WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) in the world, powering millions of websites. As an open-source platform, it offers flexibility and customization, but it also requires careful attention to security. The wp-config.php file is a critical component of a WordPress installation, containing sensitive information that, if compromised, can lead to serious security breaches.
This blog post explores the best practices for securing the wp-config.php configuration file to protect your WordPress site against potential threats.
Understanding the Importance of wp-config.php
The wp-config.php file is a core WordPress file responsible for configuring the database connection, defining authentication keys and salts, and storing other sensitive information such as database credentials. Due to its crucial role, securing this file is paramount to prevent unauthorized access and potential exploitation by malicious actors.
How to access the wp-config.php file
The wp-config.php file isn’t initially present in the package that you download to install WordPress. It is created during the installation process.
When you are setting up a WordPress site, the installer will ask you to provide details like the database name, database username, database password, database hostname, etc. WordPress then creates the wp-config.php file based on the data that you feed to it.
The default location of this file is inside the root directory where you are installing WordPress. You can easily access it either through the file manager in your cPanel account or through an FTP client. You’ll need to ensure you have the FTP credentials to connect via this method. Another way to access the file would be through SSH. You’ll need to make sure you have your SSH login credentials before accessing the file.
Unless you installed WordPress in a sub-directory, the wp-config.php file will be inside the WordPress root folder. Typically, this is either the public_html or www folder. Some web hosts may also set up their servers to place the wp-config.php file up one directory level to improve security. Make sure you check for the file there if you can’t find it in the root directory.
WordPress is able to load the file automatically if it is located either in the root directory or one level up.
How To Secure The WordPress wp-config.php Configuration File
The following will provide you with some practical steps you can take to secure the wp-config.php file which is one of the most important files used by WordPress as it contains all the important information in order for your website to work.
1. .htaccess file Protection
- Connect your WordPress website using an FTP Client and download the .htaccess file which can be found in the root directory of your WordPress website. You can also edit the .htaccess file using the cpanel file editor.
- Open the .htaccess file using any text editor application.
- Add the following lines of code at the end of the .htaccess file:
order allow, deny
deny from all
These lines basically block access to your wp-config.php from internal hacking and code modification. Once you have added the code to the .htaaccess file to secure the wp-config.php file upload the updated version of the file using your FTP client to the public_html directory
2. wp-config.php File Permissions
The wp-config.php is one of the most sensitive files in the entire directory since it contains all the information about base configuration and also the database connection information. The file permissions for this file should be set to CHMOD 400. This means that the user and groups have permission to only read and others will not be able to access the file. You can change the file permissions to CHMOD 400 for the wp.config.php file via your FTP client or by using the file manager option in Cpanel.
3. Moving The wp-config.php
Normally the wp-config.php file is located in the root directory. This is the first place a hacker will look for so the best practice is to move the wp-config.php file to a location that the hacker will not find in order to secure the sensitive data stored inside the file.
Ideally, you need to move the wp-config.php file outside of the public_html directory or to an undisclosed location on your website directory where only you know where the file is located this will ensure the file which includes the website critical information is as safe as possible from the eyes of the hackers
4. Modify The wp-config.php File
You can also create a new WordPress configuration file which will include all the information the website needs to function. The purpose of this is to make it difficult for hackers running automated scripts that attempt to locate and infect the wp-config.php file with malicious code or malware
The config.php file should be created outside of the public_html directory to protect it from foreign access or external attackers.
1: Create a file called config.php file under /home/yourusername/ directory using the cpanel file manager.
2: Open the current wp-config.php file and copy the lines that contain the database connection details, database prefix and WordPress security keys. Append <?php at the start of the new configuration file and ?> at the end of the file from the current wp-config.php file to the new config.php file
3: After moving all the sensitive data from the wp-config.php file to the config.php file, add the following line just as the <?php term in the wp-config.php file:
4: So now when the wp-config.php is opened, the sensitive data is included from a separate file which is stored at a different location on your web server. There is no sensitive information on your main wp-config.php file which makes it secure. However, the include path (i.e. /home/yourusername/) differs from a web server to a web server. Hence, you are required to have ample knowledge about the absolute path of your website. Only then will this step work properly.
The wp-config.php file is a critical component of a WordPress website, containing sensitive information that, if compromised, can lead to severe security issues. Implementing best practices such as setting appropriate file permissions, moving the file to a secure location, and regularly updating database credentials and authentication keys can significantly enhance the security of the wp-config.php file. By adopting these measures, WordPress site administrators can fortify their websites against potential threats and ensure a robust defense against unauthorized access and data breaches.