WordPress Security Q&A with VaultPress Vaultkeeper

Running a WordPress website means that you have to stay up-to-date with the best security measures in order to protect your website and data from any threats. 

VaultPress Vaultkeeper and lead developer, Mark George, is joining us today for a Q&A on the best ways to stay safe online, and to protect your WordPress website.

How did you find out about WordPress and what were your first impressions?

I’m a latecomer. I first played with WordPress about 4 years ago, when I needed to throw together a quick website for some software I had written. 

Back then, my typical approach to building websites was to throw together some raw HTML, CSS and add a splash of Python or Perl as necessary.

But that was always time-consuming; I just wanted a basic page up quickly without much fuss so I decided to try WordPress out.

When I first started with it, I found it really frustrating. I knew it was a valuable tool for people who didn’t know how to build sites on their own, but I had years of experience building standalone sites. Every tweak I needed to make to the CSS, every line of custom code I had to add to my own plugins, I kept reflecting on how much easier it would be to use the tools I already knew and start from scratch.

But I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did. Once I got used to the way WordPress works and its APIs, I came to appreciate both how flexible it is, and how valuable it is to have a huge pool of prebuilt themes and plugins to draw from when building sites.

Even when you know how to build all that stuff yourself, you don’t want to waste time on it for every site you build.

When did you start working on the VaultPress project? 

I started in early 2013. In 2012, I had been working for a version control hosting provider for 6 years running. I’d built their hosting system from scratch working with only one other developer initially, and I needed something new to sink my teeth into. 

I had heard about Automattic, and was pretty impressed with WordPress at that point so I decided to apply. I hadn’t heard of VaultPress yet, and just wanted to work with the talented and interesting folk behind WordPress.

I came on board in January of 2013, and started to learn how VaultPress’ backup engine worked. Since then, I’ve rewritten most of it. I’ve worked with VaultPress and contributed enough to its development that I feel it’s my baby now, even though I didn’t start the project.

Internet security is a widely discussed topic today. What is the most important piece of security advice you would give to every WordPress site owner out there?

Keep every layer of your software stack up to date; everything from your OS kernel, up to your CMS. Software security is an ongoing and escalating arms race between hackers and developers, so falling behind is really dangerous.

Out-of-date plugins, themes and WordPress core installations are dangerous and should be updated. Modern versions of WordPress support automatic updates, and I strongly recommend enabling that. 

Just last year, hundreds of thousands of sites were infected through a vulnerability in the Slider Revolution plugin which had been patched months prior. Had those site owners kept their software up-to-date, they wouldn’t have been vulnerable.

Outside of vulnerable plugins and themes, it’s also common for hosting providers to limit their customers to plain old insecure FTP for file management. In my opinion, users should avoid hosts that don’t offer more secure file management protocols (such as SFTP or SSH). 

You can never make anything perfectly secure, but staying up-to-date is a key step in keeping up with the arms race.

WordPress is currently used on 23.3% of websites worldwide and is on track to reach 25% before the end of the year. As WordPress becomes more popular, do you think it’ll become a bigger target? How do you think this should be addressed?

WordPress is already one of the biggest targets on the internet. Despite that, core WordPress has remained reasonably secure and free from hacks. The core WordPress development team are some of the most skilled programmers in the world. I feel they should be commended for their excellent work. 

As I mentioned before, most attacks on WordPress sites have been made possible by vulnerabilities introduced by plugins and themes. I feel that as WordPress use grows, we need to focus on training and resources for plugin and theme developers to help keep the rest of the ecosystem as secure as its core.

What do you do to stay secure online? 

I use 1Password to manage my credentials. It allows me to keep a separate random password for every service I interact with. I don’t know most of my passwords at all; I just let 1Password handle them for me.

Wherever available, I use 2 factor authentication. Everyone should turn it on for their WordPress.com accounts; it’s an excellent security feature. 

If you were to create a WordPress site from scratch, what would you do to make sure it’s secure? 

I would install VaultPress on it!

I’d also keep my plugins and themes up-to-date, and be extremely selective about which ones I use. 

I tend to prefer Open Source software, and avoid commercial plugins whenever possible. Open Source software allows more people (including myself) to review the code, leading to better security.

About Stefan

A happiness engineer and a human being.
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