WordPress Security Audit: Actionable steps to improve your site security

As a WordPress site owner, you know that securing your website is not a one-time activity but an ongoing process. As hackers keep innovating and devising new ways to hack your website, one of the best ways to keep up is to run a complete WordPress security audit on your website.

What is a WordPress security audit, and how can it improve your website security? Let’s dive right in.

What is a WordPress Security Audit?

How do you define a WordPress website security audit? A security audit, quite simply, is an examination of all the current security measures implemented on your site. Why is it necessary? In a nutshell, the security audit helps you identify any vulnerabilities on your website and guides the corrective action you can take to protect your site.

When to Perform WordPress Website Security Audit

How often should you perform a security audit on WordPress sites? As hackers try to compromise WordPress sites practically every day, ideally, you would need to run a security audit every day. However, if you cannot perform daily audits, then the next best thing would be a security audit every month. Anything less than an audit once every three months is a security risk.

Now that we’ve looked at the why and the when of WordPress security audits, let us look at the how, i.e., the steps involved in the audit process.

How to do a WordPress Security Audit successfully

For a successful WordPress security audit, you need to set up an audit process that you can repeat the next time. Here are 7 steps that you need to perform during every security audit:

  1. Check your current admin setup.
  2. Delete unused plugins.
  3. Remove extra WordPress themes installed on your website.
  4. Test or set up your WordPress backups.
  5. Evaluate your current web hosting.
  6. Review your WordPress hardening measures.
  7. Review user accounts and passwords.

Let us discuss each of these steps in detail.

1. Check your current admin setup

WordPress allows you to assign 6 different user roles to your users: Super Admin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Editor. Out of these, the users with the “admin” roles enjoy the highest privileges like adding a new user or installing a new plugin. However, you can add multiple users with admin rights, which is not necessary or even recommended in most WordPress setups. Most users can do their job with lower privileges (for example, author or contributor).

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When performing your WordPress security audit, check for the following:

  • How many users have admin rights?
  • How many users need admin rights?
  • How many users can perform their job with lesser privileges?
  • Are there any administrators with the default admin username? If yes, then modify their username to something more unique.

2. Delete unused plugins

Thanks to the ease of use of the WordPress platform, most users install many free plugins or add widgets to enhance their website’s functionality. Most of these plugins are developed and maintained by third-party developers or companies. However, plugins from an untrusted source can introduce vulnerabilities, which hackers can exploit.

When performing your WordPress security audit, check:

  • The list of plugins installed on your website
  • If all your active (or used) plugins have been updated to their latest available version.
  • If there are any plugins that you do not recognize (or have not installed or authorised). Delete them as they may contain malware.
  • If there are any abandoned or nulled plugins on your site, delete them immediately.

3. Remove any extra WP themes

It is common for users to install many themes on their websites to design a WordPress website or to improve the overall look of their website. They, however, end up applying only a few themes to their website and ignore the rest.

Unused themes can be a security threat to your website, as hackers can take advantage of their vulnerabilities and damage the site. Due to the hack, the search engines will also warn users that the site is malicious which affects revenue and brand reputation.

Here are a few things to do while performing your WordPress security audit:

  • Check all the WordPress themes in your installation.
  • Identify the active or currently operating themes and update them to the latest version.
  • If there are any unused or outdated themes, remove them immediately.

4. Test or set up your WordPress backups

WordPress backups are the best way to avoid downtime in case of any crash or hack. If you do not have an available backup, security audits are a good time to take a backup, and better still, install a backup solution that takes periodic backups for you. For WordPress websites, there are many automated backup tools like BlogVault or BackupBuddy to choose from.

What happens when existing backups fail? This is where periodic audits have a role to play. As part of your WordPress security audit, remember to test your WordPress backups. Plugins like BlogVault let you quickly test your latest backups using the Test Restore functionality.

5. Evaluate your current web hosting platform

A security audit is a good time to evaluate your current web host. Are they doing a good job at securing your website? Do you still need to host your website on a shared host simply because they are cheaper? While shared hosting can be sufficient for small-time website owners, it may not be efficient for a growing website that requires additional server resources.

When performing your WordPress security audit, check:

  • if your current web host provides timely security measures like regular backups, software updates, and malware detection services.
  • if you can consider migrating your website to a managed or dedicated web host.

6. Review your WordPress hardening measures

To protect your website from hackers, WordPress recommends a set of hardening measures, which include:

  • Disabling plugin installation
  • Disabling file editing in plugins/themes
  • Implementing two-factor authentication (or 2FA)
  • Enforcing the use of strong passwords
  • Limiting login attempts, etc.

Your security audit is the best time to test if they are still set up. For example, check if there is a limit on login attempts or if 2FA is working on your login page. A better alternative is to use a WordPress security audit plugin like MalCare, to easily configure and implement all these hardening measures with a few clicks.

7. Review your user accounts and passwords

The easiest way to maximize your login page security is by enforcing unique usernames and strong passwords. During your WordPress security audit:

  • Review of all your user accounts, particularly those for “admin” users.
  • Make sure every user account is configured with a unique username that is almost impossible for hackers to guess. Avoid or modify default usernames like “user123” or “admin.”
  • Make sure to enforce a strong password policy for every user. Each password must be at least 12 characters long and has a combination of alphabets, numbers, and special symbols.

A security plugin as a WordPress security audit tool

Security plugins provide a great way to automate your security audit. For instance, security plugins like MalCare combine and automate most of the security measures discussed in this article such as WordPress hardening, managing WordPress updates, managing unused plugins and themes, and login protection. All you need to do is look at the dashboard and check if everything is working correctly. In case the security plugin detects malware or attack, you can clean your site right from the dashboard in a few steps.

malcare

Another advantage of a plugin like MalCare is the audit log feature that maintains a security audit log to track all the user activity on your WordPress site.

Conclusion

Let’s face it. Today, every WordPress website, big or small, faces daily threats in the form of malware, ransomware, and brute force attacks. The risks are only going to grow and you know your business won’t survive without a website.

The only way to grow your business is to make security audits a part of your website maintenance plan. This is the only way to catch security issues, malware, and risks before they have a chance to damage your site and your business reputation and revenues.

Conducting a security audit every day or month can mean a huge investment of time and effort. A simple way to handle this is by installing a WordPress security audit tool like MalCare so you have daily scans, an audit log, and a centralized dashboard from where you can assess the health and safety of your site.

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By Tiago Lavis-Fernandes

Tiago is a Portuguese freelance web designer living and working in Manchester for over ten years. Fascinated by WordPress and the Divi Builder, he helps clients achieve success through UX/UI website design and search engine optimisation. If you're looking for someone to help with your online marketing, look no further.

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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. This website is run by Tiago Lavis-Fernandes and not associated, or act on behalf of Elegant Themes. Divi is a registered trademark of Elegant Themes, inc.

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