Open-source content management systems are incredibly popular these days. Unfortunately, one issue that has always plagued this type software is security. On the surface, it would seem as if open-source software is more secure than commercial products based on the reported number of security vulnerabilities and activity in the community. However, this is far from the truth and a misconception that has resulted in trouble for many website owners. With a proprietary solution such as the Microsoft Content Management Server, you are generally provided with support and insurance against security flaws. With open-source solutions, you are forced to rely on the support of the software’s developers and user community which means that nothing is guaranteed.
Elements of CMS
The open-source CMS consists of various elements, many of which contribute to vulnerabilities. The average software includes add-on modules, encryption mechanisms and a plethora of scripting errors. These elements can simply be a part of a certain product or included into the entire system. Completely securing such an application on a web server is no easy task. All publicly accessible server applications are designed for around the clock availability, providing access to visitors and attackers alike. Without the proper security implementations, an open-source CMS is essentially wide open for an attack.
Insecure software can inflict a significant amount of damage, especially when it comes to a program as functional as a content management system. When vulnerabilities in such software are exploited, the best result could be the defacing of your website. The worst case scenario would be the exposure of sensitive data that blemishes your credibility and possibly ruins your business. There have been various reported instances where vulnerable systems resulted in the leakage of Social Security numbers, credit card details and other personal information.
Joomla, Drupal and other CMS Targets
It is no surprise that some of the most widely used open-source content management systems such as Joomla and Drupal are among the most targeted on the web. The fact that the source codes of these systems are freely available and have numerous installations make them a prime target. While the average visitor can’t distinguish between a commercial and open-source product, they tend to be easily identifiable to attackers. A simple web browser along with the viewing of URLs and HTML patterns in search engine results can give a hacker all the information they need to strike.
One of the most attractive aspects of the open-source CMS is that you can customize and actually own a particular product. On the other hand, because the software is originally developed by someone else, it is very likely that there are a few things you don’t know about the program, meaning you can’t ensure security after making changes. This is why many open-source systems include disclaimers against third-party modification as well as the overall security of the software, basically telling developers to use at their own risks.
With so many people handling the code, it is unpractical to think that any open-source CMS will ever be 100% secure. The best thing you can do when relying on these solutions is to understand the risks, make sure you are using the most recent versions and design your web pages with caution. Attackers are persistent but not nearly as powerful when their methods of attack are limited.