Making Your WordPress Site Harder to Break Into

If you are using an infrastructure-as-a-service offering to host your WordPress site, you might find the following suggestions useful. If you have web access to site administration, e.g., via CPanel, there’s not much more you can do beyond:

  • Install WordFence.
  • Pick a very long password for your admin account. Have a look at secondary authentication options [described below].
  • Keep your software up to date.
  • Have a long hard look at all of those plugins you’re using, and try to cut them to the bone.

Here are a few Linux specific things to consider:

  • Install fail2ban.
  • Install the fail2ban WordPress plugin.
  • Change the default port you are running sshd on from 22 to something above 1024. You might want to check the IANA port listing to avoid colliding with other daemons you may be running on your box. This is pretty painless to do. You could do the same for all of your other network services [obviously excluding your web site and mail transfer agent, if you’re using one].
  • Consider running TCP wrappers on your ssh daemon access. Be careful not to lock yourself out if you don’t have a fixed IP address from your service provider. I use BT: a bit of googling suggested a couple of likely address ranges [81. and 86.], but my get out of jail card is a static IP I can use with a VPN service, which I’ve also configured.
  • Consider restricting access to mysqld to localhost. You may have already done this during install. I have to admit I was pretty careless when I was installing the database in terms of notetaking so I just added a TCP wrapper to be on the safe side.
  • Have an extremely long password for your admin account. Mine is basically half a mile long in 8 point text.
  • Have a look at some secondary authentication [or at least Captcha style robot identification] mechanism on the login form. I’ve experimented with Duo in the past. Make sure you understand the implications of changing your mobile phone if you are using one of the app based mechanisms.
  • Consider chrooting your website. I don’t but I may.
  • Have a look at some of the security scanners, like ZAP. Again, be careful not to lock yourself out with fail2ban.

The rest of these are host specific. A good starting point is to run

nmap -n localhost

to confirm what network services you are running. For instance, I found that my Linux distro had an FTP server running out of the box which I didn’t know about. In my case it was as simple as

pgrep ftp

to get the process id, then

ps -ef | grep <process_number>

[substituting appropriately] to find what the process was, and then finally

apt-get remove <package_name>

For any other servers you need to run, there’s a pretty good chance that there is fail2ban config that you can use off the shelf.

Why I felt I needed to pay more attention…

A few months ago, based on the daily activity reports I get from WordFence, I started blocking ranges of addresses using iptables. So if I got repeated brute force attempt on my admin password from say [this is a real example], I’d block the the entire range by doing:

iptables -A INPUT -s -j DROP

This was pretty tedious, but I only needed to do it around once a week. For some reason [presumably it’s some sort of off the shelf attack script], the attack counts from specific IPs always seemed to top out at exactly 1460 hits. Last week, I got my daily email which showed someone had hit the site 49k times that day. By the time I got home and did some digging in the logs, it was totalling more than 80k for the week. I suddenly realised that my manual blocking was way too blunt a tool, so last weekend I wrote a log scanning ¬†script launched by cron every 30 minutes. It pattern matches on the login form in the Apache log file and sends me an email if an individual IP tops out at over a certain threshold. The longer term plan was that I’d call another script that would automatically insert the block rule in iptables. There would be a bit of messing around with state management [seek to a point in the log file based on the timestamp to not go over the same ground twice or something] and it would have to be run as root, but it would be better than nothing. I happened to mention this to someone at work who told me about fail2ban, which is doing the same thing [but better than I could have implemented it].

I also had a dig around at ssh logs, and discovered that some kind soul was trying to brute force the root password, and was up to 8k attempts for the week. Subsequent digging showed that the same thing was happening with my Imap server, but on a smaller scale.

While what I’ve suggested here isn’t necessarily bullet proof, it’s a reasonable start. Bear in mind that the types of attacks I’m seeing are commensurate with the value of my site, which in commercial terms is zero. And oh, the irony, when my server gets brought to its knees next week by someone with serious intent :).