installed plugins on your site.
Take some time to delete the plugins you don’t use. This way, you will remove all the unnecessary elements from your website and reduce the risk of a hacker getting in.
Ensure that all the plugins you use are familiar to you and that you recognize them. If you don’t recognize a plugin and are sure your team didn’t install it, you should remove it immediately. It could contain malware that infects your website.
Hackers often use pirated software to spread malicious malware.
6. Do you have new WordPress themes?
As a WordPress website owner, you often install many different themes to find the one you want to keep the most. However, if you forget to delete the themes you don’t use, you have opened your website to dangerous vulnerabilities.
Warning: Remember to delete themes and plugins that you don’t use. New themes and plugins make your website vulnerable to dangerous attacks.
For this reason, it is essential to delete all unused themes and keep only the theme that is currently running. Also, make sure that your theme is updated to the latest version.
7. Do you have inactive users on your website?
Like outdated plugins and themes on your website, inactive users can also be exploited to attack your website. Do you have a support staff on your website for which you have created a user? Then delete this user. If this person is inactive on your website, they don’t need a user account.
8. What does your web host do to secure your website?
Thanks to shared hosting technology, more people today than ever before can create their websites with minimal investment. These shared hosting plans are very inexpensive and mostly tailored to small websites.
When you first launched your WordPress website, you probably opted for one of these shared hosting plans. But as your website has grown, so have your hosting needs.
TIP: Review your hosting needs regularly or whenever you significantly change your business.
Shared hosting means that you share a server with many other websites. You have no control over what these other websites share your server do. If one of their websites gets hacked, it will consume many server resources.
This problem will slow your website’s performance to a standstill.
A malware infection from another website running on your shared server may spread to your website. In other words: If you can afford to upgrade to a dedicated server, it’s probably time to choose a shared server.
9. Do you limit login attempts?
By default, nothing is built into WordPress to limit the number of failed login attempts a person can make. Without a limit on the number of failed login attempts, an attacker can try a combination of different usernames and passwords repeatedly until they find one that works.
Limiting the number of login attempts reduces the opportunity for brute-force attacks. Brute force attacks refer to the trial-and-error method of figuring out usernames and passwords to hack a website. WordPress does not record user login activity, so there is nothing in WordPress to protect you from a brute-force attack.
10. Is your website HTTPS?
You can quickly determine if the website you are visiting has an SSL certificate by checking your browser’s address bar to see if the URL starts with HTTP or HTTPS. If the URL starts with HTTPS, you can be sure you are browsing a website that uses SSL.
The security benefits of having an SSL certificate on your website are so great that it is a must for any website. However, to encourage everyone to protect their website visitors, web browsers and search engines have created negative incentives to encourage everyone to use SSL.
11. Which users have FTP/sFTP access to your website?
FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is a technology that allows you to connect your local workstation to your website’s server. That allows you to access all the folders and files on your website and make the necessary changes.
Since FTP access allows users to delete and modify website files, you should only grant FTP access to people you trust and who need this type of website access.
- It is best to check your list of users and reset the FTP passwords if necessary.
- To change the passwords, navigate to your WordPress hosting account and cPanel > FTP Accounts.
- Remember to delete all users who do not need FTP access to your website files.
12. Are you monitoring security activity?
Monitoring security activity on your WordPress website is a great way to track suspicious activity on your site. That is where WordPress security logs come into play. WordPress security logs provide detailed data and insights into the activities on your WordPress website. If you know what to look for in your logs, you can quickly identify and stop malicious behavior on your website.
WordPress security logs have several benefits for your overall security strategy. If your site gets hacked, you want the best information for quick investigation and recovery.
1. Identify and stop malicious behavior.
2. detect activity that may alert you to a breach.
3. assessing how much damage has been done.
4. assisting in the repair of a hacked website.
Here are a few activities you need to monitor with WordPress security logs:
- WordPress Brute Force Attacks: You must monitor your login security to protect your WordPress website. You need to record the username and IP address that tries to log in and whether the login was successful. If you see that a single username or IP address has multiple failed login attempts in a row, there is a good chance that you are subject to a brute-force attack. Fortunately, a brute force attack could be more sophisticated and easily identified in your logs.
- File changes: Even if you follow WordPress security best practices, there is still a chance that your site could be compromised. A compromise means that the website has undergone malicious changes. That’s why keeping track of your site’s file changes is vital by recording them in your WordPress security logs. File change records include added and removed files and changes to existing files. Please review the changes in your security logs now that you have recorded them.
- Malware scans: Not only should you run WordPress malware scans, but you should also record the results of each malware scan in your WordPress security logs. Some security logs only record scan results that detect malware, but more is needed. It would be best if you were notified of a breach on your website as soon as possible. The longer it takes for you to learn about a hack, the more damage it will do. It would be best if you were notified of an attack on your website as soon as possible. The longer it takes for you to learn of a hack, the greater the damage.
- User Activity: Recording user activity in your WordPress security logs can be your salvation after a successful attack. If you monitor proper user activity, you can track the timeline of a hack and show everything the hacker changed, from adding new users to inserting unwanted pharma ads on your site.
13. Do you implement these WordPress hardening measures?
The WordPress platform provides special hardening measures to protect your website from malicious hacks.
These measures include:
- Disabling plugin installation
- Resetting WordPress salts and keys
- Disable the file editor in themes and plugins
- Enforce strong passwords
- Implement 2FA (two-factor authorization)
- Limit login attempts
During the security audit, verifying that this list of measures has been fully implemented is vital. For example, if you are using a plugin that limits user login attempts and provides 2FA, you should verify that the plugin is still working and up to date.
14. Do you use a WordPress security plugin?
Although many different security plugins are on the market, some are more effective than others. If you’re not using a WordPress security plugin, it’s time to download and install one. An effective security plugin will go a long way in protecting your site from bots and hackers.
Take a look at this list of features that a good security plugin must have:
- Malware scanning: Skilled hackers are constantly on the lookout for vulnerable plugins. It is essential to use a security plugin that performs daily scans of your website, thoroughly checking and scanning every folder and file, including the database.
- Offsite scans: Running a security scan consumes a lot of resources. Look for a security plugin that uses its servers when scanning your site. If the plugin you are using is using your server, each scan can overload your WordPress website and bring it to a halt.
- Login protection: Hackers often try to attack your WP login page and try thousands of username and password combinations to gain unauthorized access to your site. That is called a brute force attack, and the security plugin you use must either block these attacks or hide your login page.
- Real-time security alerts: Whenever there is suspicious or malicious activity on your WordPress website, your security plugin must detect it and notify you immediately. This way, you can quickly take action to prevent the damage.
- Security Activity Log: An audit log records the activity of each user on your site, including who logged in, details of repeated failed login attempts, and what function a user performed on your site. An activity log is helpful if you want to find out how your site was broken into or what updates were used that caused the site to malfunction.
Routine WordPress security audits are significant
We’ve covered the top tasks for security audits that you should perform regularly. Even if you use a security plugin, you should review this checklist every three months.
Why not add a recurring reminder to your calendar right now?
While a full audit can be lengthy, the time and headaches saved by preventing a hack are more than worth the effort. We hope this guide has helped you develop a process that you can repeat to stay up to date with WordPress security audits. This process will go a long way in eliminating the threats a hacker can bring to your site.
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