No matter the size of your website, never underestimate the importance of using at least one of the best WordPress security plugins to keep that site safe and well-protected.
Naturally, it’s tempting to view website security as a problem that’s exclusive to large-scale websites. After all, they’re the ones that could potentially provide the biggest payoff for hackers and other cybercriminals. Yet they’re also the ones with the biggest budgets and the best cybersecurity experts working for them, making them a much less enticing option than your average small to medium business.
Hackers know this all too well. They also know that since many owners of growing businesses don’t consider security a real concern, they don’t do much about it, meaning they’re ultimately an easy target.
In other words, without adequate security in place, you’re leaving your website and your business vulnerable.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that you don’t need the kind of bottomless budget enjoyed by the large-scale brands to employ solid security on your site.
There’s a wealth of affordable tools out there designed to beef up your security and keep your site safe round the clock, and today, we’re going to look at what we consider to be the 3 very best WordPress security plugins around.
Why just these three?
Because, unlike other plugins which focus on a single aspect such as two-factor authentication, the ones in this guide offer a fully comprehensive approach to WordPress security, and do so better than most others on the market.
Without further ado then, let’s dive into it:
Top 3 Best WordPress Security Plugins
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Malcare boasts that it’s the only WordPress security plugin with a dedicated Auto-Clean feature that immediately removes malware the moment it’s detected.
If you know anything about malware, you’ll know what a big deal this is.
Malware (MALicious softWARE) is any kind of software that cybercriminals place on your webserver to wreak havoc on your website and your business as a whole.
We commonly think of malware as being the kind of software that steals credit card information and personal data which can be used for financial gain, but that’s really only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Malware can also be used to flood your website with spam, and this can be devastating. At best, it causes any potential customers to immediately reach for their back button after finding your website, often never to return. At worst, it destroys your online presence, getting your site blacklisted from major search engines like Google.
So if your site does become infected with Malware, you need it gone right away, not days or weeks later when your security tool goes through its weekly scan.
What we like about Malcare is that the plugin goes much deeper than others, removing the kind of complex and seriously advanced forms of malware that lesser plugins just can’t touch.
Best of all, the tool provides proactive protection, blocking all of the backdoors and vulnerable access points to prevent future attacks. Should a sophisticated hacker still find their way into your site, Malcare’s smart systems learn, prove, and evolve to prevent similar attacks in the future while removing that threat at the same time.
Malcare Main Features
Of course, this is a review of comprehensive WordPress security plugins, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that Malcare has much more going for it than Auto-Clean and malware protection, it’s a full-service security tool designed for websites of all sizes.
The other key feature that makes this a worthwhile purchase is the smart firewall. Working 24/7/365, the firewall carries out a rigorous analysis of every IP request to your site in milliseconds, identifies those with malicious intent, and immediately blocks them from ever accessing your website.
Elsewhere, the automatic, captcha-based login protection does a solid job at safeguarding your site against brute force attacks, ensuring that nobody gets into your site who isn’t supposed to.
Finally, we’re also big fans of the site’s WordPress hardening dashboard, which in simple terms means you get tools that analyze the current state of your website security, make recommendations on how to optimize that security, and allow you to carry out that optimization from within your site.
Malcare Performance Impact Analysis
One of the many advantages of using Malcare is that all of the scanning and processing is done on their servers, rather than yours.
In theory, this means that the plugin should have practically zero impact on your website’s performance. How does that hold up in a real-world environment?
Pretty well, actually.
We tested our site on Pingdom before and after activating Malcare and found the difference it made was .20 of a second.
With that in mind, it’s safe to say that you can use this plugin to optimize your security without worrying about it slowing your site down.
Malcare Security Plugin Plans and Pricing
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that there is a free version of the Malcare Security Plugin which provides some helpful features like full-site malware scanning, login protection, and an intelligent firewall, though if you’re really going to get the most out of this tool then definitely pays to opt for the premium version.
Malcare offers a flexible range of one-year licenses, starting at $99 for a single site all the way up to $599 for 20 websites.
If you need more than that, then the company will also make a bespoke package just for you. This is a great option if you’re looking for a security solution you can repackage and sell on to your own web design agency clients as the custom package allows you to use Malcare as a white label solution complete with client reports.
Otherwise, the only reason to pay for anything more than the $99 single-site license is if you want to use the plugin on multiple websites, otherwise, all the features are the same, including:
- Automatic Daily Malware Scan
- Complete Website Management
- Login Protection
- Personalized Support
- Smart Website Firewall
- Unlimited Automatic Malware Removal
- Website Hardening.
Malcare Security Plugin Pros and Cons
- Incredibly easy to set up and configure in under a minute
- Beginner-friendly interface. No technical know-how needed
- Offsite website scanning means minimal impact on your website’s resources
- One-click malware removal.
- Doesn’t include a website backup unless you pay extra
- Doesn’t include leaked password protection.
It’s rare that you’ll ever come across a conversation about the best WordPress security plugins without hearing the name WordFence mentioned at least once.
One of the most popular security plugins around, it currently boasts over 3 million active installations and more than 3,000 5-star reviews on the WordPress Plugins Directory, numbers which speak volumes about its quality.
Part of the reason why WordFence is so beloved is its premium endpoint firewall.
Other plugins may use cloud-based firewalls, but these can always be bypassed by a skilled hacker and leave your site vulnerable to data theft as well as making it possible to install all kinds of malicious content on your web server.
An endpoint firewall, on the other hand, is much more difficult -if not completely impossible- to bypass, protecting your site, and keeping your data away from prying eyes.
What we love the most about this is that it’s by far one of the fastest-acting firewalls we’ve encountered.
Once configured, Wordfence is the first thing to fire up the moment a request to your website comes in. Before any code is loaded and even before your database is connected, the firewall instantly gets to work on carrying an incredibly in-depth analysis, running the request through its vast ruleset in milliseconds to determine whether or not to allow that request.
The firewall also has the upper hand on cloud-based options in that it can make use of information about the user’s identity in its decision making. That means it doesn’t just determine whether to block or allow a request based on the type of request, but other key factors about who they are.
WordFence Main Features
WordFence may have begun life purely as a firewall, but it’s since evolved into a one-stop-shop for all your WordPress security needs.
The other key feature here is the WordPress Security Scanner which scans through all of your themes, plugins, and WordPress core files for anything that might be harming your website.
This includes not just standard malware, but also backdoor vulnerabilities, dodgy URLs, harmful redirects, and SEO spam injection attacks.
Should WordFence find something that shouldn’t be there, it helps you quickly eliminate it for good at the click of a button and repair damaged files by replacing them with a clean version of the original code.
The plugin doesn’t stop there either.
We like the advanced manual blocking features which allow you to take control and block whole networks, individual users, or even entire countries. The latter feature is only included in the premium plan but can prove essential if you’re getting attacks from a specific region.
Finally, we’ve got to give WordFence credit for creating login protection features that are superior to those found in Malcare.
The site not only uses two-factor authentication to protect against brute force attacks but also includes a very useful leaked password protection feature.
With data breaches becoming all the more prevalent in recent years, this feature can prove invaluable in preventing administrator logins to your website using known compromised passwords.
WordFence Performance Impact Analysis
Sadly, one of the biggest drawbacks to using WordFence is its size and impact on the overall performance of your WordPress website.
Make no mistake about it, this is one hefty plugin and can make a noticeable difference to your page load speeds.
In our Pingdom tests, it slowed down the site by as much as a second, though that was with resource-draining features like the live traffic dashboard turned off. We’ve seen reports of other users turning that feature on and finding their website slowed down by over 3 whole seconds.
Given the general two-second rule about page loading speeds, you can understand what a problem this might cause
WordFence Security Plugin Pricing and Plans
If we’re going to give WordFence credit for anything, it’s got to be the quality of its free version.
If you’re looking for a solid security plugin but don’t have the budget to spend on a premium option, WordFence is a good choice.
The standard endpoint firewall and security scanner are both included, as is the two-factor authentication, blocks on access attempts using compromised passwords, and the ability to prevent access based on IP range, hostnames, and more.
If you choose to upgrade, you’ll get all of this plus premium-only features including:
- Country Blocking
- Real-time IP Blacklist
- Real-time firewall rule and malware signature updates
- Reputation checks.
Prices start at $99 for a single site up to $1,130 for 15 licenses. As with Malcare, all the premium features are included regardless of which license you buy. The only difference is in how many sites you use WordFence premium on.
WordFence Pros and Cons
- Best free WordPress security plugin
- Advanced endpoint firewall
- A well-designed user interface makes ongoing management easy
- Regularly updated to provide up-to-date protection against the latest threats.
- Notorious for negatively impacting site performance
- Initial setup and configuration can be more tricky than with other plugins.
3. iThemes Security
While other WordPress security plugins focus on key features as their primary selling point, iThemes Security is all about usability.
The whole M.O with this one is based around making top-level professional WordPress security completely accessible to those just starting with the platform and, to that end, we have to say that the plugin does its job exceptionally well.
Though iThemes have packed a lot into their popular security plugin (and we’ll unpack exactly what’s included further on), all of the features are centralized into one security dashboard which, though incredibly comprehensive, is by no means overwhelming and makes it easy to monitor and manage all aspects of your site security in one location.
The best part is that the whole thing takes no more than a minute to setup and configure, with the out-of-the-box default settings already proving effective enough to protect most small-medium websites.
If you want to tweak and fine-tune things, you can do that simply by moving through each option and checking the appropriate button.
All this is designed in such a way that if you’d never used WordPress before, you’d still be able to figure things out in no time.
And if you don’t?
No problem, there’s a vast selection of simple-to-follow tutorials to talk you through the whole process.
iThemes Security Features
When it comes to features, the first thing you notice about iThemes Security is that it lacks a firewall. So, if that’s one of your key criteria in choosing the best WordPress security plugin for your website, you may want to choose one of the other two options from this list.
Still, what iThemes lacks in that department it more than makes up for in many others, with a wealth of advanced-level features that make it one of the most versatile security plugins around.
The most prominent and useful feature is the site scanner which will go through all of your themes, plugins, and core files the moment you activate it in search of any existing issues including malware, backdoor vulnerabilities, and SEO spam, as well as any out-of-date software that could expose you to attacks.
The all-in-one scan will even check for any instance of blacklisting, making it one of the most comprehensive scanners around.
Manual scans are available in both the free and premium version while IThemes Security Pro users can also schedule automatic daily scans to truly keep on top of things.
Elsewhere, there’s also a lot of features to prevent brute force attacks. The plugin allows you to set a strict number of unauthorized logins per user and lock out anyone who is clearly trying to guess your password.
Even if they get it right, the excellent two-factor authentication will kick in. This makes use of your smartphone so that you know the only person gaining access to your site is you.
And if you have other admins, editors, etc? You can ensure they use the same two-factor process while at the same time enforcing strong passwords to keep your site secure.
Other key features include:
- Put your WordPress dashboard into ‘Away Mode’ to make it inaccessible during certain hours
- Change the default WordPress login URL so that hackers don’t know where to find it.
- File change notifications
- 404 Detection
- Database Backups
- Trusted devices control
- WordPress user security check
iThemes Performance Impact Analysis
When we first started looking into iThemes Security, we were pleased to see that it comes from a brand that takes site performance very seriously.
iThemes have made several improvements to their plugin to minimize its impact on your site’s resources and improve speed.
In our Pingdom tests, we found a 0.22-second difference, roughly the same as the Malcare plugin we looked at earlier.
While we’re pretty happy with that, we did note that other iThemes Security users have found that running this plugin tends to slow down the loading speed of their WordPress dashboard, though not the site itself.
iThemes Pricing and Plans
There’s a lot to like about the free version of iThemes Security (previously known as Better WP Security) which gives you no less than 30 different security tools in one package.
These include the aforementioned site scanner, password strength enforcement, brute force attack prevention and more. That said, many of the free features come with restrictions, so it may be worth paying to get the full effect.
If you decide to do so, you’ll pay just $80 for a 1-year license for 2 websites (A single-site license plus an additional “bonus” license) making this by far the most affordable of all the three plugins featured today.
If a single site isn’t enough for you, you can pay $127 per year for 10 websites or $199 per year for unlimited websites.
All plans come with the same features, plus premium support and 12 months of updates.
iThemes Pros and Cons
- Beginner-friendly approach to WordPress security
- 2 site licenses for $80 means good value for money
- WordPress security grade feature is an easy way to identify opportunities to further optimize your site security
- One of the few security plugins with built-in database backup options.
- Lack of firewall
- Some users report that iThemes security makes changes to their database which causes problems with the rest of their site
- The file change detection feature has been known to cause the WordPress dashboard to load more slowly.
Which is the Overall Best WordPress Security Plugin? Our Verdict
So, you’ve read our opinion on the three top WordPress security plugins around this year, but which one is the absolute best?
In all honesty, it all depends on what you look for in a plugin. If you’re looking for premium features at an affordable price, then the 2-for-1 $80 license that iThemes Security offer is practically unbeatable and does mean you’ll get more than 30 high-quality security features to tackle everything from malware to IP blocking and site login issues.
Likewise, if you’re worried that site security is too advanced for you and you need a beginner-friendly approach, iThemes Security is the way to go.
If you’re looking for the best free plugin or the best firewall, then WordFence is the hands-down winner.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a premium plugin at a reasonable price that offers excellent security coverage and a high-quality site scan, that won’t impact your site’s performance and is very easy to get to grips with, then Malcare is the one for you.