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Website Maintenance

WordPress vulnerabilities can be prevented

Because WordPress is the #1 CMS, it is a target

With popularity comes exposure. WordPress powers about 32% of all websites. It is the most popular CMS (content management software) around with 33% dominance according to W3 Techs. WordPress sites belong to both small and medium sized businesses as well as large enterprises. That makes WordPress a giant target for hackers and bot nets.

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According to Imperva‘s yearly analysis, the greatest number of vulnerabilities in WordPress come on the plugin side. “On the content management system (CMS) front, WordPress vulnerabilities have tripled since last year, and they continue to dominate in terms of the number of vulnerabilities published in the CMS category.” 

WordPress.org includes more than 54,262 plugins in their repository. Many of these plugins are incredibly useful and help extend functionality of your site. However, it is not at all unusual for plugins to be abandoned or not updated if the developer of that plugin loses interest or time to manage it. Sometimes plugins get forked to keep them up to date by others in the Open Source community, but just as frequently, they are left to languish. You may even have some of these outdated ones in your website.

Image showing out of date WordPress plugins in the repository
Examples of way out of date plugins in the WordPress repository.

When was the last time you audited the plugins you use on your site?

Regular updates of your plugins can prevent opportunities for hackers and bots to inject scripts or add malicious code. These bad actors know when there are opportunities to cause havoc and they have their networks scanning WordPress sites looking for them.

How do I update my WordPress Plugins?

Image - Example of how pending plugin updates are signaled in your WordPress dashboard
This is an example of how WordPress signals you that there are plugin updates pending.

Login to your site and proceed to your Dashboard and open the Plugins panel. You may see red numbers indicating how many updates you have pending to plugins on your site. Upon opening the Plugin panel, you may see yellow highlighted notes per each plugin which has a new version. Below you can see an instance of this type of note for Jetpack. You can click the hyperlink to learn what the new version details are or you can click the update now hyperlink to update immediately.

 

Example of a message on a plugin telling you that there is an update.
This image displays the note from the plugin developer that there is a new version of Jetpack available.

It is important to check which plugins have updates and to make a whole site backup prior to doing anything. Only then do we recommend updating your plugins. Upon upgrading, check how your site functions. It is not uncommon for upgrades to cause an issue with compatibility of other plugins.

Unless the update addresses a security risk, you may wish to consider waiting until the day after a new release before updating your site. While developers test their plugins, some issues are only discovered after release, when a large number of sites are running the new version. If  it’s a major release, i.e. 5.x.x to 6.0, make sure you click the link to view the details so you can be aware of major changes that may affect your site.

How do you choose reliable plugins?

Choosing dependable plugins is pretty simple.

  • Look for plugins which have had several versions and which have many thousands of active installs.
  • Use plugins which have been tested for the most recent version of WordPress.
  • Check out the Reviews and see what others have to say about using the plugin.
  • Look at the plugin support forum to see what kinds of issues others are having and whether or not the developer is responding to issues and how promptly the response if provided.

Did you update when WordPress 5.0 came out?

Another important way to prevent vulnerabilities is to keep your WordPress version up to date. WordPress 5.0 released in December 2018. Because it was a major release, your WordPress software did not update automatically as it does for incremental updates. [Read more about automatic updates.] Did you update when 5.0 was released? If you did, then you have also recently received updates to the incremental updates. If you have not yet updated your website to WordPress 5.0, you should do so very soon.

Beyond plugins and WordPress versions

It is also very important to keep your theme updated. Themes can have vulnerabilities are well. You will get notes in your Dashboard > Appearance > Themes when you have theme updates. If you purchased a premium theme, be sure you are subscribed to them and get updates and notifications from the theme foundry which produced it. 

If you have customized your theme, be sure you did so using the Custom CSS tool in Appearance. This is only available if your theme supports this function in the Customizer

WordPress notes, “Starting with WordPress 4.7, you can now add custom CSS to your own theme from Appearance Customize Screen, without the need for additional plugins or directly editing themes and child themes. Just choose the Additional CSS tab when customizing your current theme to get started!”

If you have a child theme and you update the parent theme, your changes should be preserved.

Get professional assistance updating your website

If you are confused about when and what to update, please contact us. We specialize in WordPress and have resolved many issues for people who have sought us out for our knowledge.

Photo Credit: Photo by Luther Bottrill on Unsplash