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The Security Risks Behind SAAS WordPress Management Panels

SAAS (software as a service) WordPress Management Panels are growing in popularity. These consoles allow you to spin up servers at a cloud provider of your choice and install and manage WordPress sites on those servers.

At the time of this writing the four most popular ones that we are aware of are:

  • GridPane
  • SpinupWP
  • Vepp
  • Cloudways (not a pure WordPress management console)

These management panels include a lot of easy to use features that make it a breeze to run WordPress on your own cloud servers. And it saves you money because cloud servers are cheap – and you’re not paying a steep mark-up for them like you would if you used traditional WordPress hosting. In fact, you can get one for as little as 5 dollars at Digital Ocean and run a few blogs on it.

But along with the convenience and the cost savings are a couple of serious security risks.

Who Holds The Keys?

When you deploy a cloud server at one of the large hosting companies such as Digital Ocean, Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure, Google Cloud etc., they generally include a way for the hosting company to manage the server on your behalf. Basically, the hosting company has unfettered access to the server. And many times this is acceptable because these large companies generally have staff that are trained in good op-sec (operational security). So it’s unlikely that access to your server will be left open accidentally by a staff member.

However, when a small third party gets involved, such as those behind some of the SAAS WordPress Management Panels, things get a little dicier. This is because the third party also need to install their keys on your server in order to manage WordPress sites and other aspects of the server for you.

And those keys give them unfettered access to your servers.

Which could be a problem.

Because these companies tend to be small – probably less than 8 people dedicated to the business. And so it is quite possible that many of these folks have access to the golden keys that provide entry into your server, but without any training (or only minimal training) on how to protect them.

Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that most of these employees and owners have been trained in operational security nor are they even thinking about the myriad ways that their security keys and, by extension, your servers, can be compromised. They’re generally simply just trying to get their work done.

And, it is highly likely that if a single key from a single staff member is compromised, it provides access to all the servers for that company’s customers.

Travel As An Underappreciated Security Hole

Some of these SAAS WordPress Management Panel providers have staff that live or travel frequently to countries that have highly aggressive spying activities, targeted especially at folks that have access to western corporations data.

Simply leaving a laptop on in a conference room in a business meeting and walking away to use the bathroom is highly risky.

So is just leaving it in a hotel room and going out to dinner.

Yet, there’s a good chance that this happens all the time as employees travel to China, Hong Kong and other similar regions.

All it takes is ONE person to be careless and your servers can be compromised – without you ever knowing about it!

Pushing The Envelope Is A Security Risk

It’s not just possession of keys by untrained users that is a risk though.

Some companies are deploying technology stacks onto your servers with custom software – software that has not been vetted by outsiders. Which means that not only do you have no idea what’s really running on your servers but you have no idea how many additional security holes the custom software might be leaving open. Smaller companies rarely have the resources to get their software fully vetted by security specialists.

Plugging The Hole

Now that you understand where the security risks lie, you might decide that the risk is acceptable. And that would be ok – because it’s a conscious decision now as opposed to being a decision that you didn’t even know you ought to make.

But, if you do decide that you want to mitigate these kinds of risks, then you need an Admin Panel that runs on your servers only, where you and only you hold the keys.

And you want to make sure that the software stack that is being deployed on your server is well-known and has been vetted by security personnel – or at least been battle tested over the years. And any custom code or deployment scripts must be available for you to review.

Of course WPCloud Deploy satisfies these criteria on all counts – its one of the reasons we started to create the product in the first place – it was for our own use because of these kinds of security concerns.

WPCloud Deploy is a WordPress Plugin which means its running only on your server(s). And it is open-source which means everything is available for you to peruse and even modify.

Wrapup

If you haven’t evaluated the security risks with using hosted WordPress management panels, now is the time to do so. Because we believe that the risk is a lot higher than most people might think with just a casual glance.

The biggest risk to any operation is always going to be people. And the smaller the company, the higher the risk, especially if employees are running around with the proverbial keys to the kingdom.

If you do decide that the risk is too great, then take a good look at WPCloud Deploy to see if our product can mitigate those risks for you – while still offering the functionality you need.

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