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5 Essential Tips to Lock Down and Secure Your WordPress Website

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Hey there! Securing your WordPress site is no joke. As the most popular CMS today, WordPress powers over 40% of all websites on the internet. But with great power comes great security responsibility.

WordPress‘ wide usage also makes it a huge target for hackers and malicious actors. They actively look for vulnerabilities to exploit and compromise WordPress websites. So having proper security measures in place is mission critical for any WordPress site owner.

In this detailed guide, I‘ll share 5 key tips to help you harden and secure your WordPress website. I‘ve been building on WordPress for over 5 years and have learned the ins and outs of keeping sites safe.

These best practices come from both my own experience and established WordPress security expertise. By implementing them, you can lock down your site and prevent most attacks.

Let‘s jump right in and explore how to make your WordPress site more secure!

Require Strong Passwords

The starting point for any secure WordPress site is having strong login credentials. Your WordPress password is the keys to the kingdom – it controls access to everything from your admin dashboard to your site content.

Weak or default passwords basically leave the doors unlocked for hackers to walk right in. Here are some best practices for creating strong passwords:

  • Make it long – Use at least 12 characters or more. Short passwords are too easy to crack.

  • Include uppercase AND lowercase letters – This significantly expands the possible combinations.

  • Add numbers, symbols, and special characters – Things like !, @, #, $, etc. make passwords way more complex.

  • Avoid dictionary words or common phrases – Never use simple passwords like "password123" or "letmein".

  • Consider using a password manager – Tools like LastPass generate, store, and fill strong randomized passwords for you.

  • Never reuse the same password across sites – Unique passwords limit damage if any one site is compromised.

I also recommend changing any default passwords that come with WordPress or hosts. And definitely use completely new credentials for administrator accounts.

Enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) provides an additional layer beyond just passwords. With 2FA, logging into a site requires your password plus a secondary one-time code from your phone or authenticator app. Popular plugins like Google Authenticator and Duo Security add 2FA to WordPress.

Overall, having strong passwords and 2FA will go a LONG way towards securing your site from unauthorized access. Don‘t take passwords lightly!

Limit Login Attempts to Stop Brute Force Attacks

Along with strong passwords, you need to limit login attempts to block brute force password attacks.

Brute force attacks try countless password combinations through automated scripts. They simply guess over and over again until hitting the right password.

With no limit on retries, a determined attacker can eventually brute force their way in. But limiting max attempts makes this strategy far less effective.

Once the maximum number of tries is reached, further login requests get blocked for a period of time. This stops the guessing game dead in its tracks.

Here are some tips for limiting login attempts:

  • Set a maximum number of retries before blocking – Start with 5-10 attempts to balance security and avoiding accidental lockout.

  • Increase blocking time after each lockout – Exponentially scale block duration up to an hour or more.

  • Log IP addresses of blocked requests – Help identify if attempts are coming from the same source.

  • Alert admin if lockouts occur – Be aware of potential attacking activity.

  • Require CAPTCHAs after X failures – Adds human verification to slow automated guessing.

  • Blacklist IP addresses after so many lockouts – Completely block source of repeated failed logins.

Top WordPress security plugins like WordFence allow easily implementing login rate limiting rules. This firewall feature is hugely important for repelling brute force attacks.

Don‘t leave your login page exposed – put up some boundaries to stop the password guessing onslaught!

Force HTTPS Encryption With SSL

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption is non-negotiable for securing any WordPress site. SSL provides two main benefits:

  1. Encrypts connections – All data transmitted between your servers and visitors is scrambled and secured from spying eyes.

  2. Enables HTTPS protocol – Switching to HTTPS keeps connections secure from start to finish. This also boosts your site‘s trust and SEO.

Any WordPress site handling user logins or sensitive data needs SSL installed. Many managed WordPress hosts include free SSL certificates to enable HTTPS access.

If your host doesn‘t provide SSL, you can purchase affordable certificates starting around $60/year from services like LetsEncrypt, DigiCert, GlobalSign, etc.

Once you have an SSL certificate, install and activate it at the host level if possible. This handles encryption at the web server tier before WordPress is involved.

Then within your WordPress dashboard, force all connections over HTTPS:

  • Navigate to Settings > General
  • Change "WordPress Address (URL)" and "Site Address (URL)" to HTTPS
  • Save changes

This will make WordPress only respond to secured HTTPS requests. It‘s also wise to:

  • Verify certificate chains are trusted
  • Prioritize modern TLS 1.2+ encryption protocols
  • Use strong ciphers like AES 256-bit or ECC for encryption algorithms
  • Redirect any HTTP requests to HTTPS in your .htaccess file

Taking these steps ensures your site is fully encrypted end-to-end. Data stays protected as it travels between visitors and your servers.

Carefully Vet Plugins and Themes Before Installing

The plugins and themes you use introduce significant security considerations. Every additional plugin installed expands your site‘s attack surface.

Like apps on your phone, each extra plugin represents potential vulnerabilities. Being extremely selective about plugins and vetting them is critical for any secure WordPress site.

Here are some tips for evaluating plugins and themes:

  • Limit plugins to only essential ones – More plugins means more risk, so be selective.

  • Check user reviews and reports – Look for any vulnerabilities reported before installing.

  • Make sure plugins are frequently updated – Outdated abandoned plugins are security landmines.

  • Install only from trusted developers – Stick to reputable sources like the .org repository.

  • Avoid nulled or cracked plugins – These often have backdoors purposefully added.

  • Delete unused plugins completely – No leftovers – completely remove inactive plugins.

  • Use minimal themes and vet them as well – The same guidance applies for themes.

Compromised plugins are a leading attack vector on WordPress sites. Being choosy about what you install and keeping plugins updated is so important.

I also recommend having automatic background updates enabled. This ensures any security fixes in plugins or themes are applied promptly.

Regularly audit the plugins and themes on your site. Remove any that are stale, outdated, or no longer needed. Less is more when it comes to security!

Maintain Latest WordPress Version

Outdated versions of the WordPress core software itself are also highly targeted by attackers. New WordPress releases address security flaws in previous versions.

Running the latest version means you get all the latest security enhancements. Benefits include:

  • Bug fixes – Errors, flaws, and vulnerabilities get patched.

  • Performance improvements – Speed and page load optimizations.

  • Enhanced features – Better editing, SEO, accessibility and more.

  • Hardening security – Fixes for exploits plus new protections.

At an absolute minimum, you should update to the newest minor release within your major branch. So if on 5.5.x, install the latest 5.5.y.

But I recommend updating all the way to the latest major branch like 5.9.x whenever possible. This takes more effort but maximizes security.

Here are some tips for keeping WordPress core updated:

  • Enable auto-updates – Use background updates for easy automated patching.

  • Review release notes – Check details of changes to prioritize major updates.

  • Test on staging first – Check for compatibility before deploying to production.

  • Use staging workflows – Promote fully tested updates from staging sites.

  • Have backups ready – Be able to restore if something breaks.

Staying updated does take some maintenance. But it directly prevents your site from being an easy target.

Out of date WordPress sites are compromised every single day. Don‘t be one of them!

Lock It Down Further With These Security Steps

Beyond the major points we‘ve covered already, here are some additional tips for further hardening your WordPress site:

  • Change default admin URL – Don‘t use the predictable wp-admin path for your dashboard.

  • Limit or disable XML-RPC – Shut this potential attack vector down if not needed.

  • Add security focused plugins – Wordfence, VaultPress and others provide hardening.

  • Use single sign-on – Have users authenticate before accessing WordPress admin.

  • Leverage strict file permissions – Limit access to minimum required for operation.

  • Disable file editing – Shut down the plugin and theme editors.

  • Generate secure WordPress salts – Increase security of login sessions and auth cookies.

  • Disable trackbacks – No pingbacks between sites to exploit.

  • Serve static resources from a separate domain – Host JS/CSS files outside of WordPress.

  • Limit risky PHP functions – Disable things like allow_url_fopen and eval().

  • Disable unused features – Remove unused tabs like comments if not needed.

Hardening WordPress is an ongoing process. But taking these steps piles on layers of extra security atop the core recommendations.

Just How Big of a Target is WordPress?

You might be wondering – just how much does WordPress get targeted and attacked? Is all this security really necessary?

Let‘s look at some stats:

  • WordPress powers 43% of all websites – The world‘s most popular CMS by massive margin (Source).

  • Over 90% of WordPress sites have plugins with known vulnerabilities (Source)

  • WordPress sites have an average of ~13 vulnerabilities per site – Massive attack surface! (Source)

  • Attacks on WordPress sites increased 300% YoY in 2018 – Upward trend (Source)

With WordPress dominating the web, hackers aggressively probe for ways into sites. This makes comprehensive WordPress security a must!

Keep Security Top of Mind

Keeping your WordPress site secure requires ongoing vigilance. Don‘t let your guard down!

Follow these tips to harden and protect your site:

  • Strong passwords + 2FA
  • Limit login attempts
  • Force HTTPS with SSL
  • Vet plugins and themes
  • Maintain latest WordPress version
  • Additional hardening steps

No single measure will make a site 100% hack-proof. But combining these best practices will block the vast majority of attacks.

Staying on top of security protects your site from unauthorized access and malicious activity. It also helps build lasting trust with visitors who expect their privacy and data to be safe.

I hope these tips give you a game plan and some reassurance to lock down your WordPress site! Please reach out if you have any other questions. I‘m always happy to chat more about WordPress security.

Stay safe out there!

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