Traditionally, usernames and passwords have been the main line of defense when it comes to securing content. However, when mishandled, this simple measure can leave your WordPress site open to brute-force attacks.
Strong security practices and a great plugin like Shield Security PRO can go a long way against brute force attacks. With a few simple measures, you can make your site safer and better protect yours and your users’ data.
In this guide, we take a closer look at how brute force attacks allow hackers to break into your site. We’ll also show you how Shield Security PRO‘s features can significantly decrease your site’s vulnerability to uninvited visitors. Lastly, we’ll look at some more steps you can take to protect your site.
The basics of brute force attacks on WordPress
Brute force attacks are one of the oldest hacking techniques in the books; as long as we’ve had passwords, we’ve had brute force attacks trying to crack them.
In a brute force attack, hackers will try to discover a password by systematically guessing every possible combination until they find a match.
Although brute force attacks can be performed manually, modern-day cyber criminals often carry out the task with automated bots. These bots can try to login to your site multiple times a second, with a different combination of credentials each time. With enough time – and the weaker the password, the less time it takes – they land on the right pair.
The concept is based on the infamous infinite monkey theorem – infinite monkeys randomly pressing keys on infinite typewriters forever will eventually produce a full copy of Shakespeare’s works. You can imagine brute force bots this way, and several of those infinite typewriters are going to type out “password123” at some point.
On that note, it’s worth remembering that these kinds of attacks are most effective against sites with weak password policies or poor cybersecurity practices. For example, in previous versions of WordPress, the admin username was “admin” by default. If a site never changed the default setting, bots would have less to guess and can brute force more easily.
Moreover, bots often come armed with a list of common and weak passwords to fuel their guessing game. Safety Detectives reports that the top five most used passwords worldwide in 2023 are:
If any of your users are using these passwords (or similar ones), your site is far more vulnerable to brute-force attacks. Even relatively strong passwords can put your site at risk if the password has been ‘pwned,’ or leaked and broadcasted from a known database breach.
Aside: want to check if your credentials have been involved in a known leak? “Have I Been Pwned” can help.
With sound security practices, your site’s far less at risk of falling victim to a brute-force attack. A good defense starts with understanding the threat, so let’s learn more about the different types of brute force attacks and discuss some strategies to ward them off.
Types of brute force attacks
An informed defense is a strong defense, so let’s explore seven common types of brute force attacks:
1. Simple brute force attacks
In a simple brute-force attack, hackers attempt to guess your password by using a trial-and-error method, randomly generating strings of numbers and characters. While this can be done manually, hackers tend to use bots or specialized software to speed up the process. The attacker’s system could attempt thousands – or even millions – of combinations until it stumbles upon the right one.
2. Dictionary attacks
Comparatively smarter, a dictionary attack is where a bot runs an automation script containing a list of words, called a ‘dictionary’, to guess your password. Your WordPress site is more susceptible to this attack if your users have common, weak passwords.
The dictionary list isn’t limited to actual words; it often includes common numeric series or common phrases. For instance, easy-to-guess combinations like ‘12345’ or ‘iloveyou’ could also be in the bot’s word list.
3. Hybrid brute force attacks
A hybrid brute force attack combines the previous two approaches. This tactic proves more effective than either individually, as it allows hackers to attempt combinations of both common and random passwords, improving their chances of scoring a hit on your WordPress account.
4. Man-in-the-middle attacks
In a man-in-the-middle attack, the perpetrators intercept login attempts between a user and the target system. They then try to brute force credentials while continuing to relay legitimate requests to the user. This technique effectively masks the hacker’s activities from the user, complicating the task of spotting the threat.
5. Password spraying
In a password spraying approach, hackers assume a single commonly-used password, such as ‘12345’ or ‘password’, and apply it across several accounts. This strategy helps attackers maintain a low profile by avoiding raising alarms linked to multiple failed login attempts on a single account.
6. Credential stuffing
Credential stuffing exploits known password breaches or ‘pwned’ passwords. Armed with lists of compromised login credentials, hackers go on a spree, trying the stolen credentials on several different sites.
Their goal? Catch internet users guilty of reusing passwords across multiple accounts instead of using unique credentials for every site.
7. Reverse brute force attacks
Reverse brute force attacks also take advantage of known password leaks but venture into the arena blindfolded – without knowing the username. Starting with the leaked password, attackers then use a brute force method to guess potential usernames. This means you’re particularly at risk for this kind of attack if you’re still clutching onto the outdated default ‘admin’ username.
Shielding your WordPress site: Essential tactics
Brute force attacks highlight some of the major weaknesses facing websites today. As hardware and software continue to improve, hackers can develop more sophisticated – and higher powered – versions of the brute force attack.
Unfortunately, many users’ site security practices have not kept up with these technological improvements. Weak password usage remains a widespread issue, leaving many sites open to potential security breaches.
Though this appears alarming, it’s hardly a sign to throw in the towel! There are several steps you can take to reduce your site’s vulnerability against these kinds of attacks, including:
- Use a security plugin: A robust WordPress security plugin defends your site against would-be invaders. Look for a plugin that allows you to adjust settings as needed to suit your site in order to get the most protection possible.
- Teach your users how to be safe online: Train everyone who uses your site on strong cybersecurity practices such as using random, complicated passwords. Keep users up to date on potential threats and update training as needed.
Boosting your site’s defense with plugins
WordPress is equipped with some essential security measures, but it has plenty of room for improvement. Plugins are a fantastic tool for site owners, as they allow anyone to increase site security without complicated programming.
Among the many security plugins available today, Shield Security PRO stands out as an excellent solution for WordPress users looking to strengthen their security protocols.
Why Shield Security PRO is a Top Choice for WordPress Protection
Shield Security PRO sets itself apart with its proactive approach to security. Scanning and malware detection is the main priority for many security plugins on the market. Although Shield Security PRO also offers these, they’re only part of its wider approach to WordPress site security.
Shield Security PRO mainly focuses on identifying and banning rogue bots. Malicious bots exhibit repetitive, recognizable patterns of activity on a website. Shield Security PRO identifies these patterns and blocks the corresponding IP addresses, stopping the bots in their tracks.
Bot deterrence is just one of Shield Security PRO’s extensive list of features, which also includes:
- The ability to hide your admin login page, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.
- Two-factor authentication for logins, further securing access to your site.
- A solid spam blockade, which reduces bot- and human-generated form and comment spam.
- An ever-watchful surveillance system that detects unfamiliar files or unauthorized changes to recognized files.
- A feature to suspend dormant or unused accounts, diminishing potential points of unauthorized entry.
- A sturdy firewall at your disposal, ready to block malicious requests.
Let’s explore some of the features of the plugin that specifically combat brute force attacks in greater detail.
Limiting login attempts with Shield Security PRO
Brute force attacks, particularly those using bots, operate by trying a multitude of passwords within a short timeframe. By using Shield Security PRO, you can set your site to only allow one login attempt over a given time period.
For instance, if a bot is capable of making 10 password attempts per second, limiting attempts to one every five seconds (Shield Security PRO’s default setting), can seriously impede progress.
Every second counts when it comes to password cracking! An operation that would typically be over in a day or so can be drawn out over weeks – or even months – with the addition of cooldown periods. This makes your site a far less attractive target.
However, setting a cooldown limit calls for a delicate touch since the balance will directly affect the user experience. If it’s too brief, it won’t make a significant difference for security; a lengthy cooldown period could frustrate legitimate users who just mistyped their credentials. Starting with Shield Security PRO’s default 5-second limit is a good approach; you can always adjust it if needed.
Here’s how you can set up a login cooldown period with Shield Security PRO:
- Navigate to your WordPress dashboard.
- Find Shield Security PRO in the left-hand navigation bar.
- Go to Configuration → Login protection.
- Customize your cooldown period under the Bots tab
Limit login attempts with Shield Security PRO
Enforcing good password practices
Shield Security PRO also allows you to enforce password requirement rules for your users. Although strong passwords play only a part in the broader landscape of site security, it’s also an area where you can take a lot of control.
Shield Security PRO has several tools for ensuring password security:
- Enforcing a minimum password strength.
- Preventing the use of ‘pwned’ passwords.
- Setting password expirations so users must regularly update credentials.
- Applying new regulations to existing users (particularly handy for organizations looking to improve upon lax past practices).
To implement all of these settings, follow the below process.
- Navigate to your WordPress dashboard.
- Find Shield Security PRO in the left-hand navigation bar.
- Go to Configuration → Users → Password Policies.
- Tweak these settings as required.
Set password policies for users using Shield Security PRO
Additional security practices for WordPress
Plugins like Shield Security PRO can go a long way toward improving your site’s cybersecurity, but bear in mind that it should only be one aspect of your overall security approach.
There are several other measures you can take to fortify your site against brute force attacks, such as:
Periodically delete inactive user accounts
Remember, your site’s security is only as strong as the weakest link. Unfortunately, this often translates to the least cautious user with backend access. One users’ poor vigilance can make a security breach much easier.
Hand out access judiciously. Only give users the permissions they truly need, and maintain strict control over who can access your site’s backend.
Idle user accounts are like unlocked doors for hackers, so you should periodically audit user accounts as part of your security checklist. Promptly deactivate inactive accounts, and remove credentials of people no longer associated with your website to minimize potential security risks.
Conduct cybersecurity training sessions
Lastly, conduct regular cybersecurity training sessions for your team. By empowering your staff with insights on how to identify, avoid, and, most importantly, report phishing scams and social engineering threats, you turn a potential vulnerability into a sturdy line of defense.
Remember, hackers are most interested in easy targets. If you have a staff full of people trained to spot potential threats, you’re far less likely to fall victim to attacks.
Secure your WordPress site today with Shield Security PRO
Brute force attacks pose significant security threats to WordPress websites. With lots of patience, (or lots of bots), hackers relentlessly chip away at your defenses till they find the weak point and gain entry.
Thankfully, simple security measures can significantly protect your site against these kinds of hacking attempts. For example, using a premier security plugin like Shield Security PRO greatly heightens your site’s security measures.
Shield Security PRO’s proactive approach anticipates potential threats, making your site safer and more secure.
Don’t wait for a security breach to happen when you can prevent them instead. Download Shield Security PRO today and strengthen your WordPress site against potential brute-force attacks.
Attacks stopped after a while after installing Shield
Been doing fine since. Clean, easy to use and light.
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Thanks for the free security! This is a great plugin. Was being hounded by brute force attacks and the other plugins just did not work. I was getting hundreds of emails about site lockouts. Since installing Shield, the brute force emails have evaporated!! Bravo! I also had to log a…
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