What is a vulnerability?
A vulnerability is a software bug that presents a security flaw within a system. As such, these types of security bugs are more dangerous than other types of bugs since a malicious actor can identify and exploit them. In most cases, vulnerabilities are exploited to either gain access to a system, steal data, and/or its data or to hijack users’ sessions (for example via Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability).
Vulnerabilities tend to be oversights that developers missed during the development process. The good news is that they can be patched through updates, which developers release from time to time. This is precisely why it’s critical to always choose reputable developers who are committed to their products and actively support them.
How do vulnerabilities work?
Vulnerabilities can be classified into one of two categories – technical vulnerabilities and logical vulnerabilities. Every vulnerability represents a different level of potential risk, and each of them works very differently from each other. This difference means that more thorough testing and caution are required to keep websites safe from attacks.
Technical vulnerabilities are vulnerabilities introduced by the technologies being used. Some vulnerabilities are inherent while others are introduced during the development of the software. Common technical vulnerabilities include SQL injection and Cross-Site Scripting (XSS for short).
Logical vulnerabilities are vulnerabilities introduced through the breakdown of logic in an application. Logical vulnerabilities cannot be detected by a scanner and require manual checking of website processes. An example of a logical vulnerability is the manipulation of URL parameters to change the price of an item on an e-commerce WordPress website.
Why are vulnerabilities dangerous?
Vulnerabilities can be exploited by malicious actors in several ways. The impact an exploited vulnerability can have varies on the type of vulnerability. For example if a XSS is successfully exploited, typically it leads to session hijacking. If an SQL injection is exploited, it can allow the bad actor direct access to the database.
Therefore it is hard to tell what the impact of an exploited vulnerability is on a WordPress website, however, it is important to keep in mind that these issues can also lead to the entire WordPress website or even the web server itself being fully compromised.
How vulnerabilities can be introduced to WordPress websites
Vulnerabilities can be introduced to WordPress in different ways. Since vulnerabilities are the result of code oversight, whenever there is code, there is the potential for vulnerabilities.
WordPress itself, and the underlying technologies it uses to function can all introduce new vulnerabilities. While these are unlikely since such systems tend to go through extensive testing, there is still a possibility, however slight, that vulnerabilities will manifest themselves here.
Plugins and themes
Just like WordPress, plugins, and themes may introduce vulnerabilities to your WordPress installation. You can minimize these risks by:
- not using nulled plugins, themes and other software
- doing your homework when choosing the plugins for your website.
How to protect your WordPress website from vulnerabilities
Although vulnerabilities are largely out of our control, there are still steps we can take to limit the risk. These steps follow WordPress security and management best practices and can save you from more than just vulnerabilities.
Updating software whenever updates are released will help you make sure you patch up any security bugs including vulnerabilities as soon as possible. Manufacturers tend to move very fast whenever a vulnerability is reported, ensuring users stay protected as much as possible.
Concerns about updates breaking existing functionality can easily and safely be addressed through a staging environment. As an exact replica of your live website, a staging environment will give you a good indication of how any given update will perform. Several hosting plans include a staging environment however you can also build your own WordPress staging environment using XAMPP or local among others.
Choose reputable plugins and themes
Reputable themes and plugins are always tested extensively before being released to the public. Their developers also tend to be very responsive whenever a security issue is reported. When choosing the best plugin for your WordPress website, make sure you check how often updates are released and be sure to read reviews to get a better understanding of the experiences other users have had with the developer.