Do not get excited. This is not going to be a name and shame post. No plugin will be named directly, though I bet a number of people will wonder if I meant their plugin.
So here is your one and only explanation. After reviewing plugins for something between 12 and 15 years, as a pretty much daily process, I have incredibly strong opinions about development, companies, and ideologies. If you, while reading this, think I might mean you … probably not. You folks have no clue how many of the same problems I’ve seen!
Actually, if you’ve read stories like ArsTechnica on how a plugin was tracking users, you have an idea. But it gets worse.
With that done, I hate …
99% of ‘Security’ Plugins
This includes Jetpack. I know I said I wasn’t going to name and shame, and I’m not. Jetpack is the perfect illustration of the first problem with security plugins, and that is their WAF (web application firewall) requires editing files, and multiple times it’s broken on upgrade.
I repeat, this is not a shame! The problem isn’t Jetpack is bad or wrong, here. The problem is even within a webhost, you get a dozen different versions of server software! Trust me, your webhost would loooove if all our sites were on the same server, but that isn’t how it works. You acquire servers in batches, so you get batches of ‘like’ and then god knows.
But. Because of the myriad versions of server setups, it is impossible for Jetpack (or any WAF type plugin) to work perfectly 100% of the time. And this is especially true of upgrades, where servers prioritize different processes.
Basically, I hate them because they can’t do the one thing for everyone, and I accept that.
The real thing I hate about security … The things I hate…
- They aren’t secure
- They’re the wrong tool for the job
- They slow your site
- They think they know everything for everyone
Safety in Danger
Not being secure is as galling as you think. I have seen the vast majority of security plugins have the most basic wrong code out there. We’re talking not sanitizing, wrong sanitizing, not using
prepare with SQL calls, not escaping, using sanitize functions to escape (and vice versa), and no nonces.
All that was seen in a plugin I reviewed back in late 2022, and I remember just putting my face in my hands and shouting ‘aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhh’ loud enough to wake my aged cat. And it was not the only one.
There are very few security plugins that have ever passed an initial review without having to be held back for security. I can only think of one in 2022-23, and they had a unique WordPress.org-only error (stable tags).
Because of that, I’m probably never going to use anyone’s security plugin. I just cannot trust plugins that, by their nature, are trying to protect, but are not safe. It’s like locking your front door and leaving your patio doors wide open.
Hammering with a Spoon
I also have long said that most security plugins are the wrong tool. This directly relates to making your site slow, because you are using WordPress to monitor and secure itself. That’s always gonna be slow, folks. And honestly having your app be the check for itself has the blindingly obvious flaw of … if the site gets hacked, that plugin is gonna be useless in 10 seconds.
The correct place for a firewall is a separate app on your server (or via DNS). The wall comes outside the town, people! It draws the line between dangers and safe.
PS I would rename any plugin that’s a WAF to a castle or something beside wall. You’ve built a tiny fortress castle and WordPress is the noble who lives inside. You’re the last line of defence.
The Need for Speed
How do security plugins make a site slow? This should be obvious. If a plugin has to run on every single load of your site and check it the person visiting is an evil doer… it slows things down. The more checks, the slower.
That’s it. Pretty simple.
This is another reason I think they’re the wrong tool. They’re on WordPress, and run using the same specs that WordPress can. PHP is usually more limited than other commands on a server.
I Know You Know
The whole “I know better” schtick was popularized by Steve Jobs. He claimed he knew what customers wanted before they did.
There was a plugin developer who had a security plugin that thought that. He got into a pissing match with another plugin that is hard to explain without naming names. Now, in this case I don’t feel the need to protect. They took to the forums and outed themselves. Heck, you can see some of the details of this saga on WPTavern.
Even though there is a little more to the story, it really doesn’t pertain to this. Suffice to say, some of my burnout is directly related to that event, which was years before I retired from plugin reviews. Oh and no, it’s not about a safe-space situation that people seem to think I run in when I tell them I’m not going to continue a conversation. I just don’t feel the need to waste time and energy on someone who refuses to compromise. I feel that if I’m at an impasse and won’t be able to change the other’s mind, I will agree to disagree and stop arguing.
That event is far from the only time I’ve seen someone decide “I know what is best, and I will force it” in a security plugin. Instead of giving options, or recommended settings, they go out and block what they think is wrong, regardless of the nuances. Sometimes they do it without a way to override, and that just isn’t cool.
While the goal of perfect security is laudable, the reality is it’s impossible. There will never be a perfect solution for everyone, and if your security plugin doesn’t allow for the nuance of the real world, then I got nothing for you.
This probably reads like “don’t bother with a security plugin.”
There are some reasons you would want to use them. I use a lot of security checks on my sites, within WordPress, but for a specific purpose. See, I use them as tools to interact with services.
For example, Akismet and spam. I have written bespoke plugins to stop a serial idiot from submitting a form so I don’t have to fire up my terminal and block IPs. I hate IP blocks. They always hurt the innocent.
And yes, I am using the WAF from Jetpack right now on a large site! Warts and all, it’s been helpful.
But for me? Having seen what I have with security plugins? They will always be a hard sell.