How to Perform a WordPress Security Audit (Step by Step Checklist)?

How to Perform a WordPress Security Audit (Step by Step Checklist)? In this post, we are going to see how to perform a WordPress Security Audit in step by step guide to steer clear of hacking attacks:

As of 2021, there are over a whopping 455 million websites that use WordPress on the Internet. In other words, WordPress powers over ⅓rd of the web! Impressive, isn’t it?

First launched in 2003, WordPress is the world’s most popular and widely used CMS (Content Management System) today, hence the cyber risks involved also are quite high. Loads of WordPress websites run on compromising themes and plugins, whilst the site owners are unmindful. Some website owners don’t check their websites’ security for years and years. And, this is exactly what doubles their chances of getting hacked.

Detecting vulnerabilities in your website is the very first step of taking security measures. Often, the culprits for vulnerabilities are unsafe plugins, outdated versions, missing security patches and so on.

Let’s proceed and find out How to Perform a WordPress Security Audit (Step by Step Checklist)?

What is a WordPress Security Audit? 

In this fast paced digital era, website security measures are advancing, but so are the hacking skills and techniques. 

A WordPress Security Audit is a comprehensive process of assessing your website and its assets to look for security vulnerabilities or breaches. For this, one may leverage human intelligence, automated security tools and software, or even third party WordPress security audit services to precisely analyse the security status of your website. 

The main objective here is to look for any underneath security issues, malicious code, suspicious new accounts, unexpected poor performance, sudden slow or sluggish loading times, weird activities, etc. in your WordPress website.

So with WordPress Security Audit is not a one time thing, but an ongoing activity that must be executed every few months to keep your website secure and safe. 

There is WordPress Pen Testing -a crucial process carried out after the security audit to scrutinize the vulnerabilities detected in the audit. This gives you an insight into the risks involved, so you can take precautionary measures for risk mitigation accordingly. Pen testing also helps you separate genuine risks from false positives.

What is the need for WordPress Security Audit?

Firstly WordPress site is secure on its own, however many website owners may go months or even years without checking how secure their website is. With rapidly evolving digitalization, today WordPress websites are likely to run into cyber risks. Say, for example, the WordPress themes or plugins installed may get vulnerable and provide a loophole for hackers to seep through. 

Once the attackers hack your website, they can do all kinds of malicious activities such as:

  • Display illegal content or advertisements on your site.
  • Reroute your website traffic.
  • Scam your customers.
  • Steal sensitive information.
  • Encrypt your website data and demand a heavy ransom from you.
  • Sell your site’s information or your customers’ sensitive details on the dark web.
  • Inject spam into your web pages, so your website is listed on a search engine blacklist.
  • Steal credit card information from your WordPress website, thus landing you into legal trouble and heavy fines.
  • Use your website to infect other websites.

Conducting a WordPress security audit will help you identify security risks beforehand, so you can take the necessary steps to close the loopholes and mitigate risks promptly. 

Ideally, conducting a WordPress security audit every month or 3 months would be good. However, one must do it once a quarter at a minimum.

Here is the step by step WordPress Security Auditing Guide to follow for your website:

How to Perform a WordPress Security Audit?

1. Software Updates

Updating your WordPress website is one of the crucial things to stabilize your website and steer clear of security issues. The company regularly releases security patches for different vulnerabilities discovered, or also may provide new features to boost performance. That is why, it is important for website owners to ensure their WordPress core, themes, and plugins, all are updated timely.

You can easily look for updates in WordPress’s admin portal. Go to Dashboard > Updates

2. Check the WordPress Security Plugin

Security plugin is one of the most critical elements that protect your WordPress website from malicious bots and hackers. Choosing the right security plugins is important to ensure the smooth functioning of your WordPress site

Here are some of the significant features to look for in a security plugin:

  • Malware Scan: Vulnerable plugins provide a loophole for hackers to break into your site. Use a plugin that daily runs a malware scan for your website to thoroughly look for any vulnerability in your files, folders and databases.
  • Firewall: Firewalls on your website block the potential IP addresses, bots and hackers trying to maliciously break into your site.
  • Offsite scan: A plugin that makes use of its own servers for the daily scan will save the use of your resources which often leads to slow performance
  • Real time alerting: Getting real time alerts for any suspicious activity going on on your website will help you take immediate action.
  • Login protection: Hackers use numerous combinations of usernames and passwords on your sign in page to get access to your site. Such an attack is referred to as a ‘brute force attack’, which plugins must be able to block.
  • Activity log: The security plugin must keep track of the audit logs stating user activities on your site. It includes various details such as who logged in, failed login attempts, user activities on the site, and so on. In case of a hacking attack, one can refer to this audit log to understand what went wrong.  

3. Keep an eye on User accounts

Make sure you review and look for any suspicious user accounts in your WordPress website through the Users > All Users section. For ecommerce stores, online course websites and membership websites, it is common to have user accounts created by customers.

However, it is unusual for business websites or blogging sites to have user accounts that are not yours or that you haven’t added manually.

Delete any suspicious accounts you encounter. If you don’t want a site visitor to create an account, simply uncheck the ‘Anyone can register’ option in Settings > General > Membership section. 

4. Website Analytics

Website analytics monitor the health status of your website and its traffic. If your website is listed under a ‘search engine blacklist’ or is suddenly slow or sluggish, you’ll see an unusual drop in your website traffic. 

5. Check WordPress Backup Plugin 

Setting up a WordPress backup plugin will ensure your crucial data and information is always backed up, in case of unfortunate disaster. Make sure you regularly check whether the backup plugin is working or not.

6. Site Access based on Roles

Additionally WordPress allows admins to configure the access controls for their WordPress site. There is six user roles with different permission levels that admins can choose to assign and they are as follows:

  • Super Admin.
  • Administrator.
  • Editor.
  • Author.
  • Contributor.
  • Subscriber.

Check the current setup of your admin panel and look for the following factors:

  • How many users are given full admin access?
  • How many users actually require admin access?
  • Restrict access by changing user roles for those who don’t really require admin access.

Lastly, never use the word ‘admin’ for your username on the login page, rather try a unique name. It is one of the very common loopholes hackers use to exploit your site.

7. Remove useless plugins

Website owners often forget to check if there are any vulnerable plugins used on their WordPress site. With WordPress plugins they are developed by third party vendors that release and update them timely with security patches. If you don’t update these plugins regularly, your site is vulnerable to attacks.

  • When running a security audit, check all the installed plugins and delete any unused ones.
  • Delete any plugins that you don’t recognize or don’t remember installing. Hackers may sometimes inject their own plugins to break into your site.
  • Delete any pirated version of plugins, as they are highly likely to comprise malware. Hackers commonly use pirated software to inject malware into your site.

Just like plugins, your site may also have unused themes that are likely to be vulnerable. Delete all themes you don’t use and make sure to regularly update the current themes on your site.

8. Broken authentication

Poor authentication methods on your site may allow hackers to compromise user accounts and assume their IDs by stealing their session tokens, passwords or keys. Using Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) or two factor authentication (2FA) will significantly mitigate this risk.

9. Security Misconfigurations

Security misconfigurations such as default settings, publishing your critical resources online, weak passwords, etc. can often become loopholes for data leaks. 

10. Evaluate your Hosting Provider

A shared hosting plan certainly saves cost and is ideal to run small WordPress websites. However, website owners must evaluate whether they need to upgrade to private or dedicated hosting once their site grows.

Shared hosting plans often require you to share the server and resources with other sites. If one of these sites is hacked, it may eat up too much of the server’s resources. This affects the speed of your site, leading to poor performance. Also, there is a slight possibility of your site getting infected by malware as well, due to a shared server.

11. FTP access

There is an FTP server which stands for File Transfer Protocol which is used to connect your website server to your PC. It allows you to easily access and manage your WordPress site’s folders.

Since you can add, change, or delete files in your WordPress site through FTP access. So it is very important to check who gets FTP access. 

Regularly reset your FTP passwords and check the FTP users list to ensure there are no unauthorized users. You can check this by visiting your WordPress hosting account > cPanel > FTP Accounts. Check the FTP accounts and delete the ones that don’t require FTP access.

12. Extra security

Reinforce your WordPress site’s security with additional security measures such as:

  • Disable file editor in themes and plugins.
  • Set up strong passwords.
  • Set up Multi Factor Authentication.
  • Reset WordPress keys.
  • Restrict WordPress Login Attempts.

13. Use WordPress WP Cloud SSO Security Plugin

Improve your WordPress site security even further  with our WordPress SSO plugin. 

Thank you for reading How to Perform WordPress Security Audit (Step by Step Checklist)?

How to Perform a WordPress Security Audit Conclusion

In this article how to perform WordPress security audit we have explained each step to perform WordPress security audit. With this, we concluded our detailed WordPress Security Audit Guide. All of the steps stated in the post are crucial to carry out either quarterly or at least annually. Timely auditing will help WordPress website owners in warding off hackers who attempt to break into their site through security loopholes.

There is loads more content in our blog about WordPress here

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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