Pedro Dobrescu, Presslabs: “much of essential security entails common-sense measures”

A properly functioning website furnishes a solid foundation for operating and scaling your business.

Therefore, choosing a Managed WordPress Hosting solution seems way more logical, than hiring DevOps. With one, you won't have to worry about the most important contributors: security, scalability, speed, and support.

Today we sat down with Pedro Dobrescu, Founder of Presslabs – a smartly managed WordPress hosting provider – to talk about the benefits of such services and how can they help ensure your website's cybersecurity.

How did Presslabs come to be? What has the journey been like so far?

Presslabs came to the market to address a specific need. Big publishers were experiencing huge downtimes with self-managed servers, due to poor caching or simply using the wrong deployment environments. We sought to address these issues, providing enhanced security and reliable uptime solutions.

As a bootstrapped company, and the first to provide managed WordPress hosting solutions, it’s admittedly been somewhat of a bumpy ride. While we built our infrastructure with the publisher’s needs firmly in mind, oftentimes publishers prioritize low costs over everything–including quality.

It took a while to educate the market, but it’s been an enjoyable experience–and one we’ve learned a lot from.

Can you introduce us to your hosting platform? What are its key features?

Presslabs offers:

Our homebrewed high-performance caching system

  • Globally accessible server network encompassing 12 locations across 6 continents
  • Kubernetes-based backend for limitless scalability
  • Real-time performance metrics
  • Strong security measures, including nigh-unbreakable encryption, fast response times to events, and automatic failover
  • Git-based development
  • Expert WordPress support

What would you consider to be the most challenging issues that new website owners face today?

Content creation and marketing are complicated enough without the additional overhead imposed by technical aspects of running a website. Managed WordPress hosting allows you to focus your precious resources on monetization, leaving things like uptime, third-party code integration, and oversite performance to Presslabs.

Have you noticed any new threats emerge as a result of current global events?

The cybersecurity landscape is always changing as a rule, but the war in Ukraine has seen a definite increase in activity.

There are reports of news sites getting scanned by Russian IPs, though we have seen the same happen to Presslabs. So far, there haven’t been any concrete attacks.

That said, events like Killnet’s late April attacks on Romanian government sites prove that hacker groups haven’t been idle. Additionally, some 300-400k “hacktivists” are reportedly aiding Ukraine to run defense and launch counter-offensives.

Besides the obvious overall increase in cybersec chatter, an important takeaway here is how Ukraine has, against all odds, retained its communications infrastructure. While they have gotten a lot of help, Ukrainians provide a valuable model for “cyber-resilience” in action.

In your opinion, what security details are often overlooked when developing a website?

So many vectors of attack occur at simple weak points, such as default admin usernames or insufficiently strong passwords. Moreover, sites without countermeasures against brute force attacks are asking for trouble.

Additionally, out-of-date WordPress plugins pose an often underestimated risk. Compounding this issue is having too many plugins installed, increasing your vulnerable attack area. Moreover, there is a tendency for site owners to seek out plugins and themes stuffed with fancy features, which may carry unforeseen security implications.

Having a security-aware hosting provider on your side, like Presslabs, is a good solution for hedging against human error as well as true technical issues.

Despite all the solutions available today, some companies still refuse to upgrade their operations with new and innovative measures. Why do you think that is the case?

Well, it’s easy to understand the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset.

After all, companies have limited resources available to fix problems that haven’t occurred yet. Similarly, they may put up with minor inefficiencies or inconveniences with outdated solutions simply because they view the immediate pain of upgrading as worse than the long-term pain of staying the course.

Maintenance, thus, tends to be viewed as a necessary, costly evil. But waiting until after you’ve been attacked is a poor security policy that will cost far more to fix.

What security features do you think are essential for websites nowadays?

Much of essential security entails common sense measures.

First and foremost, make sure everything is up to date. That means your WordPress version, your PHP version, your OS, and of course your myriad themes and plugins.

Additionally, get a trustworthy SSL certificate and enable HTTPS on your website. (Seriously, it’s amazing how many sites still lag behind on this!)

Use Nginx to restrict access to directories containing critical PHP files. Blocking out wp-login.php as well as xmlrpc.php is especially important for preventing brute force attacks. It’s also critical to disable directory browsing. Otherwise, hackers can freely view private data as easily as typing a directory into the URL bar.

While Presslabs will take care of all this for your site, here are a few more recommendations beyond our scope:

  • Monitor plugins for vulnerabilities
  • Scan for malware
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever feasible
  • Set up wp-admin access on a VPN
  • DDoS protection (we are currently implementing a solution as part of our standard service package)
  • Enforce rate limiting to guard against bots and take a load off your servers
  • Implement a web application firewall (WAF) to guard your APIs against exploits

Talking about average Internet users, what details do you think everyone should be especially vigilant about when browsing? Are there any security tools that you would like to recommend?

There are browser extensions that force sites to use HTTPS whenever possible; use them.

Be careful what you click! Deceptive ads can easily lead to adware and malware infections. Ad blockers go a long way towards keeping you safe from yourself.

This bears repeating: Update your OS! Critical security updates and patches help make it harder to hack.

Use an antivirus – even if you’re on Mac or Linux.

Consumer VPNs are powerful security tools that are readily available at affordable prices. There’s no reason not to use one all the time.

And finally, what’s next for Presslabs?

Our goal is to remove technical burdens from the shoulders of our customers. While we have always focused heavily on site performance and uptime, we’re doubling down on security.

With this current backdrop of geopolitical uncertainty, having a cohesive strategy for cyber resilience is key to keeping your company’s doors open. It can be overwhelming, which is why Presslabs seeks to alleviate the burden these technical requirements can impose on our customers.

Towards that end, we are fully leveraging our partnership with Google to offer the most scalable and secure hosting infrastructure available. We have early access to new machines and novel solutions developed by Google, which we use to provide a more robust service offering at competitive prices.

We also have early access to cutting-edge solutions developed by Google, which we integrate into our own service offerings as a matter of urgency given the hazardous cybersecurity landscape.

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