Security with Tim Nash

Another amazing guest speaker – this time Tim Nash of 34SP.com (and timnash.co.uk).

Tim is the platform lead at 34SP.com for their Managed WordPress product in addition to being the company’s Developer Advocate.

Tim’s presentation managed to be both scary and reassuring about security: making it clear that security is everyone’s responsibility but also that there are plenty of things we can do to make our sites secure.

Tim pointed out that sites are as likely to be hacked if they’re running a security plugin as they are if they’re not! This underlines the fact that plugins only really fix one small part of a larger security process which includes making sure the server is set up correctly, that people are sensible with the way they use passwords, and that site administrators set up users correctly.

It’s important to make sure that users are only given the permissions that they need and that sites have as few administrators as possible. Some site owners have two accounts – an editor and an administrator – and purposefully change their administrator password to something ridiculous so it’s impossible to log in with it unless it’s reset using the site’s database. Others add alerts to their sites which make it really clear when logged in as an administrator and they may have too much power!

In terms of passwords, most have been leaked at some point so it’s important to change them regularly and never use the same password for multiple sites.

Whether you use a password manager or not (see Keypass and Keeweb, password length is far more important that complexity (i.e. combinations of letters, numbers and special characters) so an increasingly popular way of handling passwords is to use pass phrases

Two factor authentication (using a phone app to provide a special login key every time you log in) is another great way to increase your site’s security. There are several plugins which add two-factor authentication to your site. Just make sure you print (and keep safe) your backup codes! The best method is to combine a long pass phrase and two-factor authentication.

Keeping everything up to date is also vitally important – core WordPress, plugins and themes (even if they’re not active) and don’t pirate themes which might not be updateable. Using child themes, as ever, is strongly recommended. Tim pointed out it’s worth updating even if it breaks little things – it’s better to have a secure site.

Site monitoring is a handy tip Tim gave us: use visual regression testing, which takes a visual snapshot of your site (or part of your site) and warns you if it looks different. Visualping.io is one example of a visual regression testing service. Testing backups when you take them is also really important – and it’s handy to automate this as much as you can, if you know how!

Hardening WordPress refers to making sure the server is set up correctly. There’s a great guide at https://codex.wordpress.org/Hardening_WordPress

Finally, use HTTPS on everything! We’ll be covering HTTPS in more depth in a future meetup but in the mean time it’s worth checking the sort of HTTPS/SSL certificate your hosting service can provide you with. You shouldn’t need to pay – there are plenty of free services available now, inlcuding Amazon.