WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems millions of websites use worldwide; hence, there is a need to understand why sites get hacked. WordPress site hacks can have severe consequences for website owners, including data theft, loss of customer trust, damage to their online reputation, and financial loss.
That’s why website owners must understand the most common reasons for WordPress site hacks and take proactive steps to prevent them.
In this blog post, I’ll identify the most common causes of WordPress site hacks based on statistical analysis and provide practical tips and advice for preventing them.
I’ll also guide what to do if hackers get hold of your site. Following the advice in this blog post, you can take concrete steps to protect your WordPress site and keep it secure.
Overview of why WordPress sites get hacked
In case you do not have the time to read through the entire blog post, the table below is a clear overview of everything discussed in this blog post.
|Cause of WordPress Site Hack||Description|
|Weak Passwords||Passwords are reused across multiple sites.|
|Common passwords are easily guessed|
|Failure to update WordPress core, themes, or plugins can leave known vulnerabilities unpatched and open to exploitation.|
|Outdated Software||The WordPress core is not up to date.|
|Plugins or themes are downloaded from untrusted sources.|
|Site is not backed up regularly.|
|Attackers inject malicious code into your WordPress site, such as through plugins or themes, to gain unauthorized access.|
|The WordPress core is not up to date.|
|Plugins or themes are not up to date.|
|Insecure Hosting||Your WordPress site is hosted on an insecure server, allowing attackers to gain access to sensitive information or exploit vulnerabilities.|
|Site is not secured with SSL/TLS encryption.|
|Users may neglect to update software, misconfigure their WordPress site, or click on suspicious links, leading to security breaches or malware infections.|
|Site is not backed up regularly|
|Improper configuration of the WordPress site|
|Neglecting to update WordPress core, themes, or plugins|
|Improper configuration of the WordPress site.|
|The WordPress core is not up to date.|
These points will be developed later in this article.
How to check if a WordPress site is hacked
There are several signs that your WordPress site may have been hacked, including:
- Unusual website behaviour: If your website behaves strangely, such as pages loading too long or displaying different content than expected, it may be a sign of a hack.
- Redirects: If your website redirects to other websites or pages you don’t recognize, it may have been hacked.
- Spam or suspicious content: If your website has spammy or suspicious content that you didn’t create, it could be a sign of a hack. This could include new pages, posts, or comments you didn’t publish.
- Unusual login activity: If you notice unusual login activity on your WordPress site, such as failed login attempts, it could be a sign of a hack.
- Google warnings: If Google detects malware on your site, it will warn users who try to access your site. If you see a warning message when trying to access your site, it could be a sign of a hack.
If you suspect your WordPress site has been hacked, it’s essential to take action to prevent further damage immediately.
You should consider hiring a professional to help you remove the hack and secure your site.
Additionally, you should change all passwords, update all software and plugins, and back up your website regularly to ensure you have a clean copy in case of a hack.
The Most Common Reasons Why WordPress Sites Get Hacked
Based on my research, here’s a table ranking the causes of WordPress site hacks in order of probability.
|SN||Why WordPress Sites Get Hacked||Probability (%)*|
|3||Malicious Code Injections||10%|
I will further explain each cause below.
1. Weak Passwords
Using weak passwords that are easy to guess or brute-force is one of the most common reasons WordPress sites get hacked. Passwords should be complex and unique for each site and user.
Weak passwords are one of the most common reasons WordPress sites get hacked. Hackers use automated software to guess login credentials and weak passwords make it easier for them to gain access to your site.
Here’s a more detailed explanation of how weak passwords can lead to WordPress site hacks, along with some examples and illustrations:
Brute Force Attacks
Brute force attacks are a common way for hackers to access WordPress sites. In a brute force attack, the attacker uses automated software to try out different combinations of usernames and passwords until they find the correct combination.
Weak passwords make it easier for the attacker to guess the correct password, as they are more likely to appear in password lists or be easily guessed.
For example, passwords like “123456” or “password” are commonly used and easily guessed by hackers.
Credential stuffing is an attack where the hacker uses usernames and passwords obtained from data breaches or other sources to access WordPress sites.
If a user has used the same weak password across multiple sites, the hacker can use that password to access the user’s WordPress site.
This is why it’s essential to use strong, unique passwords for each site and account. A password manager can help generate and store strong passwords for your accounts.
Phishing attacks are another way hackers can obtain login credentials for WordPress sites. In a phishing attack, the hacker sends an email or message that appears to be from a legitimate source, such as a WordPress plugin or hosting provider.
The message contains a link to a fake login page where the user is prompted to enter their credentials. If the user enters their weak password, the hacker can use it to access the user’s WordPress site.
Always be cautious when clicking on links in emails or messages, and check the URL carefully to ensure you are on a legitimate site.
Here’s a table summarizing how weak passwords can lead to WordPress site hacks:
|Method of Attack||Description|
|Brute Force Attacks||Hacker uses passwords obtained from data breaches to gain access to WordPress sites.|
|Credential Stuffing||Hacker tricks the user into entering their weak password on a fake login page.|
|Phishing Attacks||Hacker tricks users into entering their weak passwords on a fake login page.|
Using strong, unique passwords and enabling two-factor authentication can significantly reduce the risk of your site getting hacked. Learn how to reset your WordPress password in case of issues.
2. Outdated Software
Outdated software is a common reason why WordPress sites get hacked. When software components like the WordPress core, plugins, themes, web servers, databases, and operating systems are not updated regularly, they become vulnerable to attacks.
Here are some examples of how this can happen:
WordPress software components can have vulnerabilities that allow hackers to exploit and access your site. When a vulnerability is discovered, the software developers release a patch to fix it.
However, your site remains vulnerable to attacks if you don’t update your software. For example, the WordPress core team regularly releases updates to fix security vulnerabilities and bugs.
If you don’t update your site, you may be vulnerable to attacks that have already been patched.
Exploited Software Dependencies
Hackers can also exploit vulnerabilities in software components that WordPress sites depend on, such as web servers, databases, and operating systems.
These vulnerabilities can allow the hacker to access your site, inject malicious code, or perform other attacks.
For example, if your web server software is outdated and has a known vulnerability, a hacker can exploit it to access your site.
To illustrate this further, here’s a table summarizing how outdated software can lead to WordPress site hacks:
|Method of Attack||Description|
|Unpatched Vulnerabilities||Software components can have vulnerabilities that allow hackers to exploit them and gain access to your site.|
|Exploited Dependencies||Hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in software components that WordPress sites depend on to gain access to your site.|
Updating your WordPress software and its dependencies is crucial to maintaining site security. Regularly checking for updates and implementing them promptly can significantly reduce the risk of your site getting hacked.
For clarity, learn how WordPress software licensing works.
3. Malicious Code Injections
Malicious code injections are another way that hackers can compromise a WordPress site.
In this attack, the attacker injects malicious code into the site, often through a vulnerability in the site’s software or a plugin.
There are 3 major ways in which Malicious codes can be injected into a WordPress site.
SQL injection is an attack where the attacker injects malicious SQL code into a website’s database. This allows the attacker to access and modify sensitive data, such as login credentials or personal information.
A common way this happens in WordPress is through plugins that have vulnerable SQL queries. For example, if a plugin has a weak login form, an attacker can inject malicious code into the form and gain access to the site’s database.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
This attack is often carried out through vulnerabilities in WordPress themes or plugins. For example, if a plugin has a vulnerable form that doesn’t sanitize input, an attacker can inject malicious code into the form and hijack the user’s session.
Backdoors are malicious code that allows attackers to access a site without going through the login process. Backdoors can be injected into a site in various ways, such as through a vulnerable plugin or theme.
Once a backdoor is installed, the attacker can access the site’s files, databases, or other sensitive information.
For example, if a plugin has a vulnerable file upload function, an attacker can upload a backdoor to the site and gain access to the site’s files.
The table below summarizes the main points here.
|Method of Attack||Description|
|SQL Injection||Attackers inject malicious SQL code into a website’s database through a vulnerability in a plugin or theme.|
|Backdoors||Attackers install malicious code that allows them to access a site without going through the login process.|
To prevent malicious code injections, keeping your WordPress core, plugins, and themes up to date is essential.
4. Insecure Hosting
Another common reason why WordPress sites can get hacked is insecure hosting. Insecure hosting refers to hosting environments that are not correctly configured, maintained, or secured.
Here are a few ways that insecure hosting can lead to WordPress site hacks:
Outdated Server Software
The hosting environment can be vulnerable to attacks using outdated software or configurations. For example, if the server software is running an old version of PHP or Apache, it may have known vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.
Shared hosting environments can also increase the risk of WordPress site hacks. In a shared hosting environment, multiple websites are hosted on the same server, which means that if one website gets hacked, it can affect other websites on the same server.
Weak Server Security
Weak server security can lead to WordPress site hacks. For example, suppose the hosting provider doesn’t enforce secure password policies or doesn’t have firewalls or intrusion detection systems in place. In that case, attackers can easily access the server and compromise WordPress sites hosted on it.
To illustrate this further, here’s a table summarizing how insecure hosting can lead to WordPress site hacks:
|Method of Attack||Description|
|Outdated Server Software||Attackers can exploit known vulnerabilities in outdated server software, such as old versions of PHP or Apache, to compromise WordPress sites.|
|Shared Hosting||If one website on a shared hosting server gets hacked, it can affect other websites on the same server, including WordPress sites.|
|Weak Server Security||Weak server security can make it easier for attackers to gain access to the server and compromise WordPress sites hosted on it.|
To prevent WordPress site hacks caused by insecure hosting, choosing a reputable hosting provider that takes security seriously is important. This means looking for a provider that uses up-to-date server software, enforces secure password policies, and has firewalls and other security measures.
Additionally, it’s essential to keep your WordPress site up to date and to use strong passwords and other security measures to reduce the risk of attacks.
5. User Error
Human error is another common cause of WordPress site hacks, and it’s often overlooked as a security risk. A single human error can make your site vulnerable to hackers, even with solid security measures and a strong password. The biggest issue with human error is that it’s entirely within your control, unlike other causes of WordPress site hacks.
Here are some common examples of user errors that can lead to WordPress site hacks:
- Lack of Security Awareness: Users may not be aware of the risks associated with specific actions, such as clicking on suspicious links or downloading files from untrusted sources. This can lead to malware infections or other security breaches.
- Failure to Update Software: Users may neglect to update WordPress core, themes, or plugins, leaving known vulnerabilities unpatched and open to exploitation.
- Improper Configuration: Users may misconfigure their WordPress site, leaving sensitive files or directories accessible to the public or failing to secure the admin dashboard properly.
To emphasize the importance of user error, here’s an illustration of how even a single user error can lead to a WordPress site hack:
[Strong Security Measures] -> [Strong Password] -> [Human Error: Clicks on Suspicious Link] -> [Malware Infection] -> [WordPress Site Hack]
As you can see, even with strong security measures, a single human error can lead to a WordPress site hack. To prevent user errors from compromising your WordPress site’s security, educating users about the risks associated with specific actions and enforcing strict security policies is essential.
This includes implementing strong password policies, keeping WordPress software up to date, and restricting access to sensitive files and directories.
What Should You Do if Your WordPress Site Gets Hacked?
Discovering that your WordPress site has been hacked can be a distressing experience, but taking immediate action to minimize the damage is essential.
Here are some steps you can take if you find that your WordPress site has been hacked:
- Contact your web host: First, you should contact your web host and notify them of the issue. Your web host can help you determine the extent of the damage and take appropriate steps to secure your website.
- Use a malware scanner: To detect the malware or virus that may have caused the hack, you can use a malware scanner like Sucuri or Wordfence. These tools can help you locate and remove malicious code.
- Update all software: Ensure that all your WordPress core, plugins, and themes are up to date. This will help patch any vulnerabilities that the hacker may have exploited.
- Change all passwords: Change all passwords associated with your website, including the admin password, database password, and FTP/SFTP password. Ensure that you use a strong, unique password.
- Contact Cloudflare or Sucuri: Cloudflare and Sucuri offer website security and protection services. They can help you clean up your hacked site and implement additional security measures to prevent future attacks.
Remember, time is of the essence when it comes to dealing with a hacked WordPress site. The longer you wait, the more damage the hacker can do. By taking quick action and following these steps, you can minimize the damage and get your site back up and running as soon as possible.
In conclusion, WordPress site hacks can be a major problem for website owners, but they can also be prevented with the proper security measures and best practices.
By taking the time to implement strong passwords, keep software up to date, and educate users about security risks, you can help protect your website and its data from potential attacks.
I encourage you to act today to protect your WordPress site from hacks.
Consider using a password manager to generate and store strong, unique passwords, regularly updating WordPress core, themes, and plugins, and choosing a secure hosting provider.
By taking these steps, you can help safeguard your website and keep it running smoothly for years.