Protecting your business website from malicious attacks and hackers is something that never stops. Considering how costly a hack can be for your business, it's important that you don't leave anything to chance. That's why getting help from a security expert is something you should consider doing as part of your strategy.
But what does a security expert do to make your website more secure? What should you expect them to work on? Thanks to Codeable Expert and Security Expert Liam Bailey, you'll now have your answers!
Curious to get them? Great, let's start!
What you need before starting any WordPress security work
Getting help from a security expert to improve your WordPress website is a recommended practice that starts with having all that your expert is going to need handy. Preparing prior to engaging with a developer will allow the whole process to run as smoothly as possible. This results in a positive outcome that will make you happy: you save money because there's no delays or back and forth to grant access, logins, etc.!
So what do you need before hiring a WordPress security specialist?
When it comes to security, you'd want to have:
- A new user with admin privileges created for the security expert.
- The correct path to login into your WordPress website. Note: the default is yoursite.com/wp-login.php (reachable by yoursite.com/wp-admin) but it's advisable to change it for, guess what, security reasons.
- FTP login credentials: strictly speaking they're not needed but will become super useful to have because a seemingly innocuous change in wp-admin can cause a PHP error, and if your developer doesn't have FTP access they can't fix it.
Now that you know what you'll be asked right after hiring the developer, let's see what steps are usually taken by a developer for improving the security on WordPress websites.
Conducting a security audit
As any websites is unique, its security fallacies and area of improvements can range widely. That's why it's usually by assessing the current status of things that a security project starts with. This well-known and critical procedure has a name: security audit. As Liam explains:
Much like an accounts audit, a security audit for a small business WordPress website revolves around checking all of the security arrangements that are in place for your site to protect against foul play and to ascertain any discrepancies.
This means that through a security audit the developer is making sure whether you have everything correctly set up, if you're using weak passwords and usernames, what plugins are you using and if they're updated or not, and any area or element that could be exploited by a hacker. In other words, they will do a thorough check of everything that falls into WordPress security best practices.
Once they have a clear picture on how your website is doing, the next step is installing and setting up a security plugin.
Setting up security plugins
One of the things that makes WordPress extensively popular is how easily it could be enhanced with plugins. And when it comes to security improvements there are three names that keep showing up in online threads, groups, and security blogs: iTheme Security, Sucuri Security, and Wordfence Security.
These plugins are great not only because they come as free plugins, even though there are premium services connected to them for those interested. These security plugins are just great at their job and really increase the security level of any WordPress website.
Problem is if they were to be configured incorrectly you could end up with false positives, error messages, incomplete scan procedures, and even being locked out from your own website (with iTheme Security). Since your goal here is to improve your website's security, having a security expert taking care of the setup process on your behalf is a no-brainer. Says Liam:
After I've gathered info and deeply checked my client's website, I usually go on and install one of the well-known WordPress security plugins if they don't have it already. My top choice is iTheme Security. After installing it, I configure it properly and let the client know about what's been changing. If they already have iTheme installed, I check its configuration and make sure they've configured it correctly. At that level, I would also check the main areas of their website again to see if everything works the way it should.
Does your security improve with more security plugins?
No, it doesn't. And it won't because there might be redundancies and features that can affect each other on an operational level. In fact, if you install both Sucuri Security and WordFence Security you might get an error message such as "Unable to Properly Scan Your Site".
This is, of course, something you can fix by whitelisting Sucuri's IP address on the WordFence dashboard but that's not the point here. The point I'm trying to make is that having one of these plugins is more than enough when we talk about how many security plugins you should have.
Security projects for big websites
As the size of the website grows, so does their security requirements. They require many more levels of protection to deal with everyday threats. The security for these organizations is therefore different because of the complexity and technicalities involved. As Liam clarifies:
The security audit in the _n_th degree for the larger site and the higher profile site is called penetration testing, a full suite of tools that you can bring in to test the site for vulnerabilities. You actually act as a hacker. You're using the scanning tools that and the exploit tools the hackers are using to try to break down the site's security, and finding out where they can get in, and blocking the holes.
Hack repair and cleanup
If your WordPress website got hacked, there are a few more steps involved in your security project. Specifically, hackers usually try to inject what's called backdoors into your website. Without going into technical details, these files feature hidden executable code that doesn't actually show it's executable so they'll hide what they're doing.
When working with a Security expert, their job is to find these malicious files and remove them by hunting them down in each and every part of your website. Once backdoors are removed and everything is safely restored, then it's time to install and set up one of the security plugins you've heard about before.
Your WordPress website's security should never be taken for granted, like a set it and forget it task, that you should take care just once in your lifetime. Outdated plugins and themes, weak usernames and passwords, weak hosting solutions, all add up to making your website more prone to attacks and likely getting hacked.
There are several ways to improve the security of your WordPress website you could do on your own, but only with the help of a security expert, you can really rest assured everything that could be done will be done. Properly.
Liam Bailey is the developer behind Webby Scots with over 500 successfully delivered projects for clients through Codeable. An expert in many areas of WordPress, Liam also studies and specializes in website security. Liam has helped many happy clients improve their WordPress sites including also working in-house at Codeable before returning to freelance and help more clients from all over the world.