WordPress Themes Security: Full Checklist by Igor Ligay, CEO of Stylemix

Roberto Popolizio Roberto Popolizio

SafetyDetectives had the chance to talk to Igor Ligay, CEO of Stylemix, a team of WordPress experts with over 50k projects delivered, including their best-selling WP themes and plugins that have generated over $100k in sales so far. We asked his insights on the current state of WordPress security, and his tips on how to make a WP website REALLY safe, starting from choosing the right theme and preventing the most common vulnerabilities affecting WP themes.

Introduce yourself and your company

I’m Igor Ligay, the CEO of Stylemix, a company that has been delivering innovative solutions since its establishment in 2007, with our headquarters located in Dubai, UAE.

We are proud to operate with over 60 employees across four main branches:

  1. Premium WordPress Plugins
  2. Premium WordPress Themes
  3. Professional WordPress Website Maintenance & Support
  4. Custom website Development based on WordPress & Laravel

At Stylemix, we focus on providing targeted business solutions through our range of products and services. We are a Power Elite Author on Envato Market. Notably, our premium WordPress products address specific pain points in various industries. One such flagship product is MasterStudy, a comprehensive Learning Management System designed to empower online educators, with nearly 30,000 active users benefiting from it.

Another standout offering is our Cost Calculator Builder (CCB) plugin, which enhances transparency and user experience for over 40,000 active users. CCB has been instrumental in increasing website leads by up to 30% for approximately 30,000 users.

Also, at Stylemix we offer premium WordPress website maintenance subscription plans tailored to the unique needs of our clients, with a dedicated client relations team assisting in plan selection. We take care of tasks like updates, security, backups, SEO, and content creation, PPC marketing (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Yelp). This is the perfect choice for businesses to dedicate more resources to their core activities.

We recognize that a website isn’t merely an online presence; it should be a powerful tool for businesses to engage with customers, showcase their offerings, and drive growth.

What are the most common vulnerabilities affecting WP themes in 2023?

Common vulnerabilities affecting WordPress (WP) themes in 2023 are:

  1. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): Unsanitized user inputs can enable attackers to inject malicious scripts into web pages, compromising user data or accounts.
  2. SQL Injection: Poorly coded themes may allow attackers to manipulate databases, steal data, or gain control of the website.
  3. Insecure File Uploads: Themes lacking proper file upload security can be exploited for uploading malicious files.
  4. Outdated Software: Failure to update themes exposes sites to known vulnerabilities.
  5. Insecure Theme Options: Weakly secured theme options panels can be manipulated for malicious purposes.
  6. Default Credentials: Using default or weak login credentials can lead to unauthorized access.
  7. Missing Security Headers: Themes should implement security headers like CSP and HSTS for protection.
  8. Lack of Data Validation: Insufficient data validation can expose sites to various attacks.
  9. Insecure APIs: Themes interacting with external services must do so securely.
  10. Insecure Authentication and Authorization: Weak or missing authentication can result in unauthorized access.
  11. Theme-Based Vulnerabilities: Some themes may have unique vulnerabilities specific to their features.
  12. Failure to Escape Output: Insecure handling of user-generated content can lead to XSS vulnerabilities.

How to check If a WordPress theme is secure?

To ensure a WordPress theme is secure, follow these steps:

  1. Source from Reputable Providers: Obtain themes from trusted sources like the official WordPress repository or reputable theme marketplaces.
  2. Check for Frequent Updates: A secure theme should have regular updates to patch vulnerabilities. Check the theme’s changelog for recent updates.
  3. User Reviews and Ratings: Read user reviews and ratings to gauge the theme’s quality and security. Avoid themes with poor feedback.
  4. Scan for Malware: Use security plugins like Sucuri, Wordfence, or Theme Authenticity Checker (TAC) to scan themes for malware.
  5. Review the Theme’s Documentation: Analyze the theme’s documentation for details on security features and best practices.
  6. Review the Code: If you have coding knowledge, review the theme’s code for vulnerabilities, including proper data validation and escaping.
  7. Test for Compatibility: Ensure the theme is compatible with the latest WordPress version and popular plugins.
  8. Check for Known Vulnerabilities: Search for any known vulnerabilities associated with the theme. You can use online vulnerability databases.
  9. Demo Site Examination: Review the theme’s demo site for any unusual behavior or security issues.
  10. Ask the Developer: Contact the theme developer or support team with security-related questions. A responsive team is a good sign.
  11. Third-Party Scans: Use online security tools like WPScan to check if the theme has known security issues.
  12. SSL Encryption: Ensure the theme demo site uses SSL encryption, indicating a commitment to security.
  13. Licensing: Verify that the theme is properly licensed and follows copyright laws.
  14. Responsive Support: Reach out to the theme developer’s support team with any inquiries or concerns.
  15. Backups: Before installing a theme, always backup your website. In case of issues, you can restore your site to its previous state.

What are the differences between free and paid WordPress themes in terms of security?

The differences between free and paid WordPress themes in terms of security are:

  1. Source and Trustworthiness:
  • Free Themes: Typically available from various sources, including the WordPress repository and independent developers. Quality and security can vary widely.
  • Paid Themes: Often sourced from reputable theme marketplaces as Envato or well-known developers, providing a higher level of trust and accountability.
  1. Code Quality and Standards:
  • Free Themes: May not adhere to strict coding standards, increasing the risk of vulnerabilities.
  • Paid Themes: Tend to follow best coding practices, reducing the likelihood of security issues, and are checked by trusted marketplaces as Envato before uploading.
  1.  Regular Updates and Support:
  • Free Themes: Updates may be infrequent, leaving your site vulnerable to emerging threats. Limited or no support options.
  • Paid Themes: Regularly updated to address security vulnerabilities and compatibility issues. Typically offer dedicated support channels.
  1.  Security Features:
  • Free Themes: May lack advanced security features, such as built-in firewalls, security audits, or vulnerability scanning.
  • Paid Themes: Often include enhanced security features or compatibility with security plugins, bolstering site protection.
  1.  Code Review and Audits:
  • Free Themes: May not undergo thorough code audits, making it harder to detect hidden vulnerabilities.
  • Paid Themes: Often subject to rigorous code reviews, reducing the likelihood of hidden security flaws.
  1.  Community and User Feedback:
  • Free Themes: Relyon user feedback and community support, which can be inconsistent.
  • Paid Themes: Benefit from a more engaged and supportive community, with frequent updates based on user needs.
  1.  License and Copyright:
  • Free Themes: May have more flexible licensing, but this can lead to misuse and distribution of insecure versions.
  • Paid Themes: Typically have clear licensing terms, reducing the risk of unauthorized usage.
  1.  Customization and Features:
  • Free Themes: May offer limited customization and features, requiring additional plugins that can introduce security risks.
  • Paid Themes: Often provide comprehensive customization options and integrated features, reducing the need for third-party plugins.

In summary, while free themes can be a budget-friendly option, paid WordPress themes like our Motors theme, MasterStudy theme and others generally offer better security through consistent updates, reputable sources, and enhanced features. When prioritizing security for your WordPress site, investing in a paid theme can provide peace of mind and long-term protection against potential threats.

What should website owners do if their WP theme isn’t safe?

If website owners discover that their WordPress theme isn’t safe, they should take the following steps:

  1. Immediately deactivate and stop using the compromised theme to prevent further security risks.
  2. Scan for Malware: Utilize security plugins or online scanning tools to detect and remove any malware or malicious code within the theme files.
  3. Update WordPress and Plugins: Ensure that WordPress and all installed plugins are up to date. Outdated software can be vulnerable to attacks.
  4. Contact the Theme Developer: Reach out to the theme developer or marketplace where you acquired the theme. Inform them about the security issue and request an update or solution.
  5. Check for Theme Updates: Check if the theme developer has released an updated, secure version of the theme. If available, update the theme to the latest version.
  6. Implement Security Plugins: Install and configure reputable security plugins to enhance your website’s overall security. Plugins like Wordfence or Sucuri Security can help.
  7. Backup Your Site: Before making any changes, create a full backup of your website. This ensures that you can restore your site if anything goes wrong during the remediation process.
  8. Consider a Security Expert: If the security issue is severe or if you’re unsure about the extent of the compromise, consider hiring a WordPress security expert to assess and clean your site thoroughly.
  9. Review User Accounts: Check your WordPress user accounts for suspicious or unauthorized access. Change passwords and remove any unfamiliar users.
  10. Scan for Vulnerabilities: Regularly scan your website for vulnerabilities, both in themes and plugins. Vulnerability scanners and security plugins can assist in this regard.
  11. Improve Security Practices: Enhance overall website security practices by implementing strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and limiting login attempts.
  12. Monitor Website Activity: Continuously monitor your website’s traffic and activity for any signs of unusual behavior or security threats.
  13. Educate Your Team: If you have a team managing the website, ensure they are aware of security best practices to prevent similar issues in the future.
  14. Consider a More Secure Theme: Evaluate alternative, reputable themes that prioritize security. Paid themes from well-established developers are often a safer choice.
  15. Regular Backups: Implement regular automated backups to ensure you can quickly restore your website to a clean state if another security incident occurs.

Remember that website security is an ongoing process. By promptly addressing security concerns and proactively implementing security measures, you can safeguard your WordPress site and reduce the risk of future vulnerabilities.

Your additional tips to Improve WordPress websites security?

Elevating WordPress website security is essential in today’s digital landscape. Here are some additional tips to enhance your WordPress website’s security:

  1. Unique Administrator Username: Avoid using the default “admin” username. During WordPress installation, create a custom, unique username for the administrator role. This can thwart attackers’ initial attempts to gain access.
  2. Regular Security Audits: Perform routine security audits of your site. This includes reviewing logs for suspicious activities, checking for unauthorized changes, and scrutinizing user accounts. Many security plugins provide audit trail features.
  3. User Role Management: Assign user roles carefully. Only grant necessary permissions to users. Avoid assigning the administrator role to every user, as this can lead to unnecessary vulnerabilities.
  4. Secure File Uploads: If your website allows file uploads, ensure they are safe. Configure your site to only accept uploads from trusted sources, and restrict file types to prevent malicious uploads.
  5. Web Hosting Selection: Opt for a hosting provider with a solid security track record. Managed WordPress hosting typically includes proactive security measures and malware scanning.
  6. Regularly Test and Update: Regularly test your website’s security posture with tools like security scanners and vulnerability assessments. Apply security updates promptly to mitigate known vulnerabilities.

WordPress security is a continuous process that demands vigilance. By adopting these practices and fostering a security-conscious mindset, you can fortify your WordPress website against threats and ensure it remains a safe haven for visitors and users.

What security challenges do you see in the future of your industry, and what should site owners do to prevent them?

The WordPress development industry is set to face several security challenges in the future, and site owners must be prepared to tackle them effectively:

  1. Increasingly Complex Threat Landscape: As WordPress continues to evolve and become more feature-rich, it also becomes a more attractive target for cybercriminals. Site owners should expect an uptick in sophisticated attacks, such as supply chain attacks targeting plugins and themes.
  2. Zero-Day Vulnerabilities: Zero-day vulnerabilities, which are security flaws unknown to the software vendor, will remain a concern. Site owners should be proactive about updates and consider implementing Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) to protect against unknown threats.
  3. Plugin and Theme Risks: Plugins and themes can introduce vulnerabilities if not properly maintained. Site owners should only use reputable, actively maintained plugins and themes. They should also regularly update these components and remove any unnecessary ones.
  4. User Awareness: Human error remains a significant security risk. Site owners should invest in user training to ensure their teams understand security best practices, including password management and how to spot phishing attempts.
  5. Data Privacy Regulations: Compliance with data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA will become even more critical. Site owners should maintain transparency in data handling, obtain necessary consents, and regularly audit their data protection practices.
  6. Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs): APTs, which are prolonged and targeted attacks, may increase in the future. Site owners should implement intrusion detection and response systems and conduct regular security audits.
  7. IoT Integration: Integrating IoT devices with WordPress websites can introduce new vulnerabilities. Site owners should secure IoT devices, segment their networks, and implement strong access controls.
  8. Quantum Computing Threat: Although not an immediate concern, the advent of quantum computing threatens current encryption standards. Site owners should monitor developments in quantum-resistant encryption and be prepared to transition when necessary.

To prevent these security challenges, site owners should:

  • Regularly Update and Patch: Keep WordPress, themes, plugins, and the hosting environment up-to-date to fix known vulnerabilities promptly.
  • Implement Strong Access Controls: Use strong, unique passwords and employ multi-factor authentication (MFA) for user accounts.
  • Regular Backups: Maintain regular, automated backups of your website to quickly recover from a security incident.
  • Security Audits: Conduct regular security audits and penetration testing to identify and address vulnerabilities.
  • Incident Response Plan: Develop an incident response plan that outlines steps to take in case of a breach.
  • User Education: Continuously educate your team about security best practices.
  • Third-Party Risk Assessment: Evaluate and monitor the security practices of third-party providers, especially when using plugins and themes.
  • Monitoring and Alerts: Implement monitoring tools to detect suspicious activities and set up alerts for unusual behavior.
  • Data Encryption: Encrypt sensitive data and communications to protect them from eavesdropping.
  • Compliance: Stay informed about data privacy regulations and ensure your website complies with applicable laws

For people who are serious about their business and desire comprehensive website maintenance and monitoring services, Stylemix has the perfect solution – our quarterly and annual maintenance subscription plans. With our expertise, you can rest easy, knowing that your website is in capable hands. We offer a range of services, including:

Real-Time Security Monitoring: We keep a vigilant eye on your website’s security, ensuring it remains safe from threats and vulnerabilities.

Firewall Management: Our team manages a robust firewall to safeguard your website from potential attacks, adding an extra layer of protection.

Plugin Updates: We ensure that all essential plugins on your website are up-to-date, ensuring compatibility and functionality.

Speed Optimization: Slow-loading websites can be frustrating for visitors. We work to optimize your site’s speed, providing a better user experience.

Backups: Regular backups of your website are crucial to ensure that your data is secure. We handle these backups for you, so you don’t have to worry about losing important information.

With Stylemix, your website maintenance is hassle-free. We take care of the technical details while you focus on what’s important – growing your business.

About the Author

About the Author

Over a decade spent helping affiliate blogs and cybersecurity companies increase revenue through conversion-focused content marketing and Digital PR linkbuilding.