Protecting Your WordPress Website Against Ransomware

As one of the most popular CMS platforms on the web, WordPress has become a target of ransomware and other malicious software—in large part due to its popularity.

Along with the rising popularity of WordPress, hackers and cyber-attacks have been growing in number and the scale of attacks has kept pace with this growth. As a result, it’s not a matter of if your site will become a victim, instead it’s “when” will your site suffer an attack. Experts say the increase in the number of attacks will keep growing, meaning there’s great likelihood of your WordPress site falling prey to cyber criminals.

So, what can you do to protect your WordPress site?

1). Know & Understand the Risk – What is Ransomware?

First, ransomware is a type of malicious software that hackers install on your server or computer. They access your platform via vulnerabilities in the system. Once installed, ransomware can either wait and run in the background until activated, or it can be activated immediately.

When it’s been activated, ransomware then locks all of your files. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. You won’t be able to access your WordPress site, customer data, and more. Everything will be completely locked up by the software. The hacker is the only one with the key to unlock the files.

When your files are completely locked up, the hacker then usually require you to pay a ransom, saying they’ll unlock your files once they receive the ransom. Unfortunately, after paying the ransom, many victims find the hacker doesn’t unlock their data. So, they’re left with a site that’s no longer able to function, and the site’s owner suffers a major loss of important data. If this is a major business site, then revenues, customers, and the business can be a total loss.

Now that you understand the risk, it’s time to take a look at the steps you can take to keep your WordPress site safe from ransomware and hackers.

2). Keep WordPress Updated

One of the easiest things you can do is to keep your WordPress installation up to date. WordPress makes this relatively easy by releasing updates on a regular basis. These updates include security patches to help improve your site’s protection against cyber-attacks.

WP developers are constantly monitoring for vulnerabilities found by hackers. When a new vulnerability has been identified, developers go to work creating a patch to fix the issue. If your site is using old version of WordPress, the site is at high risk of being attacked and overtaken by hackers.

3). Brute Force Attacks – What are They and How do They Work?

Brute force attacks are not very sophisticated; in fact, this type of attack is led by a bot that works to access your website by using hundreds of usernames and password combinations per minute until they find the right combination and gain access.

To avoid brute force attacks, use a plugin called Limit Login Attempt Reloaded. The plugin lets you limite the number of login attempts through cookies and the login page.

4). Set Strong Access Security

There’s a strong temptation to use short passwords that are easy to remember. Or many people choose to use a very strong password across multiple sites and applications. This is a dangerous practice—one which puts your WordPress site at high risk of being successfully attacked.

There are two things you can do:

  • Use a password manager/generator: such as 1Password, which creates a strong, secure, unique password for each login.
  • Set 2-factor authentication: using an app such as Google Authenticator, it’s possible to set up an additional layer of security for your WordPress site. It can also be set up on a per user basis, which allows those with lower privileged user roles to continue using a password.

5). Install SSL Certificates

An SSL certificate (also called a Digital Certificate) creates a link between your computer and the browser, which ensures that all data going back and forth is encrypted. This makes the date more difficult for hackers to crack if they happen to intercept the data.

WordPress hosting providers can include automated SSL certificate installation (and renewal) with each of their hosting plans.

6). Changed the WP Database Prefix

You may be aware that WordPress uses a database prefix, which is set as the default. This can make your website vulnerable to a specific type of attack called SQL injection attacks. You can prevent these attacks by changing the default wp-prefix to another word.

However, if you’ve already installed WP using the default prefix, you can use any number of plugins that allow you to change it. Be sure to backup everything before you make the change. You just never know when something may go wrong and having the backup will help you get your site back up and running again.

7). Turn Off File Editing

Hackers that gain access to your admin WP dashboard can edit any files that are part of the WP installation. To guard against this, turn off file editing. Then hackers will not have the opportunity to modify your site’s files, even if they do make it to the dashboard.

You can turn off file editing by completely restricting the theme-editor.php file and removing the Theme Editing option from the CMS platform.

8). Additional Methods

According to the WordPress Codex development guidelines, a peer review of your code can help find mistakes and vulnerabilities that hackers can use to wreak havoc. This also helps to improve your site’s overall quality, so it’s a good idea to have regular peer reviews of your code.

All forms on your site should be protected against SQL injections and cross-side scripting. And don’t forget to disable XMLRPC.

In addition, you can keep hackers from learning your site’s usernames by deleting the user with the name ‘admin,” then restricting WP-JSON default endpoints to hide all usernames.

9). Backup Regularly

One of the best things you can do to protect site and be prepared for a hacker attack is to regularly backup your site. This way you won’t have to pay the hacker’s ransom, and you’ll be able to get the site back up and running faster. It’s also a more cost-effective method compared to paying the ransom.

It’s also a good idea to have more than one backup, and each backup should be stored in a separate location, including off-site.

It’s not possible to stop all attacks on your site; however, you can take these steps to make the site more secure and harder for hackers to access. Keep your business site updated, stay up to date on the most recent types of cyber attacks and take the steps in this article to keep your site and company/customer data safe from hackers.

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