After all the effort you’ve put into building and running your WordPress site, nothing’s more exciting than seeing a rise in website traffic. But then, nothing is more disappointing than knowing that a lot of this traffic could be intended to damage your site and business. Traffic from automated bots and requests from suspicious IP addresses pose several risks to your website. This is where firewalls come to your rescue.
Also referred to as Web application firewalls (or WAFs), a WordPress firewall is a way to secure your website from unknown requests. By configuring firewall protection, you can now proactively protect your sites from online threats, instead of reacting to a hack after it has damaged your site.
Here is a complete guide on how a firewall for WordPress works.
What is a WordPress firewall?
A website firewall for WordPress is designed to identify and block suspicious IP requests coming from hackers effectively keeping “bad” traffic away while allowing “good” traffic to enter.
Why do you need a WordPress firewall?
WordPress security is never a one-off activity. Your website needs continuous and ongoing protection as part of WordPress maintenance. While malware scanning and removal plugins like MalCare and Sucuri can help you detect and remove malware from your site, you also need to proactively secure your website from future attacks. A WordPress firewall does that for your website by thwarting any attack before it can cause serious damage to your website files and database.
Next, let us look at the different types of WordPress firewalls and how they differ from each other.
Different types of WordPress firewalls
Depending on where they are installed, there are three types of WordPress firewalls:
- WordPress firewall plugins
- Cloud-based firewalls
- In-built firewalls
Let us discuss each of these in detail.
WordPress firewall plugins
Designed specifically for WordPress websites, a WordPress firewall plugin can be installed on your WordPress site just like any other plugin. Examples of firewall plugins include MalCare or Sucuri, which have an in-built firewall feature in addition to other security features such as malware detection and removal. This makes them an easy choice for the security of your site as you don’t need to spend additional money on installing a website firewall.
Additionally, it is easy to configure WordPress firewall settings using a plugin. For instance, the MalCare security plugin offers firewall protection with capabilities like:
- Blacklisting and blocking “bad” IP addresses that are known to be used by hackers
- Keeping away malicious traffic from a particular location
- Real-time tracking of allowed and blocked requests on the dashboard.
- Login page protection using in-built CAPTCHA tool and Two Factor Authentication (2FA),
and as a result, round-the-clock protection against malicious requests.
(Source: MalCare website)
With the emergence of cloud computing technology, cloud-based firewalls are now being deployed to mitigate unwanted requests to WordPress sites. While firewall plugins are installed on the website, cloud firewalls are installed on the cloud.
Also referred to as the Firewall-as-a-service (FaaS), a cloud firewall forms a protective shield around cloud applications, infrastructure, and platforms. Every user request is sent to the cloud firewall, which determines whether it should be blocked or allowed to proceed to the web server.
Cloud firewalls offer benefits such as:
- Improved scalability or the ability to handle higher volumes of online attacks or threats
- Reduced support and maintenance costs, as compared to an on-premises firewall tool
However, WordPress users need to rely on the cloud service provider to provide 24/7 uptime and availability. Any cloud downtime can seriously risk your website’s security.
Also known as host-based firewalls, an in-built firewall is installed and configured by the hosting provider. Typically, this type of firewall is used to protect all websites that are hosted with the same hosting company. It is installed on the web host’s server and can monitor all the incoming and outgoing web traffic and requests.
While other firewalls are network-based — meaning they are equipped to protect your entire network infrastructure — host-based firewalls are designed to protect individual devices from online attacks.
The disadvantage is that you can never be fully sure if your host is offering 24/7 protection to your website since unplanned downtime or maintenance work are always a possibility.
Next, let us look at how a WordPress firewall works to protect your website.
How does a WordPress firewall work?
WordPress firewalls can be deployed using a variety of methods that can block unwanted traffic from your website. Here are a few of them:
When a firewall uses filtering, the data attempting to enter the network are run against a group of filters. These filters remove the packets that match certain identified threats and allow the others through to their intended destination.
- Proxy method
The proxy method acts as a “middleman” that monitors how the external Internet interacts with your website. It primarily distinguishes between the “good” and the “bad” traffic or requests.
This method works like a list containing a ‘whitelist’ of key things to look out for in incoming requests. The firewall allows the entry of requests if their key data elements are on the white list. Anything else is blacklisted.
WordPress firewalls work at various levels for your website. Here are each of these levels:
Most WordPress firewalls operate at the application level, hence they are referred to as a WordPress web application firewall (or WAF). This type of firewall filters the incoming traffic once it has entered your website. How does it work?
- An online user makes the IP request – for which, the webserver sends out the files.
- The firewall is executed before the requested files begin to load on the user’s browser.
- The firewall checks the application files and determines if they can be loaded or blocked.
Despite its late response, WAFs are effective in distinguishing the “good” traffic from the “bad” ones.
- Server level
Also known as Apache level firewalls, server-level firewalls restrict access before the data can be processed at the application level. Server level firewalls can be configured by modifying the .htaccess file (in your Apache installation) with the following code:
<code># yum install mod_security # /etc/init.d/httpd restart</code>
These firewalls are effective at stopping server attacks like XSS and session hijacking.
- DNS level
With DNS level firewalls, the incoming traffic is routed externally through a cloud server – without ever entering your web server. Besides security, DNS-level firewalls can also improve website performance. How does it work?
- A user attempts to access your website.
- Based on the various request parameters, the firewall can either grant (or deny) entry before it even enters your web server.
Cloud-based DNS firewalls offer multiple benefits like efficient traffic routing, visibility, and resilience and are suited for stopping complex hacks like DDoS attacks. On the flip side, the geolocation of the cloud can be a problem if the cloud server is far away from your physical location.
Limitations of a WordPress firewall
WordPress firewalls do have their share of limitations, as listed below:
- Zero-Day WordPress Vulnerability
WordPress firewalls are mostly effective against old or known web attacks – as they can check the payload of every HTTP request against the database of existing hacking methods (or signatures). What about a zero-day vulnerability (or a new attack)? In this case, your firewall may not block the attack.
- Vulnerabilities in the firewall
Like any other WordPress tool, firewalls can also have bugs or vulnerabilities that could end up bypassing malicious code. You don’t have to look too hard to find techniques for bypassing a WordPress firewall.
I hope this article helps you choose the right type of firewall for your website and its needs. While there’s no doubt that a WordPress firewall is a great way to secure your website, it is just one part of the solution.
Take the time to invest in WordPress best practices, by updating your site and plugins/themes regularly, taking timely backups, ensuring login protection, detecting and cleaning malware before it has time to fester on your site. Or you could invest in a security plugin that combines multiple security and WordPress management features. That way, you can keep bad traffic away from your site while being prepared to deal with any hacks or infections that manage to make their way to your site.