WordPress is a fantastic blogging platform for many reasons. Among these are the fact that it has so many plugins, extensions and themes that you can make the platform look and act in virtually any way you could desire.
The problem with being such a robust, powerful and popular platform is that it becomes a target for hackers and viruses. WordPress is like the Windows XP of blogging platforms; used by an insane number of people and left unprotected by far, far too many of them. When one single exploit can infect millions of people, it pays to be cautious.
When you’re downloading a plugin or a theme, you might be tempted to use a third party site to do it. This is important for some, and less important for others. The theme you want, for example, might only be found on the site for the developer of that theme. A premium version of a free plugin might only be available from that developer’s website.
When you’re looking for a plugin or a theme, make sure you trust the source. Avoid downloading your themes in .exe format from myfreewordpressthemes.co.biz, or something equally low quality.
When in doubt, look for the plugin on the official WordPress plugins directory.
Another form of protection is to opt for themes with high ratings for quality and popularity. When a theme has millions of downloads with an average 4 star rating, you can assume it’s probably not a virus. It’s easy enough to fake reviews or downloads, but in that high a volume it’s highly unlikely.
This isn’t always possible, unfortunately. Some good plugins and themes have low numbers, either because they’re new or they’re such a niche use that they aren’t attracting the sort of attention necessary for social validation.
Note that this isn’t a 100% guarantee of safety. It’s always possible that the developer themselves was compromised and an “update” uploaded that contains a virus.
Every computer needs to have antivirus software installed. It doesn’t matter if you’re using an expensive corporate enterprise solution or a free version of Windows Anti-Malware, you need something.
When you download a plugin, you have to go through a few hoops to upload that plugin to your site, where it can take effect. Before you do this, scan the files with a virus scanner. Your antivirus software should allow you to scan certain files specifically; if not, you can find a free online scanner elsewhere.
Once you have scanned the files, you can be reasonably sure that there are no infections in the code of the plugin. There still might be malicious code, just no embedded viruses.
WordPress has a plugin called the Theme Authenticity Checker, or TAC, that is a plugin itself that scans your themes. It searches for code that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, or that is obfuscated for some reason. Very rarely is there a good reason to obfuscate code, so this plugin is pretty good at catching out plugins with malicious embedded code.
You can find the TAC here, and it’s simple to download and install. You may also want to scan this plugin with a virus scanner, to make sure it hasn’t been compromised itself.
This is where another virus scanner comes in handy. Specifically, a scanner you can install as a plugin. This works to detect any potential intrusions from a third party source, or any infections that might occur because of an update to a plugin. The last thing you need is for a formerly trusted plugin to infect your installation.
This particular antivirus plugin scans your code every day and alerts you if anything comes up. You can whitelist specific files to avoid false positives as well.
WordPress, again, is a largely popular platform with a wide usership, which means it’s frequently targeted. In this era of widespread hacks and cyber-terrorism, you can’t afford to leave yourself vulnerable. Here are some more tips to keeping it safe for you and your users.
Finally, you should at least learn the basics of how a virus works and how to cleanse a system. You might not have to do it, but if you do, the knowledge of how to stop the spread of a virus and keep it from making things worse is invaluable.
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