Have you ever wondered if you can post content to your WordPress blog using your phone or tablet? The answer is that yes, you can but you need XML-RPC enabled on the WordPress blog. If you read about cyber-security and WordPress, you might come across the idea that XML-RPC is a security threat and it should be disabled. Here are some facts to help you decide.
What is XML-RPC?
XML-RPC is a remote protocol that works using HTTP. The remote procedure call (RPC) protocol uses XML to transport data to and from the WordPress blog. XML-RPC isn’t for WordPress only. You can find other applications that use it, although it is an older protocol that isn’t used as much in newer applications. XML is widely replaced by JSON, but WordPress is an old platform that still uses many traditional protocols and procedures.
When you log into your WordPress account, you use regular HTTP and form submissions. XML-RPC allows you to log in using something other than a web browser and perform any action allowed by the WordPress API. You can create and edit posts, review tags and categories, read and post comments, and even get statistics on your blog. If you have a mobile app that does any of these actions, it probably uses XML-RPC.
What Advantages Do You Have with XML-RPC?
Before you disable anything on your WordPress blog, you should understand what it’s used for. Disabling the wrong protocol or service can leave your blog unusable by certain applications and other parts might not be visible to your users.
XML-RPC is needed if you want to remotely publish any content. Suppose that you have an application on your tablet that allows you to write ideas in an application and upload them to your blog. You create new posts based on these ideas, but you leave them as a draft until you can write better and more thorough content. For the application to communicate with your blog, you need XML-RPC.
The plugin Jetpack is one of the most common applications that require XML-RPC to be enabled. Jetpack is a popular plugin for site analytics and sharing on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedln, and Reddit. It also lets you communicate with your blog using WhatsApp. Jetpack has several features, and many of them rely on XML-RPC. Once you disable the protocol, the plugin no longer functions properly.
What Cyber-Security Issues Does XML-RPC Bring?
The negative issues that come with XML-RPC are cyber-security related. It should be noted that WordPress has worked long and hard on combating cyber-security issues related to its API and any remote procedures. For the most part, any cyber-security issues have been patched. Make sure you look at the date before judging any WordPress feature based on published reports. A cyber-security issue could have been a problem years ago, but it only takes WordPress a few months before the issue is patched.
The main issues that come with XML-RPC are DDoS attacks and brute-force attacks on the administration password. You can still combat these issues by downloading cyber-security plugins such as WordFence or Sucuri.
DDoS attacks using XML-RPC is mostly on the pingback system. When your article is mentioned and you have pingbacks enabled, the remote site sends your WordPress blog an alert. This alert is called a pingback, and you can get thousands of them a day when an article goes viral. If an attacker wants to DDoS your WordPress blog, they can flood your site with pingbacks until it can’t handle them anymore. The result would be a crash on your site, which in turn makes it unavailable to readers.
You can stop DDoS attacks using Akismet. Akismet is an anti-spam tool that blocks spam comments until you review them. It’s even included with the WordPress installation, so you just need to sign up and receive an API key to use the software. Akismet should be included on any blog unless you have a better anti-spam tool for your Word Press comment system.
The second type of attack is brute-force attacks on the administrator username and password. The most common attempts to brute force a password is to guess the administrator password. Before you can guess the password, you need the administrator’s username. The default is “administrator,” so brute-force scripts use this account name first. They then try the name of your blog. These two account names are common on most blogs, and it’s a mistake to use either name for your administrator account.
A brute-force is an attack where the hacker takes a list of dictionary terms and runs them in a script that attempts to log in to your site. If the first attempt fails, it continues with the next one, and then the next one and then the next until all “guesses” expire. If given enough time, the attacker can guess your password and log into your administration dashboard.
The best way to defend against a brute-force attack is to block an IP after a certain amount of login attempts. You can do this using the plugin WordFence. It allows for a certain number of login attempts (usually 5) and then blocks the IP from any more attempts for several minutes. The attacker can still try, but the time it takes to find a password takes too long when several hours of the day are blocked.
When you give a password to your administrator account, use a complex one. It should be at least 10 characters and use upper and lowercase letters and special characters.
Should You Disable XML-RPC?
If you know that no plugins or apps use the protocol, then disabling XML-RPC is an option. It’s recommended that you disable it only if you don’t use it, but it could be a problem in the future. If you’ve forgotten that it’s disabled and try to work with a plugin that needs it, you could get frustrated with the plugin’s issues until you realize that the fault lies with XML-RPC being disabled.
WordPress has also fixed many of the issues with this protocol, so it doesn’t carry the negative cyber-security issues that it used to. You can keep the protocol on to ensure that you can remotely work with your WordPress blog as long as you have at least one cyber-security plugin installed that blocks pingback DDoS attacks and brute-force scripts.