WordPress is a user-friendly CMS that requires very little technical know-how to operate. However, this simplicity can also be a drawback. While WordPress makes it easy to create and manage blog content, keeping the site up-to-date with new features and security fixes can be challenging for inexperienced users.
Fortunately, updating WordPress and its third-party plugins and themes isn’t as complicated as it seems. In this step-by-step guide, you will learn how to update your WordPress themes and plugins in no time. If you used WordPress to build your website, you almost certainly have some additional plugins and themes installed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. They are here to save you time and effort when you are building your website by making it easier to add new features.
It is important to understand that while WordPress is a widely-used content management system (CMS), it is not the only platform that can be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Any website or CMS can be vulnerable to various types of cyber attacks, such as cross-site scripting (XSS), weak passwords and brute-force, distributed denial of service (DDOS), and SQL injection, if it has not been properly secured.
Top security vulnerabilities in WordPress
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
When the code is executed by a victim's web browser, it can steal the victim's information, such as cookies or login credentials, or perform actions on the victim's behalf, such as making a purchase or posting a comment.
There are two types of XSS: stored and reflected.
- In a stored XSS attack, the malicious code is stored on the web server and is served to users every time they access the affected page.
- In a reflected XSS attack, the malicious code is injected into a web page by an attacker, but it is executed only when the victim clicks on a link or submits a form that contains the malicious code.
Weak passwords and brute-force attacks involve guessing or using commonly-used passwords to gain unauthorized access to a website or system. This can be prevented by using strong, unique passwords and implementing rate-limiting or other measures to prevent guessing.
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a type of cyber attack that aims to make a website or online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. This is done by using a network of infected computers, also known as "botnets," to flood the target website with a large amount of traffic, effectively blocking legitimate users from accessing it.
Imagine a traffic jam on a highway, where there are too many cars trying to access the same road, and as a result, no one can move. Similarly, in a DDoS attack, the attacker uses a large number of computers to send a large amount of traffic to a website, making it impossible for legitimate users to access it.
DDoS attacks can have a significant impact on the availability of a website, making it difficult for users to access important information or complete transactions. It can also cause financial losses for the affected company due to lost business.
SQL injection is a type of attack that occurs when an attacker is able to insert malicious SQL code into a website's database through a vulnerability in the website's code. The attacker can then use this code to view, modify, or delete data stored in the database.
To understand how this works, it's important to know that a website's database is where all of the website's data is stored. When a user interacts with a website, the website's code sends a request to the database to retrieve the necessary data. For example, when you log in to a website, the website's code will send a request to the database to check if the username and password you entered match the ones stored in the database.
An SQL injection attack occurs when an attacker is able to insert malicious code into this request. For example, if the website's code is not properly secured and an attacker is able to enter malicious code into a login form, the malicious code will be sent to the database along with the request to check the login credentials. The malicious code can then be used to view or modify data stored in the database, or even delete it.
Reducing the risk of security vulnerabilities
Website security is an ongoing process that requires constant attention and updates. To reduce the risk of cyber attacks, it's important to use strong, unique passwords and limit login attempts. Another way to protect a website is by implementing a web application firewall (WAF). A WAF is a security tool that can detect and block malicious traffic before it reaches the website. Regularly backing up the website's data is also important in case of a successful attack. Keeping WordPress and all of its plugins and themes up-to-date also helps to ensure that any known vulnerabilities are patched.
A WAF is a security tool that is designed to detect and block malicious traffic before it reaches the website. It acts as a barrier between the website and the internet, inspecting incoming traffic and identifying suspicious or malicious requests. This can provide an additional layer of protection for the website, reducing the risk of a successful cyber attack.
WAFs can be implemented in various ways, such as through a hardware device, a software program, or a cloud service. They can also be configured to meet the specific needs of a website, such as by blocking specific types of traffic or requests, or by providing detailed logs of all traffic.
One important aspect of website security is regularly backing up the website's data. This is crucial in case of a successful cyber attack, as it allows the data to be restored to a previous state.
Creating a backup strategy is essential to ensure that the data is protected and can be easily restored. This strategy should include the frequency of backups, the location where the backups will be stored, and who is responsible for the backups. The backups should be stored in a safe and secure location, away from the original data and should be tested to ensure that they can be successfully restored in case of an emergency.
It's important to keep in mind that a backup is not a replacement for a security measure, but rather an additional layer of protection. A website can still be vulnerable to cyber attacks even if the data is regularly backed up, it is recommended to implement other security measures such as using strong, unique passwords and limiting login attempts, and implementing a web application firewall (WAF) that can detect and block malicious traffic before it reaches the website.
Maintaining the security of a website is crucial for protecting sensitive information and ensuring a smooth user experience. One effective method for achieving this is by regularly updating the WordPress platform, as well as any associated plugins and themes.
New versions of WordPress often include security updates and bug fixes, while updates for third-party plugins and themes can also address known vulnerabilities. By staying current with these updates, website administrators can proactively prevent potential cyberattacks.
In the following section, we will further explore the significance of regular updates and provide a detailed guide for easily updating your WordPress, plugins, and themes.
Why is it important to keep your plugins and theme updated?
Hence, it is essential that you find plugins and themes that can provide all the necessary features. However, as time goes by, new versions of these tools are released with new features and bug fixes. This means that if you continue to use an older version of a tool, there are chances of being targeted by hackers or some vulnerabilities. So, it is important for you to keep a track of the latest versions available for your chosen WordPress plugin or theme.
The question now is how you will determine whether your website's theme or plugins need to be updated. This question has a very simple answer. When a theme or plugin update is available, a round badge with a number indicating the number of updates available will appear on an admin sidebar.
Now, you may be wondering if it’s necessary to keep your plug-ins up to date. Well, most developers release new versions of their plug-ins whenever they have a new feature to add or a bug to fix. Upgrades prevent most security breaches and malware assaults that succeed because software updates are not installed and hackers target outdated code. This is especially true with plugins, but it also holds true for themes and WordPress core itself.
Why ignoring WordPress plugin updates can be disastrous?
In the past, there have been several notable security breaches that were caused by outdated WordPress plugins. These instances serve as a reminder of the importance of regularly updating all plugins and themes on a WordPress website.
When it comes to WordPress, keeping your plugins and themes updated is crucial for maintaining the security of your website. Unfortunately, many website owners neglect to do so and end up falling victim to security vulnerabilities.
- Take the TimThumb vulnerability for example. Discovered in 2011, this vulnerability affected thousands of websites and allowed hackers to upload malicious files through an insecure file upload feature in the popular image resizing library. The result? Widespread malware infections that could have been easily avoided with a simple update.
- In 2014, a vulnerability in the popular form creation plugin, Gravity Forms, was discovered. This vulnerability enabled hackers to access the backend of a website through an insecure file upload feature. This made it possible for hackers to gain access to sensitive information, which could have been prevented with regular updates.
- In 2017, a serious security vulnerability was discovered in the popular WordPress plugin, Yoast SEO. This vulnerability, known as a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability, allowed hackers to gain access to the backend of a website by exploiting an insecure file upload feature in the plugin. This vulnerability affected thousands of websites and led to widespread data breaches, putting sensitive information at risk.
It's important to note that these are just a few examples of the many vulnerabilities that have been discovered in the past, and will likely continue to be discovered in the future. By keeping your WordPress plugins and themes updated, you can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to these types of security breaches.
These examples clearly demonstrate the importance of regularly updating all plugins and themes on a WordPress website. Not only do updates often contain security fixes, but they also ensure that the website is compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
Should you always install the plugin updates right after they are published?
It is generally assumed that all updates should be installed as soon as they are released. Personally, I would suggest waiting a few days after the update has been published. This is because some plugins are not thoroughly tested before the developer decides to release them, and it is wise to make sure that the new version is stable.
However, the more plugins you use to customize the look and feel of your WordPress site, the more complicated its underlying code becomes. Since these plugins are developed independently, we can not predict how they will react to future WordPress releases. Given the above, it is usually a good idea to keep a backup of your website's files and database. Backups would allow you to quickly restore your website if an error occurred while you were updating it.
Generally, most reputable WordPress hosting providers offer this service. Kinsta, for example, has a very helpful feature that allows you to automatically create a backup and update the plugins and themes with a single click of the mouse.
How to update WordPress and its plugins & themes automatically?
Generally, WordPress updates are delivered through the auto-updater. Automatic background updates have been available in WordPress since version 3.7 in an effort to improve security and simplify the updating process.
Most websites have this functionality enabled by default. You may choose to auto-update just minor releases, or both major and minor releases, depending on your preference using the auto-update settings that WordPress provides. More details on how to use them may be found in the WordPress documentation.
Updates for major WordPress releases, plugins, and themes must be installed manually. You may, however, activate automatic updates for specific themes and plugins to make the upgrade process go more smoothly.
Automatic updates seem like a great convenience at first glance since they ensure that your website is always up to date with minimal input from you. Fixing bugs, adding new features, and patching security vulnerabilities would all be a breeze, and you would not even have to keep track of when updates were released.
However, while updating, there is a risk of theme and plugin compatibility issues, which might disrupt some functions or even cause the website to crash. If the website is dependent on a large number of plugins, it may be safer to undertake manual updates, at least for plugins.
How to manually install the updates?
Also, you may want to manually install the update if you want to test a beta version of the new software. To manually install the updates, you’ll have to log into your WordPress dashboard. From there, you should click the “Updates” tab to view the available updates. Next, select the WordPress updates and click the update button to begin the installation process.
In addition to the "Updates" area, you may install updates from the "Plugins" and "Themes" sections separately. To update a WordPress theme or plugin, click the "Update now" link in the notification bar.