Jake Bell

The debate over which open source CMS is best for website and app development—WordPress or Drupal—has been ongoing. While both platforms offer customization, scalability, and flexibility, Drupal stands out in terms of website security. Security is crucial for protecting your brand and data, whether you’re running a small-scale website or an enterprise-level ecosystem. WordPress often presents more challenges in securing your site and usually requires paid plugins to scale, unlike Drupal.

Our ZenSource offering, ZenCMS, includes a highly intuitive, no-code authoring admin and bundles all our core and contributed modules from our CMS installation profile. This service maintains all security updates, new features, and version upgrades. Since it’s entirely Drupal and open source, any company's internal development team or external vendor can maintain and scale Drupal without extra or hidden costs. In this article, we’ll cover the top 5 reasons to be cautious when using WordPress and how Drupal and our ZenSource solution can help.

 

5 Reasons Drupal Makes More Sense for Your Business

1. The WordPress CMS is Free, but Many Plugins are Paid Solutions

WordPress requires plugins to extend its core functionality for running websites or apps. Although the GPL license requires that the code be available, it doesn’t need to be free. Unlike Drupal, the WordPress community is more commercially oriented, with thousands of paid, premium plugins that extend functionality.

In contrast, Drupal does not have a paid model for plugins. All modules available within Drupal Core and Contributed are free to download, use, and extend without payment. While the commercial aspects of WordPress may seem compelling, they often lead to issues with plugin support, as discussed in the next section.

 

2. Issues with WordPress Plugins Being Abandoned with No Clear Ownership

A major challenge with WordPress plugins is the difficulty in communicating with developers to address vulnerabilities. Often, plugins lack contact information, or the provided contacts are outdated or non-functional. Many developers don't list any contact details, and even when they do, these may be obsolete.

This communication bottleneck complicates the responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities, where security flaws must be reported to developers before public disclosure. When developers are unreachable, vulnerabilities remain undisclosed and unpatched, posing significant security risks. For example, there were 404 vulnerabilities in Patchstack’s database that were disclosed but not patched, all hosted in the WordPress.org plugins repository. Despite attempts to notify developers and involving the plugin review team, over 70% of these plugins remained closed due to a lack of response.

In contrast, Drupal has a much better process for taking over modules and projects. The community is more concerned with consistency than ownership, resulting in far fewer abandoned plugins and thus fewer vulnerabilities.

Source: https://patchstack.com/articles/the-wordpress-zombie-plugins-pandemic-affects-1-6-million-websites/

 

3. WordPress Requires High Levels of Server Access to Work Properly

WordPress is designed to run with the entire Webroot writable, leading to more issues if a vulnerability is found. WordPress expects and will flag it as a misconfiguration if it cannot write to its directory on the server. This design aims to make updating core/plugins and adding new plugins directly on the server easier without using a source code repository, which is convenient for small websites.

However, exploits take advantage of this fact. When vulnerabilities are found, exploits will update many of the core/theme/plugin code files to include backdoors, allowing the malware to reinstall itself. This makes it extremely difficult to clean out, as website owners don't always have a known 'clean' state available for comparison. They either need to start fresh or painstakingly scan all their files to remove the backdoors one at a time.

Reddit has several threads where people have been infected, have no backups, and are left with no options. In some cases, poorly configured hosting environments allow the malware to jump to other installs. For instance, a developer reported having 12 compromised sites with no idea how the malware keeps getting reinstalled.

In comparison, Drupal only ever wants to write to two directories (public/private file systems) designed for static non-executable files. If a host is compromised, there is limited damage it can do. While it's possible to configure Drupal poorly where it has more rights than it should, the system actively warns users about this from their status page, making it much more difficult to do accidentally.

Sources:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Wordpress/comments/1clctd8/malware_keep_coming_back/ 

https://www.reddit.com/r/Wordpress/comments/19epk3d/my_indexphp_is_randomly_get_encoded_to_base64/ 

 

4. There's Very Little Standardization on Third-Party Libraries Used in WordPress

WordPress relies heavily on a vast ecosystem of third-party plugins and themes to provide additional functionality and customization options. However, this extensive reliance on third-party libraries introduces significant challenges, particularly in terms of security standardization and vulnerability management.

When vulnerabilities are discovered in third-party libraries, the lack of standardized processes and communication channels between the WordPress security team and the vendors of these libraries can lead to significant security risks.

For example, the Freemius incident highlighted these issues. Freemius, a popular monetization library used by many WordPress plugins, had a vulnerability that affected over 1,200 plugins. This incident underscores the systemic risk posed by a single point of failure within the ecosystem. Although Freemius eventually addressed the issue, the absence of a coordinated rollout strategy meant that individual developers were responsible for implementing the fix in their respective modules, leading to inconsistent and delayed patching across the affected plugins.

Without a coordinated approach to patch management, vulnerabilities may remain unpatched in many instances. This inconsistency can result from several factors:

  • Developer Awareness: Not all developers may be immediately aware of the vulnerabilities or necessary patches.
  • Patch Application: Even if developers are aware, they might delay applying patches due to resource constraints or other priorities.
  • User Updates: End-users, who may not be technically proficient, might delay or fail to update their plugins, leaving their websites vulnerable.

Drupal uses far fewer third-party libraries, and the ones that are in use are much more in tune with Drupal’s security team. For example, in the Freemius incident, if this is truly being used by over 1,200 plugins, the WordPress security team should be much more aware of this library and how it works.

 

5. Vulnerabilities in WordPress are Often Easier to Exploit

Over half of the WordPress vulnerabilities found in 2023 required no authentication to execute. These "drive-by" vulnerabilities mean that users don't need any permissions on the website to exploit them. In contrast, Drupal vulnerabilities are often mitigated because the user needs to be a content author or another privileged user on the site to exploit them.

For vulnerabilities that require no authentication, it's trivial to build scanners to crawl and test websites to see if they are affected. These are among the most dangerous vulnerabilities, especially if they can lead to SQL Injection, shell access, or other sensitive server-level access.

In contrast, Drupal has a standardized, easy approach to managing roles and access, making it less likely for these sorts of exploits to exist.

 

When comparing Drupal vs WordPress for website security and scalability, Drupal consistently proves to be the superior open source CMS, especially for enterprise websites. With its robust security measures, fewer abandoned plugins, and better standardization practices, Drupal offers a reliable and secure solution for businesses in 2024. Choosing Drupal can provide peace of mind and a strong foundation for your online presence, making it the best CMS for business in the coming year. 

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