Secure CMS

By Sheelu George November 13, 2019 8 min read

Ways to secure CMS websites

The most widely used Content Management Systems are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal as per statistics.

If you want to build and maintain an attractive, engaging website then these platforms are what you are searching for. They are easy to handle for novices as well. Since websites are built using source code that is publicly available, customization and usability become easier and efficient but invite several CMS vulnerabilities.

This article addresses the commonly asked question- how to secure any website? by providing various security measures that one should take for securing their CMS websites from vulnerabilities. You will be equipped with:

  • The most popular CMS in the market.
  • How do hackers gain control over the website?
  • Ways to secure your CMS website
  • What is the contribution of headless CMS?
  • Full-web isolation of the CMS

The most popular CMS in the market

One of the biggest factors in most CMS vulnerabilities is the open-source nature of the platform’s code. To enhance the website security, unfortunately most of the platforms fail to provide users with sufficient sources to defend themselves from threats thus being more prone to attacks.

Drupal is one of the most secure CMS platforms available today in the market. Drupal is designed by techies whose focus is on security thus one of the major reasons to be the preferred choice of multiple government organizations. 

Joomla on the other hand is equipped with a smaller security team bending towards more experienced developers. With a secure platform’s core code; plenty of information is available to get a thorough knowledge on cybersecurity best practices. 

WordPress, with more than 75 million websites to its credit is labelled as the most popular CMS platform. With this it has attracted a lot of security issues as well. As per the stats, in 2018, nearly 90% of the hacked CMS websites were hosted on WordPress. According to a recent study, from 40,000+ WordPress websites, more than 70% WordPress sites are vulnerable to hacker attacks. These hacks were mostly deployed backdoors. The reason was WordPress’s size where users were abandoned to search and implement their own website security measures. This is really a tedious task for the novice users.

How hackers gain control over the website?

Before dwelling on the ways to secure CMS we could list the ways in which hackers could gain control over the website.

Web-borne Threats to CMS Endpoint Security

Malicious front-end client-side code is another factor where CMS security is compromised. CMS users are thus explored to endpoint security breaches through SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other exploits. 

The client-side extensions for regular web traffic include some active scripting invoking backend APIs for data update on the backend CMS server. Some of the examples are: SQL commands, scripts, and unexpected formats and payloads. 

This kind of vulnerability led in hacking of Drupal APIs recently. One of the solutions to this problem is minimizing active client-side use and restricting the backend access from the regular internet traffic. 

Another way is to use a static exported version of the web content as your public site. This site has to be hosted separately. This will restrict attacks to the public version of the website and thus the CMS backend or other internal systems hasn’t to be compromised anymore.

Easily accessible through the login screen

The frontend login can be easy for the users but it’s a favorite possible way for hackers and bots to gain access. The password strength also plays a vital role, In case if the password strength is weak it can be easily cracked. As admin has access to the same website there is a possible scenario where a hacker would input sequence of passwords multiple times to gain access to the admin panel.

Outdated websites

Using an older CMS version that is obsolete also means that the security of the system has not been updated. In every version of the software update, new security fixes and upgrades are been released.

Additional Add-ons

Using additional plugins, modules, themes and other injections that are not verified are one of the reasons for hacking , hence if their vulnerabilities are not fixed they give way to high possibilities for hackers to gain access through these unverified plugins.

CMS Vulnerabilities created by the Browser

The browser is held responsible for most of the CMS exploits. Arbitrary code is executed by the traditional browsers from the web locally. There is an additional risk on the CMS running in the user browser due to insecure overlays, pop ups, plugins, and add-ons.

The most frequent attacks are on web browser plugins, extensions, and modular add-ons. They are basically aimed at web developers, content managers, and creative heads that further pose CMS security risks.

One way to get rid of these hijacks is by isolating modules and add-ons in the CMS. Granting access to the non-technical end users to the add-ons and plugins codes is a risk because they are incapable of creating their own modules. 

The web developers that have administrative rights for creating and managing extensions should dedicate themselves in the sub-systems they are responsible for and contribute to the development using the Web Content Management System API.

Ways to secure your CMS website

These are the vulnerabilities through which a website can be hacked easily, however in case we develop the website using strong security practices it would be more reliable and gives away less possibility to hacking. We have ways and solutions to secure CMS websites which are discussed below:

Two Factor Authentications (2FA)

A second layer security during the login would be essential in order to tighten the security of the website. Authenticator plugins can be used that would send an OTP to the registered mobile or email, once verified the user would be able to login.

Restrict the number of login attempts

Restricting the number of login attempts would eliminate brute force attacks, as well as decrease the possibility of hackers or bots to gain access to the system.

Verified plugins

As we had discussed about vulnerabilities in installing unverified plugins, it is recommended to install verified plugins in order to keep the system secure. 

Implement a firewall

Firewall acts as an extra security layer to the infrastructure in order to block unwanted IP’s. Ensuring firewall is in place for all cms websites provides additional security and is also useful to track suspicious activities.

Keep the website updated

CMS site and all the plugins needs to be updated at regular intervals whenever an update is notified. Developers would often release fixes and upgrades that would include new security fixes ensuring the website is kept away from threats.

SSL Certificate

SSL certificate is added to increase the security layers of the website, an SSL certificate is a bit of code on the server that provides security between online communications. When a web browser contacts a secured website, the SSL certificate establishes an encrypted connection.

Access permissions to users

Restricting the access to certain modules of the application works greatly in increasing the security. Access to sensitive data should be restricted to authorized users. To modify or add any data, only the concerned individual should be permitted. This helps in maintaining the integrity of the website. 

Change passwords on a regular basis

Change passwords often and also increase the password strength by giving special characters and other unique sequences. Changing passwords often negate the details that a hacker might record. With changing passwords, even if a person gets access to your account, they can’t snoop for a longer period. Therefore, it is advisable to change passwords once a week to make your website more secure. 

What is the contribution of headless CMS?


The term ‘Headless CMS’ means eliminating the front-end off the backend or the content repository. Headless CMS deals only with the backend by making the content accessible via RESTful API for displaying on any device.

For delivering content as per the need, headless CMS works with RESTful API like JSON and XML. It also works in parallel with an interface for adding content. Therefore, headless CMS is not concerned about how and where the content gets displayed rather it is more focused on storing and delivering structured content.

Since the popular platforms are dealing with higher vulnerabilities, it is mandatory to embrace a decoupled or headless approach. The headless approach deals with the separation of the administrative system controlling the web content from the front-end display or user-representation.

Headless approach helps in tight controlling the access to the CMS itself while still empowering content administrators. Since headless CMS are separated from the user layers, they can be hidden in a number of ways. This helps the administrator to heave a sigh of relief as they are assured about a secured and protected system against anonymous attacks.

With this headless CMS, your entire platforms can be managed from a single interface thus centralizing content management and content distribution in a universal format.

The features of headless CMS are as follows:

  • Platform Independence
  • Free-technology choice
  • Cross-platform support
  • Localization
  • Code Simplicity

Headless CMS can be used for the following use cases:

  • Website that is built with a technology you are familiar with.
  • When JavaScript frameworks are used for websites and web apps.
  •  Static site generators used to create the websites.
  • Native Mobile apps
  • Enhance product information on eCommerce sites

Full-web isolation of the CMS

This approach lists a negligible amount of IT and re-training resources. The content team is allowed to continue their work without any compromise with the CMS choice while eliminating the risks of all vectors of browser-related attacks. 

This is done with the help of a cloud browser. The cloud browser, rather than permitting arbitrary web code for entering the network and execute on a local device, executes all the web code on a remote host. 

The data that is rendered is transformed into a safe, encrypted interactive display of the CMS work session. This is completely isolated from any kind of web threats. Web isolation follows a zero-trust model where the web and any app or device is assumed to expose to the web-borne code and since they are exposed, they can’t be trusted.

SaaS based remote browser isolation is another efficient and effective way for improving the CMS security of an organization as it results in the least amount of internal friction and pushback from content stakeholders. 

Remote browser isolation is used for wrapping the web access and content control for reducing security transitions of its current CMS and isolates these things in the cloud browser overlay. 

In a nutshell

With these tips and tacts, you can now protect your CMS websites from getting attacked and hacked by uninvited guests to your business. To make web a safer place and for developing rich and secure websites, Web Development companies can rely on the headless CMS approach which won’t disappoint you with WordPress, Drupal, and other CMS platforms. 

Author Bio

Sheelu George is a Senior Business Analyst at Fortunesoft IT Innovations.A technology enthusiast and a strong believer in end-to-end software product engineering, agile & devOps.


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