For any kind of business, large or small, safeguarding your WordPress website should be a top priority.
As of 2023, up to 43% of UK businesses run WordPress, and hundreds of thousands of companies across the country collect vital user data, including personally identifiable information such as names, addresses and phone numbers.
There are many aspects to securing your WordPress site, and one effective way to enhance your website’s security is by implementing Two-Factor Authentication (2FA).
This robust security measure adds an additional layer of protection, ensuring that even if your password is compromised, unauthorized access remains very difficult.
As its name suggests, 2FA requires two forms of verification instead of just one. In traditional username and password authentication, the user only needs to know two pieces of information: the username (or alternatively, the user’s email address in WordPress) and the password.
The username is often extremely easy to guess on WordPress sites as WordPress will accept an email address as a username, and users continue to use very guessable usernames and these can be easily discovered by crawling the website automatically.
So that just leaves the password which can be obtained by brute force (simply entering thousands of popular passwords automatically) or by phishing or simply clever guesswork.
2FA on the other hand, requires the username, password for the on-site authentication PLUS another form of authentication which is offsite – most often a code entered on a mobile phone.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to set up 2FA in WordPress and provide insights into best practices to keep your website secure.
Chapter 1: Understanding Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
What is 2FA?
As mentioned, two-Factor Authentication, commonly known as 2FA, is a security process that requires users to provide two different authentication factors before gaining access to a website.
These factors usually fall into three categories:
- something you know (password)
- something you have (smartphone or hardware token)
- something you are (fingerprint or face recognition)
Why is 2FA important for WordPress?
WordPress is one of the most popular Content Management Systems (CMS) globally, making it a prime target for hackers. According to WordPress security firm WordFence, over 3 billion hacking attempts are made on WordPress website in any 30-day period.
If you think your business is too small to be of interest to hackers, think again. The hacking process is largely automated and does not care or discriminate between large, well-known websites or tiny, small-biz sites.
Implementing 2FA adds an extra layer of protection to your website, significantly reducing the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.
Setting up 2FA in WordPress
1. Choose a 2FA method
Before setting up 2FA, you must decide which authentication method suits your needs. WordPress offers several options, including:
- SMS: A code is sent to your mobile device via text message.
- Email: You receive a code in your email inbox.
- Authentication apps: Using apps like Google Authenticator or Authy, which generate time-based one-time passwords (TOTPs).
- Hardware tokens: Physical devices that generate codes for authentication
2. Install a 2FA plugin
To enable 2FA in WordPress, you’ll need to install a dedicated plugin. Some popular options include:
- Two-Factor Authentication: Developed by the same people who brought us the clever Updraft Plus backup plugin, this official plugin provides email and TOTP-based 2FA.
- Google Authenticator: Integrates with the Google Authenticator app.
- Duo Two-Factor Authentication: Offers multiple 2FA methods, including push notifications.
3. Configure the Plugin
Once you’ve selected a 2FA plugin, follow these steps:
- Install and activate the plugin from the WordPress dashboard.
- Access the plugin’s settings and choose your preferred 2FA method.
- Configure the settings according to your requirements, such as the number of allowed retries, etc.
4. User setup
Encourage your WordPress users, including administrators, to set up 2FA for their accounts. You can enforce this for all users or make it optional, depending on your security policy.
Best practices for 2FA in WordPress
As with any plugin, deciding which one to use is a matter of trust – so on the plugin page, look for:
- The number of installations (the higher the better)
- WordPress version compatibility to ensure the plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress
- The date the plugin was last updated. We consider plugins updated over three years to be “abandoned” by their authors so we don’t recommend installing plugins over three years old.
- Reviews: the number and rating of reviews is one of the best methods of judging whether a plugin is worth installing.
5. Educate your users
Ensure that your users understand the importance of 2FA and how to set it up. Provide clear instructions and resources to help them through the process.
One drawback of 2FA is that it adds friction to the login process and slows down logging in. So giving a clear statement of why you are implementing it and the potential consequences of not doing so is very important.
Most 2FA plugins offer backup codes in case users lose access to their second factor. Encourage users to store these codes securely.
Monitoring and alerts
Set up monitoring tools to detect suspicious login attempts and failed 2FA authentication. Configure alerts to notify you of potential security breaches. Your security plugin can do this for you (see our other articles on locking down WordPress).
As with all things WordPress, keeping it up to date is vital. Keep your WordPress core, themes, plugins, and 2FA plugin up to date at least once per month. Security vulnerabilities are often patched in updates.
Have a clear process for users who lose access to their 2FA methods. This may include temporary deactivation by an administrator.
Provide support to users who encounter issues with 2FA setup or authentication. A well-documented support system can be invaluable.
In conclusion, implementing Two-Factor Authentication in your WordPress website is a crucial step towards bolstering its security.
By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide and adhering to best practices, you can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.
Stay vigilant, keep your website and plugins updated, and educate your users to create a robust defence against cyber threats.
Your WordPress website’s security is worth the effort, and 2FA is an essential tool in your arsenal