While security is an important topic for any WordPress site owner, it’s even more so for enterprise websites. Large-scale websites have a lot more to lose by being hacked than sites with smaller audiences. There is more reputation and revenue at stake when the site is not available and potentially more sensitive data that could become compromised.
Because security needs for WordPress enterprise websites is a slightly different beast, in this article we will take a deep dive into it. We will check how it differs from the needs of your normal mom-and-pop site and how you can effectively address them.
Note that we will not cover more general security tips like keeping software updated, using themes and plugins from reputable sources, and hardening WordPress. These are things you should already be doing and which are par for the course if you are running any kind of website. Especially of the dimensions we are speaking of here. The tips below are more specific to bigger websites which deal with other dangers than normal sites.
Security Needs of Enterprise-Level Websites
Before getting into specific security needs, let’s start with defining what an enterprise website is in the first place. From there, it’s much easier to look at what specific security needs it might have.
The term “enterprise” is not really a cut-and-dry definition. Commonly it means large-scale websites with complex structures and large traffic influx that operate on a multinational level. Enterprise websites are also typically administered by a number of different stakeholders and departments that are responsible for its different parts.
Common Security Threats
What kind of security threats do these kinds of websites face?
- Denial of service attacks (DDoS) – The more visible you are, the more likely that someone doesn’t agree with what you are doing. DDoS attacks aim to overload a website’s server by directing fake traffic from botnets to them. The aim is to take out the site and damage mainly its reputation and revenue.
- Gaining access to the website – When someone breaks into your site, they can wreak havoc on its design and functionality, deface it, or potentially steal sensitive data. Most of the times, this either happens through brute-forcing login data or breaking into the server.
- Holding websites for ransom – Hackers will sometimes attempt to lock down important company assets in order to blackmail them into paying ransom to gain back access. This type of ransomware attack has also moved to websites. Of course, this is more lucrative if can do it to a multinational company than Suzy’s corner store. Consequently, that’s something businesses need to protect against.
Security Priorities for Enterprise Sites
Looking at the above, we can break down the most crucial security concerns for enterprise WordPress sites like this:
- Increasing the ability to withstand and redirect harmful traffic surges on all layers of the website
- Keeping login information of users/stakeholders with different levels of permission safe
The next step, of course, is to talk about how you can address them.
WordPress Enterprise Security Best Practices
What follows are specific security tips for enterprise websites built with WordPress.
1. Use Appropriate Hosting
Hosting is the first line of defense against all sorts of threats to the wellbeing of your site. Therefore, all website owners should be concerned about the quality of their hosting provider.
While as a beginner you can get away with cheaper hosting and try to fly under the radar, this doesn’t work for large businesses. With a bigger web presence you have a much larger target on your back and need to batten down the hatches accordingly.
Here, your best choice is to go with both WordPress and enterprise-specific hosting.
What does each of that mean?
Besides providing a server architecture specific to WordPress, this type of hosting also comes with WordPress security features such as:
- Containerization – Websites on the server reside in their own isolated environments. This prevents potential cross-infection from other websites. The same is true for the database.
- Automated backups – Copies of your website are automatically saved at regular intervals. If the worst comes to pass, you can get back up and running quickly without much data loss.
- Expert support – Customer support that is knowledgeable in the WordPress system to help you in a pinch. Plus, you usually also get automatic updates.
A lot of providers also have optional advanced options like:
- Malware scans – Automated systems to spot malicious code on websites before it becomes a problem.
- Built-in firewall – Allows you to keep out potentially malicious traffic before it hits your website and can mitigate brute-force and DDoS attacks.
- Content Delivery Networks (CDN) – Spreads important website files across a network of computers around the world. This lets users download their copy from the location nearest to them. It also helps with the aforementioned DDoS threats.
In the past, enterprise clients might have taken care of all of the above themselves. These days, it’s all readily available for anyone who needs it.
2. Use a Good DNS
In October of 2016, the Internet went down. Large websites like PayPal, Reddit, Spotify, and Twitter were no longer reachable. The reason: a DNS attack.
In case you don’t know what a DNS is, it stands for Domain Name System. It is basically a phone book that maps domains to IP addresses. Without, you would have to type something like 220.127.116.11 into your address bar instead of, say, facebook.com.
If you want to understand more about how this works, check our detailed article on the topic.
For now, it’s important to know that this service is usually provided for free by your domain provider. Their nameservers are what move people along to seeing your website.
The attack on 2016 was on a premium DNS provider. Via DDoS, the attackers took out their nameservers and, with them, their illustrious clientele.
If it happened to them and if it happened before, it can happen again. For that reason, it’s good to have a DNS strategy for your website, especially since DDoS attacks are increasing.
What does that look like?
- Go with a reputable DNS provider that has security and systems in place to withstand attacks. Examples include Oracle DNS, DNS Made Easy, and DNSimple.
- Set up secondary DNS as a failsafe that you can quickly and easily change to if your primary DNS goes down.
In addition to that, premium DNS providers are often faster, leading to quicker loading time. This is another bonus for your enterprise website.
3. Enforce Safe Logins
Insufficient login information is one of the main ways hackers use to break into WordPress websites. Human error is still by far one of the most common pathways into a website. On some levels, it’s no wonder though, have you checked the most commonly cracked passwords lately?
So, how do you make sure that your employees and people who have access to your site don’t become a liability?
First of all, you can take advantage of WordPress’ built-in roles and capabilities. They clearly define what users of different levels can and can not do on your site.
This way, for example, you can make sure that if a user account gets hacked, the person breaking into your site doesn’t automatically get administrator access. By ensuring that everyone only has much power as they need, you protect your site from danger. This is also called the Principle of Least Privilege.
It also means that you might temporarily bump up the permission level as needed and then downgrade it again later. To that end, you are also able to create custom permissions either via plugin or manually.
Besides that, you need to ensure that the credential of those who do get access to your site are bulletproof. Options for that are forcing strong passwords, two-factor authentication, whitelisting admin access only to certain IPs, or blocking IP access to the back end for entire regions. You might also consider using a corporate SSO (single sign-on) system like Okta to make access management even easier.
Finally, WordPress (and some hosts?) has solutions to monitor user actions on your site. That way, it’s easier to figure out when someone is behaving in way that could compromise the website. It also lets you figure out hacking attempts quickly.
4. Firewall and Brute Force Protection
Firewalls are a key component to WordPress enterprise security. They are able to block harmful traffic before it even makes it to your site. They are also able to filter out brute force attacks and are included in many reputable WordPress hosting solutions.
If that is not the case for you, there are also reputable providers for these services, such as:
- Cloudflare – Offers rate limiting to keep out DDoS attacks and brute force attempts away. A web application firewall lets you create rules for what traffic is allowed to make it through and which isn’t, and more.
- Sucuri – Offers a website application firewall and Layer 7 DDoS mitigation. They also have malware monitoring and cleanup as well as performance optimization via CDN.
- StackPath – Formerly known as MaxCDN, it comes with DDoS protection on every plan and also has a specific Web Application Firewall to both protect and speed up your site.
You also have firewalls such as the ones included in Wordfence or Jetpack. Here, it’s important to note that these work at the application level. That means, they filter traffic that has already made it to your website, which can still overwhelm your server. Therefore, for enterprise websites, their application is limited.
In a Nutshell: WordPress Enterprise Security
Security is always an issue when running a website, even more so when it’s highly frequented and complex. Enterprise security for WordPress sites is not a topic you should take lightly. In contrast to smaller sites, it poses specific issues that need addressing.
On the other hand, you also have lots of resources available to do so. Due to the professionalization of the WordPress sphere they are much more readily available. Let’s go over the most pressing steps enterprise websites should adhere to:
- Go for hosting that is specifically optimized for WordPress and enterprise needs
- Use a premium DNS provider rather than relying on default offers from domain registrars
- Ensure safe login practices
- Use a firewall to protect yourself from brute-force and DDoS attacks
If you cover the bases above, you are well on your way to running a website that is not only robust, popular, and successful but also secure.
What do you consider the most crucial security measures for WordPress enterprise websites? Let us know in the comments!