20 Essential Steps to Secure Your WordPress Site in 2024 and Beyond

WordPress powers over 40% of all websites on the internet, making it a major target for hackers and cybercriminals. Whether you run a small personal blog or a large business site on WordPress, implementing strong security measures is critical to protect your site, your data, and your reputation.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll cover why WordPress security matters, common vulnerabilities to watch out for, and a detailed checklist of steps every site owner should take to harden their WordPress security posture. Let‘s dive in!

Why WordPress Security Matters

Imagine waking up one morning to find your website defaced, infected with malware, or even completely wiped out. The consequences of a hacked WordPress site can be devastating:

• Stolen sensitive data like customer information
• Loss of search engine rankings and website traffic
• Damage to your brand‘s reputation and customer trust
• Costly cleanups and prolonged downtime

According to a recent security report by Sucuri, brute force attacks alone accounted for over 56% of WordPress attacks in 2023. What‘s more, the report found that 73% of hacked WordPress sites were running an outdated version of the software at the time of infection.

These stats highlight why a proactive, layered approach to security is so vital. The good news is, by following security best practices, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to an attack. Let‘s review some of the most common WordPress security threats to be aware of.

Common WordPress Security Vulnerabilities & Threats

WordPress‘ popularity and open source nature make it a prime target for bad actors looking to exploit sites. Here are some of the main attack vectors:

• Brute force attacks: Automated attempts to guess login credentials by trying different username/password combinations

• SQL injection (SQLI): Inserting malicious SQL statements to manipulate the database and access sensitive information

• Cross-site scripting (XSS): Injecting client-side scripts into web pages to steal data or deface content

• Malware infections: Malicious code like backdoors, spam bots, cryptocurrency miners, etc. uploaded to the server

• Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS): Overwhelming the server with a flood of fake traffic to take the site down

• Phishing: Tricking users into revealing login credentials or downloading malware via fake emails or login pages

Many of these attacks aim to exploit vulnerabilities introduced by other components of the WordPress ecosystem:

• Outdated WordPress core, plugins, or themes with known security flaws
• Poorly-coded plugins and themes, including nulled/pirated versions
• Weak passwords that can be easily guessed or brute-forced
• Unsecured hosting environments

Mitigating these risks requires a combination of strong passwords, keeping software up-to-date, hardening server configurations, and more. Next, we‘ll walk through a checklist of key steps to fortify your WordPress site.

20 Steps to Secure Your WordPress Site

1. Keep WordPress Core Updated

WordPress releases new versions when any security flaws are discovered – failing to promptly update leaves you vulnerable. Enable auto-updates or check for new releases regularly in your admin dashboard.

2. Update Plugins and Themes

Just like core, themes/plugins can introduce security holes if they fall out-of-date. Some tips:

• Remove any unused plugins or themes
• Consider security and developers‘ track record when choosing new ones
• Enable auto-updates for plugins where possible

3. Use Strong Passwords & User Permissions

Enforce strong password policies for all users, using a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols. Use a password manager to generate and store complex passwords securely.

Avoid giving admin access to any more users than necessary. Limit 3rd party plugins access to API keys and other sensitive info.

4. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification beyond just a password.

There are many great plugins to add 2FA to WordPress logins, via methods like authenticator apps or email codes.

5. Limit Login Attempts

Brute force attacks rely on repeated login attempts to guess credentials. Limiting failed logins locks out attackers.

Either use a plugin or modify your functions.php to add a rate limiting algorithm after a number of failed attempts.

6. Change Default Admin Username

Leaving the default "admin" username makes it much easier to guess login info. Instead, change it to something unique during WordPress installation.

If your site already has an "admin" account, create a new admin user and delete the original (just changing username won‘t fully remove it from the database).

7. Install a Security Plugin

Installing a reputable security plugin can greatly simplify monitoring, hardening, and incident response tasks. Popular options include:

• Sucuri Security
• Wordfence Security
• iThemes Security
• All In One WP Security & Firewall

Features to look for:

• Malware scanning
• Firewall to protect against SQLI, XSS, etc.
• Brute force protection
• Security hardening options
• Log monitoring
• Version update notifications

8. Setup SSL/HTTPS

An SSL certificate enables encrypted connections between a user‘s browser and your site. This is critical for protecting login credentials and other sensitive data.

If you don‘t have an SSL cert, contact your hosting provider – many now offer them for free via Let‘s Encrypt. Then update your WordPress URL to use https:// in the dashboard settings.

9. Use WAF & DDoS Protection

A web application firewall (WAF) provides robust protection against SQLI, XSS, and other attacks by analyzing and filtering malicious traffic.

DDoS protection services can help absorb and block spike floods of traffic intended to overwhelm your server.

Solutions are available from some WordPress hosts, CDN providers like Cloudflare, or via plugins.

10. Regularly Back Up Your Site

Backups are your saving grace to restore your site if it gets hacked or faces other data loss.

At a minimum, schedule weekly full backups of your WordPress files and database. Store backups on a separate system than your live server.

Backup plugins make scheduling and managing automated backups easy. Options include UpdraftPlus, BackupBuddy, and VaultPress.

11. Disable File Editing

WordPress includes a built-in file editor which can be used to modify plugin and theme source code. Disabling it helps prevent hackers from being able to edit your files if they gain access.

Add the following to your wp-config.php file:

define(‘DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT‘, true);

12. Disable PHP File Execution in Untrusted Folders

The /wp-content/uploads/ folder is intended for media uploads, but if PHP execution is enabled an attacker could upload a malicious script.

Add the following to your .htaccess file:

<Files *.php>
  deny from all
</Files>

13. Change Database Prefix

WordPress uses ‘wp_‘ as the default prefix for all tables in its database. Changing this to something unique can block SQL injection attacks that target the default.

During a fresh WordPress install, modify the $table_prefix variable in wp-config.php.

For existing sites, plugins like Change DB Prefix can help handle updating all existing tables.

14. Disable XML-RPC

XML-RPC is an API protocol used by WordPress for features like pingbacks, trackbacks, and remote publishing.

However, it can be exploited by hackers for DDoS or brute force amplification attacks. If you don‘t need it, disable by adding this to your .htaccess:

<Files xmlrpc.php>
  order deny,allow
  deny from all
</Files>

15. Disable Directory Indexing & Browsing

Directory browsing can allow attackers to easily find files to exploit – you can disable directory indexing:

• Add to your .htaccess:

Options -Indexes

• Adjust permissions on sensitive directories like /wp-admin/ to 755 or less

16. Hide WordPress Version Info

WordPress version number is disclosed in page meta generator tags. Hiding your current version info can make it harder for attackers to know if you‘re running an outdated, vulnerable release.

Use a plugin or add to your functions.php:

remove_action(‘wp_head‘, ‘wp_generator‘);

17. Harden wp-config.php File

Your wp-config.php file contains your WordPress database credentials and security keys. As such, it should be carefully protected. Key steps:

• Move wp-config.php up 1 directory level above web root if possible
• Change file permissions to 400 (read only)
• Disable access in .htaccess:

<files wp-config.php>
order allow,deny
deny from all
</files>

18. Limit Access to /wp-admin/ & /wp-login.php

Isolating access to WordPress login and admin dashboard to only trusted IP addresses can protect against brute force and other attacks.

Add the following to .htaccess:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
  RewriteEngine on
  RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} ^(.*)?wp-login\.php(.*)$ [OR]
  RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} ^(.*)?wp-admin$
  RewriteCond %{REMOTE_ADDR} !^IP-ADDRESS$
  RewriteRule ^(.*)$ - [R=403,L]
</IfModule>

Replace IP-ADDRESS with your actual IP. Use a plugin to set up alternate admin login URLs as well.

19. Monitor Website & Server Logs

Proactively monitoring for signs of attack or suspicious activity in your server logs can help stop hacks before major damage is done.

• Review error logs for any repeated 400/500 errors which could flag a brute force attack
• Look for POST requests to plugins/themes which could be attempted file upload attacks
• Use an uptime monitoring service to alert you if your site goes down

Plugins like WP Security Audit Log can track changes to logins, files, and database to help spot problems.

20. Create an Incident Response Plan

Even with these safeguards in place, there‘s always a risk your site could get hacked. Having a clear incident response plan is key to reacting quickly and minimizing damage. Key steps:

• Take the site offline by enabling maintenance mode
• Update all passwords
• Scan for malware and remove any found
• Restore from a known clean backup
• Update all plugins/themes/core files
• Review server logs to investigate attack vector
• Install any missing security plugins
• Re-evaluate web hosts, developers, 3rd party code
• Alert stakeholders like customers if sensitive data was compromised
• File blacklist removal requests if added by Google due to malware

Having these steps written out ahead of time in a document any staff can access will help with faster, coordinated response.

Key Takeaways & WordPress Security Checklist

While no system is ever 100% secure, taking the steps outlined above will drastically reduce your WordPress site‘s risk of compromise. Layered, proactive security is key – it‘s much harder to clean up an already hacked site than prevent the hack in the first place.

Here‘s a handy summary checklist:

✔️ Keep WordPress core, plugins & themes updated
✔️ Use strong passwords & 2FA
✔️ Limit login attempts & change default admin username
✔️ Install security plugins to monitor & protect
✔️ Enable SSL/HTTPS
✔️ Implement a WAF & DDoS protection
✔️ Schedule regular site backups
✔️ Harden server configurations
✔️ Monitor website & server logs
✔️ Create & test incident response plan

By making website security a priority, you safeguard not only your own business but your customers who entrust you with their data. Even small blogs and websites are targets, so start putting these measures in place today. A small time investment now can save massive headaches down the road.

Conclusions

Website security is a never-ending process that requires ongoing effort and diligence, but it‘s well worth the cost compared to suffering a damaging hack. Staying on top of WordPress core and extension updates, following security best practices, and having a solid backup and response plan will let you stay ahead of emerging cybersecurity threats.

Remember, your website is often the face of your brand and business online. Don‘t let lackadaisical security tarnish your reputation or ability to serve your audience. Take control of your WordPress security today and rest easier knowing you‘re protecting your most valuable digital asset.