Your WordPress site’s security should be one of your top concerns as a webmaster. However, there’s no such thing as a ‘set and forget’ approach with security. In actual fact, your security arrangements should form part of a never-ending process. You need to continually harden, monitor, improve, and test your WordPress security arrangements.
When it comes to the best WordPress security plugins, you’ve got to keep in mind that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ plugin. Securing your website is much more than installing one firewall, or one plugin for that matter. Instead, you need a well-rounded suite of security plugins that meet the needs of your specific industry.
In this article, we’ll outline the 5 pillars of security you should invest in to keep your site safe. We’ll then outline which WordPress security plugins provide the best solutions to each of these pillars. So you can take an all-encompassing approach to WordPress security.
Using multiple plugins to ensure the security of your WordPress site
As mentioned, WordPress security is a complex problem to solve. Thus, you need to implement a layered solution. Unfortunately, many security plugins are marketed as a ‘silver bullet’ to your WordPress security concerns. But when you look at the number of methods malicious users can utilize to compromise the security of WordPress sites, it’s clear that you need several distinct plugins. Each of which is designed to tackle specific threats.
This multilayered approach to WordPress security requires five critical pillars:
- A Firewall/malware scanner
- An activity logging plugin
- A plugin for password security
- A plugin to enable two-factor authentication
- A file changes monitor plugin
As you can see, each plugin has a specific purpose concerning the security of your site. Let’s start by exploring in more detail which the best firewall/malware scanners are, and see why each of these plugins is so critical to your WordPress website’s security.
A firewall/malware scanner plugin
Firewalls have been around for decades. At the basic level, a firewall is a piece of security software that works as a barrier between a trusted and untrusted network (a network refers to the internet infrastructure you use to access a website e.g. Airport Lounge Wi-Fi). More recently, firewalls have been added to web application firewalls (WAF), which protect specific applications such as WordPress.
A WordPress firewall is a web application firewall specifically configured to protect WordPress sites. Every request made to access a site is checked to make sure it’s not malicious or dangerous. The firewall does this by checking what’s known as a signature on the request to make sure that it doesn’t match those known to be associated with harmful activities.
Imagine for a second that your website is a nightclub. The firewall plays the part of the bouncer on the door. They keep a list of names (signatures) associated with problematic behaviour, and these individuals are not allowed entry under any circumstances.
When someone presents an ID, the bouncer cross-references the name of the ID with their list of banned individuals. If the ID matches one of the names on the list, they’re rejected, thus protecting your nightclub (website). The list of names (signatures) is updated every night to keep protecting your nightclub (website) from new troublemakers.
By contrast, malware scanners can help you check your website for other common security risks. For example, they can look for malicious code, suspicious links, suspicious redirects, and old WordPress versions, to name a few. Many WordPress plugins combine firewall and malware scanning capabilities.
Sucuri online WordPress firewall and security platform
Already an established industry name, the Sucuri’s Firewall is widely regarded as one of the best all-round WordPress security plugins. Not only does it work as a web application firewall to stop hackers and DDoS attacks in their tracks, but the full Sucuri security platform also offers thorough malware scans of your website looking for items such as malicious code.
It also checks your website on several domain name blacklist tools (including Google Safe Browsing) and tidies up any actions taken by hackers that have managed to breach your defences.
Malcare WordPress firewall and malware scanner plugin
Another industry leader is Malcare. Developed primarily as a malware scanning plugin, Malcare continuously scans and cleans your website automatically. Better yet, that auto-cleaning process takes place on their servers to prevent interference with your site’s load speeds.
Everything with Malcare occurs in real-time. Attack signatures are updated every second to protect against rapidly-evolving attacks and zero-day vulnerability. Malcare’s algorithms also penetrate deeper than the signatures alone to unearth even the most complex of hacks, eradicating them within 60 seconds.
An activity log plugin
Unsecured WordPress logins are one of the easiest ways hackers can gain backdoor entry to your site. If you have no idea which actions your users are taking, it can be impossible to tell if a user account has become compromised.
To track vital changes made to your website before it’s too late, you need to install an activity-tracking plugin such as WP Activity Log. It packs in a range of features that protect your website from malicious intruders who’ve tried to sneak in under the radar. Leading brands such as Amazon, Disney, Bosch, and Intel are already using it.
With the WP Activity Log plugin, you can:
- Get instantly notified of critical changes to your website via SMS or email.
- Generate any type of user and site activity report for increased accountability.
- See who is logged in, along with their latest actions in real-time.
- Search for a specific activity, to uncover who carried it out and when.
- Store the activity log in an external database.
- Integrate the activity log with third-party extensions such as WooCommerce, WPForms, and many more.
Get the 14-day free trial and see it in action here.
A plugin for password security
Password security is of vital importance. One weak password could derail your entire site. Imagine for a moment that you run a sizable ecommerce store, and a hacker uses an automated brute-force program to guess the password of one of your Administrator user roles.
If you don’t have an activity log plugin or a malware scanner installed, they could insert malicious code that harvested customer payments data from every transaction. A data breach of this scale and nature could have terrible results for your online business.
According to Verizon1, 81% of data breaches are caused by compromised, weak, and reused passwords. Thus, you must force your users to utilize strong passwords that are impregnatable to brute force techniques.
By installing the Password Policy Manager for WordPress, you can enforce a password policy on users that ensures:
- Minimum password lengths.
- Mandatory use of both uppercase and lowercase letters.
- The requirement to use numbers.
- Compulsory use of special characters.
- Frequent changing of passwords.
- Prevention of reused passwords.
You can also configure the plugin to set password policies based on user roles or to lockout dormant users who present the highest risk to your WordPress security. Lastly, in the unfortunate event of a hack, you can use this plugin to perform a one-click reset of all passwords.
To learn more about user roles refer to our guide on how to use WordPress user roles for improved WordPress security.
A plugin to enable two-factor authentication
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how strong your passwords are. A hacker can quickly gain access to your website with stolen user login credentials. If you run a WordPress blog, your content creators could write their passwords on sticky notes and these could fall into the wrong hands. All those months and years of work to rank articles for your website could go to waste if they remove all of your highest-performing posts.
That’s why it makes sense to have a fail-safe security measure in place in the form of two-factor authentication (2FA). By enabling 2FA on your website, you can force users to identify themselves by asking for something only the user knows or has in their possession. By asking for an additional PIN, or a code from another device or app, you can stop hackers and bots attempting to use the login credentials of one of your users.
The free WP 2FA plugin allows WordPress webmasters to add two-factor authentication to their site logins. The plugin supports several different 2FA protocols and can be set up by users within seconds.
A file changes plugin or file integrity monitor plugin
Regardless of the type of website you operate, you need to know of any changes made to critical files as they could have severe repercussions. Most file changes are harmless or desired improvements. However, in other instances, they could open up your website’s defences, unintentionally or otherwise.
For instance, even routine changes to your .htaccess file could pave the way for hackers to redirect search engines from your site to another URL. Another case could be when a database administrator leaves a MySQL database backup (.sql) on the website, allowing an attacker to download your entire WordPress database.
Without an alert system in place, you might not be aware that those changes have been made. The last thing you want to do is give time and scope for those with malicious intentions to uncover weaknesses in your WordPress site’s security.
By installing the Website File Changes Monitor plugin for WordPress, you can ensure no harmful file changes slip through the net. This free plugin allows you to receive real-time notifications of file changes on your website. You can also use the plugin to search for left-over and backup files containing sensitive information left by developers before hackers pick them up.
Finally, the Website File Changes Monitor plugin allows you to scan any type of website code file to uncover any malicious code changes in the event of a suspected hack.
The best WordPress security plugins for complete security
WordPress security is a continuous process. Whether you operate a high-traffic blog or a thriving e-commerce store, the threats to your site are constant. That’s why you have to keep testing and iterating your defences to make sure they are up to the task.
It also requires a layered approach, with so many possible angles of attack used by malicious intruders. Rather than implementing one plugin or firewall, it’s better to use multiple overlapping pieces of software to ensure the security of your WordPress website.
That’s why we recommend that you install the following on your site:
- A Firewall/malware scanner (Sucuri Firewall or Malcare)
- An activity log plugin (WP Activity Log)
- A plugin for password security (Password Policy Manager for WordPress)
- A plugin to enable two-factor authentication (WP 2FA)
- A file integrity monitor plugin (Website File Changes Monitor for WordPress)
References used in this article