The Ultimate Checklist for WordPress Security [2023]

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As a website owner, it’s crucial to prioritize the security of your WordPress site to protect your data and your visitors’ information.

In this article, I’ll provide you with the ultimate checklist for WordPress security, covering everything from basic security measures to advanced techniques.

Why Is WordPress Security Important?

WordPress Security - WordPress logo with purple tones

WordPress is an open-source platform, meaning its source code is publicly available for anyone to view and modify. While this allows for a large community of developers to contribute to the platform, it also means that hackers can easily identify vulnerabilities and exploit them.

Additionally, many WordPress sites use third-party plugins and themes, which may also have security flaws. This makes it essential for you to take proactive measures to secure your website.

Last week, Wordfence reported 126 vulnerabilities in 102 WordPress Plugins and 2 WordPress themes.

Protect Your Data and Your Visitors’ Information

The most obvious reason for prioritizing WordPress security is to protect your data and your visitors’ information. This includes personal information such as names, email addresses, and credit card details. A data breach can not only damage your reputation but also result in legal consequences and financial losses.

Maintain Website Uptime

A hacked website can lead to downtime, which can be costly for your business. Not only does it affect your website’s traffic and revenue, but it also impacts your search engine rankings. Google and other search engines may flag your site as unsafe, resulting in a decrease in organic traffic.

Below is an example warning from Firefox about an unsafe website.

Firefox warning for security threat on website

Protect Your Website’s Reputation

A hacked website can also damage your website’s reputation. If your site is compromised, hackers can use it to distribute malware, spam, or other malicious content. This can result in your website being blacklisted by search engines and web browsers, making it difficult for visitors to access your site.

Basic WordPress Security Measures

Before getting into advanced security techniques, let’s go over some of the basics. Here are some fundamental security measures that every WordPress site owner should implement.

1. Keep WordPress, Plugins, and Themes Updated

One of the most common ways hackers exploit WordPress sites is through outdated software. WordPress regularly releases updates that include security patches, so it’s crucial to keep your WordPress core, plugins, and themes up to date.

2. Regularly Backup Your Website

Backups serve as a safety net, ensuring that if your site is compromised, you can restore it to a previous, secure state without losing your content. Use a plugin like UpdraftPlus to schedule automatic backups and store them off-site. Regularly test your backups by restoring your site in a staging environment to make sure your backups work correctly and your site can be restored effectively.

Learn how to backup your WordPress website.

3. Use Strong Passwords

Weak passwords are a common entry point for hackers. Make sure to use strong, unique passwords for all your WordPress accounts, including your admin account, FTP, and hosting account. Avoid using easily guessable passwords, and don’t include personal information, like names or birth dates.

4. Limit Login Attempts

By default, WordPress allows unlimited login attempts, making it easier for hackers to use brute force attacks to guess your password. You can limit the number of login attempts by using a plugin like Wordfence or Login LockDown.

5. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of security to your WordPress site by requiring a second form of authentication, such as a code sent to your phone, in addition to your password. This makes it much harder for hackers to gain access to your site.

You can enable 2FA on your account by using plugins like Wordfence or Google Authenticator.

Wordfence two factor authentication settings on dashboard
Wordfence 2-Factor Authorization Settings

6. Use a Secure Hosting Provider

Your hosting provider plays a crucial role in the security of your WordPress site. Make sure to choose a reputable hosting provider that offers security features such as firewalls, malware scanning, and regular backups.

A few popular hosting providers include Cloudways, Siteground, WP Engine, Kinsta, Rocket, Flywheel, Bluehost, and Dreamhost.

Advanced WordPress Security Techniques

Once you have the basics covered, you can implement more advanced security techniques to further protect your WordPress site.

1. Use a Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A web application firewall (WAF) is a security tool that filters out malicious traffic before it reaches your website. It acts as a barrier between your site and the internet, blocking common attacks such as SQL injections and cross-site scripting (XSS).

While many hosting providers offer basic WAF services, a dedicated security plugin like Wordfence may provide a more robust and customizable solution.

Wordfence scan schedule feature of WordPress security plugin dashboard
Wordfence Scan Schedule Feature

When setting up a WAF, ensure it’s configured to automatically update its rules to protect against the latest threats. Regularly review WAF logs to monitor for unusual patterns that could indicate an emerging threat.

2. Implement SSL Encryption

SSL encryption adds an extra layer of security by encrypting the data transmitted between your website and your visitors’ browsers. This is especially important if your site collects sensitive information such as credit card details or personal information. Many hosting providers offer free SSL certificates through Let’s Encrypt.

WordPress security - SSL Certificate - Lock on browser bar showing SSL encryption

After you’ve set up an SSL certificate (you’ll know it’s secure when you see ‘https’ instead of ‘http’ in your website’s address), you should check to make sure everything on your site is also secure.

Sometimes certain things like images or videos might still be using the old, less secure ‘http’ connection. This can create a small ‘hole’ in your site’s security where hackers could peek through. Think of it like having a secure lock on your front door but leaving a window open.

To fix this, you need to make sure that all parts of your website – pictures, videos, and so on – are being sent over the secure ‘https’ connection, just like the main page. This way, everything is safely locked up.

You can use a tool like JitBit to check your site for mixed content.

3. Use a Security Plugin

There are many security plugins available for WordPress that can help you secure your site. These plugins offer features such as malware scanning, brute force protection, and file integrity monitoring. Some popular options include Wordfence, Sucuri, and Solid Security.

Learn how to choose a security plugin for your WordPress website.

4. Disable File Editing

By default, WordPress allows administrators to edit theme and plugin files from the WordPress dashboard. This can be a security risk, as hackers can exploit this feature to inject malicious code into your site.

You can disable file editing by adding the following code to your wp-config.php file:

/*Disable plugin & theme editor in dashboard*/

define( 'DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT', true );

The wp-config.php file is one of the most important files on your website. Consult a professional before making any edits to this file!

5. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A content delivery network (CDN) is a network of servers that deliver your website’s content to visitors based on their geographic location. In addition to improving website performance, a CDN can also help protect your site from DDoS attacks by distributing traffic across multiple servers.

Cloudflare is one of the most popular CDNs available for WordPress websites.

Additional Considerations for WordPress Security

While the above checklist covers the essentials of securing your WordPress site, there are additional considerations that can further enhance your website’s security posture:

  • Regularly Audit User Access: Periodically review who has access to your WordPress site and with what privileges. Remove inactive users and downgrade privileges where necessary.
  • Monitor Activity Logs: Keep an eye on user activities, especially those with administrative privileges. 
  • Stay Updated on Security Trends: The landscape of cybersecurity is always evolving. Stay informed about the latest security threats and trends by following reputable security blogs and forums.
  • Educate Your Users: If you have multiple users on your WordPress site, educate them about security best practices. This includes recognizing phishing attempts, using strong passwords, and understanding the importance of updates.
  • Regular Security Audits: Consider having regular security audits conducted by professionals. This can help identify potential vulnerabilities that automated tools might miss.

Learn how to manage your WordPress users for better security.

Final Thoughts

Securing your WordPress site is an ongoing process that requires vigilance and regular maintenance. By following the checklist provided and considering the additional measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches. Remember, the goal is not just to protect your site from attacks but also to create a reliable and trustworthy environment for your visitors.

  • Create a Security-First Culture: Make security a priority in every aspect of your website management. Encourage everyone involved with your site to adopt security-conscious behaviors.
  • Have a Response Plan: Despite all precautions, breaches can occur. Have a response plan in place so you can act quickly to mitigate any damage and restore your site.
  • Invest in Good Hosting: A good hosting provider can be your ally in the fight against cyber threats. Don’t compromise on quality hosting, as it forms the foundation of your site’s security.

By integrating these practices into your WordPress management routine, you can ensure that your site remains secure, your data protected, and your visitors’ trust maintained.

The Ultimate Checklist for WordPress Security

1. Keep WordPress, Plugins, and Themes Updated

2. Regularly Backup Your Website

3. Use Strong Passwords

4. Limit Login Attempts

5. Use Two-Factor Authentication

6. Use a Secure Hosting Provider

7. Use a Web Application Firewall (WAF)

8. Implement SSL Encryption

9. Use a Security Plugin

10. Disable File Editing

11. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

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