One of the many advantages of using the self-hosted version of WordPress as the platform for your website is the endless plugins that are available. So what is a plugin? Briefly, a plugin is a software application that adds new features or extends the functionality of WordPress websites. They are designed to integrate seamlessly with WordPress and are generally installed automatically at the push of a button.
At the time of writing this post, a search of the WordPress plugin depositary indicates a whopping 55,621 plugins. You can use the plugin search engine to find almost anything imaginable and I highly suggest spending some time checking out some of the offerings so that you get a feel for what’s out there! I’ve yet to find a plugin to make the perfect cup of coffee, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere! You also have similar access to the WordPress plugins by selecting Plugins -> Add New via your WordPress website dashboard.
There are many plugins which are totally free of cost but an emerging trend is for plugin authors to offer plugins with limited functionality for free and a premium type version at a cost. This cost is often a recurring annual or monthly charge with updates being unavailable if the ongoing payments are terminated. Whilst this won’t leave you in the position where an element of your site is no longer functioning, it is likely to lead to potential security issues over time when you can no longer update your plugin.
One of the attractions of platforms such as WordPress is that they regularly update their software and this can be completed at the push of a button. In early 2020 around 20% of all self-hosted websites use WordPress which is huge. This of course makes it a common target for hackers, so it is extremely important that these updates are installed without any delay whatsoever because, importantly they patch security vulnerabilities when they occur.
Two examples of WordPress plugins listed in their depositary are shown in the image below and I will refer to them later in the post. You can see that you instantly have access to details from the search results to review ratings, the total number of reviews as well as whether or not they have been tested with the current version of WordPress (at the time of writing, this version was 5.3.2).
It is important to understand that when adding plugins to your website, you need to exercise caution because you may unknowingly be comprimising your site’s security. This is why Quality Website Help uses a theme and other software which reduces the need for plugins. We regularly view and audit websites containing a large number of plugins and warn their owners of the dangers.
Clicking on any of the entries from the WordPress plugin depositary or via your WordPress dashboard (see notes earlier in this post) takes you to the full page/entry in the WordPress plugin depositary from where you can read a full description and download the plugin. From here, you can typically find installation instructions and a support/FAQ. These are the checks that Quality Website Help does from these full listings when doing WordPress plugin updates for our clients:
It is also worth visiting the WPScan Vulnerability Database and checking whether there is any mention of the plugin in the Latest Plugin Vulnerabilities listing on the site. I also highly recommend subscribing to the Wordfence mailing list where you will get WordPress security alerts. We install their plugin on all of the websites we build for added security.
Wordfence send some very interesting reports regularly including this example so it’s worth being a member of their mailing list.
“… On January 7th, our Threat Intelligence team discovered vulnerabilities in WP Database Reset, a WordPress plugin installed on over 80,000 websites.
These are critical security issues that can cause complete site reset and/or takeover. We highly recommend updating to the latest version (3.15) immediately…”
So in summary, plugins can be a great asset to your WordPress site and save you serious dollars adding much needed functionality, but make sure you use them sparingly and cautiously!
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