Why hackers target your WordPress site & what you can do about it

Hackers go only after big businesses or websites. This misconception is one of the reasons most website owners find themselves at the receiving end of attacks that they struggle to recover from.

Whatever the size of your business, you can be sure that hackers are after your website — to spread malware, attack your users, access user data, take advantage of your SEO rankings, sell fake products, and more. If you have a WordPress site, you’re at a bigger risk. 

Why do hackers target WordPress sites and what can you do about it? In the rest of this article, we answer these and many more questions. Let’s get started. 

Why do hackers target WordPress sites?

Besides the popularity of WordPress, which makes it the biggest target for hackers, there are some fundamental reasons for hackers targeting a WordPress site, such as: 

Gaining reputation

Hackers often target a WordPress site to earn respect and reputation among their peers. There are online profiling systems where hackers are ranked based on the number of hacked websites and the difficulty levels. The higher their ranking, the more customers are willing to pay for their services.

Stealing personal information

Hackers also target websites to break into their database and steal personal information such as account credentials, personal records (for example, profile, date of birth, address), or financial records (for example, bank account details, credit card number, and social security number). They either use these themselves or sell them to other parties.

Steal business information

Hackers target business websites to steal brand/business information. This can include sensitive information like customer records, financial details of the company, and employee information (for example, name, designation, email address, and user permissions). They do this to damage the business’s reputation or to make money from stolen brand information.

Now that we know why any hacker targets WordPress sites, it is time to learn how this pans out in the real world. Here are seven common attacks that hackers launch on WordPress sites:

  1. Redirecting to malicious sites
  2. Overloading web servers
  3. SEO Spam
  4. Pharma hack
  5. WordPress malvertising
  6. Malware and SQL injection

In the following sections, let us discuss each of these attacks and hacks in more detail:

1. Redirecting to malicious sites

Malicious redirects are aimed at redirecting website visitors to other suspicious or malicious websites. The problem with these redirects is that they are difficult to detect as hackers can insert their malicious code in any part of the WordPress site.  This attack can eventually cause the site to be blacklisted, thus cutting off all incoming traffic.

2. Denial of service attacks

Aimed at overloading servers, denial-of-service (or DoS) attacks flood a website by flooding its server with a massive volume of false requests that it can’t handle, thus causing it to crash. This makes the website unavailable to its intended visitors.

3. SEO Spam

Also known as spamdexing, SEO spam is an attack that is often undetected till it is too late. With this method, hackers primarily use your website to rank for their keywords mostly related to illegal or fake drugs. In other words, they use dubious SEO methods to rank their products (or services) and make money at the expense of your website.

4. Pharma hack

Similar to the SEO spam attack, hackers use pharma hacks to promote their unsolicited websites selling fake or illicit pharmaceutical products. In pharma hacks, hackers use legitimate SEO techniques like building backlinks from high-ranking websites to boost their illegitimate websites.

5. WordPress malvertising

Malvertising is a form of hack that targets online advertisements. Hackers do this by inserting malicious or suspicious links directly into online ads run by genuine companies. When an unsuspecting user clicks on the infected ads, the malware or adware gets installed on the user’s device. Alternatively, the ad can send unaware users to malicious websites

6. Malware and SQL injection

Hackers try to infect the backend WordPress files including core installation files, plugin/theme files, and database with malware. This malware often lies undetected for long periods before it inflicts irreversible damage on the site.

Hackers also attempt code injection attacks such as SQL injection to corrupt the WordPress database records. Why do hackers target databases? To steal sensitive information like user or brand records stored in the database.

How to protect your WordPress site from hackers

Now that we know the type of threats a WordPress site faces, it’s time to focus on measures you can take to protect it from hackers. The measures we’ve shortlisted are tested, recommended by experts, and easy for even novice users to implement. 

1. Install an SSL certificate.

Hackers often intercept confidential or sensitive data, for example, payment transaction data as it is transmitted between a user’s browser and the WordPress server. To prevent this, you need to make your website enabled with HTTPS (or Secure HTTP) that encrypts all the data being passed between the user and the website. 

How can you make this transition? By simply installing an SSL certificate on your website. You can either obtain the SSL certificate from your current web host or install any SSL plugin like Let’s Encrypt.

2. Update your Core and Plugins/Themes.

Outdated WordPress versions,  plugins, and themes are a security risk for any WordPress site. This is because old or outdated versions do not contain the latest security fixes or patches and hackers can exploit these known vulnerabilities on all sites that have them.

The easiest solution is to update your Core WordPress version and plugins/themes to their latest version. Any authorized administrator can perform this task from the WordPress hosting account.

3. Use a WordPress security plugin.

The most effective and low-effort solution to ensure continuous and up-to-date protection for WordPress sites is to install a WordPress security plugin. These plugins are designed to detect known and unknown malware variants and the latest forms of attacks. Plus, you can schedule periodic scans of your site and even use them to clean your website if infected.

There are a host of free and paid security plugins available for WordPress sites, including MalCare, Sucuri, and Wordfence. Some of these plugins combine multiple security features with malware detection and removal. For instance, MalCare has in-built features like firewalls, login page protection, website updates in addition to scheduled website scanning, and automated malware cleanups.

4. Perform regular backups of your website.

While this is not strictly a website security measure, backups are your best bet for when your website is hacked or crashes. A ready backup can help you with a quick “restore” of your backup files so you avoid any downtime. 

You can invest in a backup tool like BlogVault or BackupBuddy that takes scheduled backups of both your website and database files for your WordPress sites. 

5. Use secure hosting.

Where you host your site has a big role to play in your website’s security. If you’ve been seeing symptoms of attacks like a change in website speed or high downtime, we recommend moving to reliable and secure hosting companies like Bluehost or Siteground. Or even better, move to managed WordPress hosting if you can afford it. These platforms assure you of safe server infrastructure, protection against issues due to power outages, and timely backups.

6. Harden your WordPress website.

Hardening measures are security measures that the WordPress core team recommends. Some of these include blocking PHP file execution, blocking plugin/theme installation, and disabling the File Editor.

Hardening measures are complex and require a fair bit of technical expertise and WordPress know-how. However, security plugins like MalCare offer WordPress hardening as an inbuilt feature so you can harden your site in a few clicks. 

We hope this article has helped you get a better understanding of all the risks your WordPress site faces and how you can secure it.

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