iThemes Security Settings Explained

The iThemes Security plugin offers 30+ ways to secure and protect your WordPress website. In this guide, we walk through all the iThemes Security plugin settings with an in-depth explanation of the features.

Introducing the Settings Modules

All iThemes Security settings are organized into “Modules” on the Settings page.

After installing and activating the plugin on your website, navigate to the Settings page within the iThemes Security plugin menu in your WordPress Admin Dashboard.

Download the iThemes Security Setup Guide ebook

Security Check

The first module in the list is the Security Check. The Security Check ensures your site is using the basic recommended settings.

  • Click the Secure Site button to run the Security Check.

With the Security Check, the following settings modules will be enabled and configured for you:

  • Banned Users
  • Database Backups
  • Local Brute Force Protection
  • Network Brute Force Protection
  • Strong Passwords
  • WordPress Tweaks
  • File Change Detection
  • Pro Magic Links
  • Pro Malware Scan Scheduling
  • Pro wo-Factor Authentication
  • Pro User Logging
Note: Running the Security Check more than once will re-enable recommended settings that have been disabled.

iThemes Security Settings Explained

The following sections provide an in-depth explanation of each iThemes Security plugin settings module. While this information may seem overwhelming at first glance, please note that the Security Check module is designed to handle configuring most of the recommended settings for you. Don’t worry—you don’t need to enable or manually configure all of these settings one by one!

The remainder of this guide is designed to be a reference for available settings within the plugin. It can also help you evaluate the advantages of the iThemes Security Pro plugin.

Global Settings

The Global Settings module allow you to configure basic settings that control how the iThemes Security plugin functions.

  • Write to Files – In order to take advantage of all that iThemes Security has to offer, it will need permission to write to the .htaccess and wp-config.php files.
  • Host Lockout Message – This is the customizable message that will display when an IP has been locked out.
    User Lockout – This is the customizable message that will display when a user has been locked out.
  • Community Lockout Message – This is the customizable message that will display when an IP has been flagged as bad by the iThemes network.
  • Blacklist Repeat Offender – This will allow iThemes Security to ban an IP that has reached the blacklist threshold.
  • Blacklist Threshold – The number of lockouts allowed before a permanent ban.
  • Blacklist Lookback Period – The length of time a lockout will count towards a permanent ban.
  • Lockout Period – The length of time a lockout will last.
  • Lockout White List – This is where you can add user’s IPs to prevent them from being locked out.
  • Log Type – Choose how you want your logs to be stored.
  • Days to Keep Database Logs – The length of time a log entry will be stored in the database.
  • Allow Data Tracking – We are not currently tracking any data when this feature is enabled. Allow iThemes to track plugin usage via anonymous data.
  • Proxy Detection – May help with identifying actual IPs instead of the proxy server’s IP.
  • Hide Security Menu in Admin Bar – Remove the Security Messages Menu from the admin bar and receive the messages as traditional WordPress Admin Notices.
  • Show Error Codes – Decide whether or not the lockout messages should display.
  • Enable Grade Report – This will allow the Grade Report Module to show in the security settings.

Notification Center

The Notification Center settings module allows you to manage and configure all email notifications sent by iThemes Security related to other settings.

  • From Email – iThemes Security will send notifications from this email address. Leave blank to use the WordPress default.
  • Default Recipients – Select which users will be used as the default recipient list.
  • Automatic Updates Info – The Version Management module will send an email with details about any automatic updates that have been performed
  • Database Backup – The Database Backup module will send a copy of any backups to the email addresses listed below.
  • File Change – The File Change Detection module will email a file scan report after changes have been detected.
  • Grade Report Change – Receive a notification when your security grade changes. This email is generated by the Grade Report module.
  • Inactive Users – The User Security Check module sends a list of users who have not been active in the last 30 days so you can consider demoting or removing users.
  • Magic Login Link – Customizable message and subject used for the Magic Link email. This email is generated by the Magic Links module.
  • Malware Scan Results – Receive a notification when the malware scan finds an issue or if the scan repeatedly fails. This email is generated by the Malware Scan Scheduling module.
  • Security Digest – Choose the frequency of notification summary emails generated by iThemes Security.
  • Settings Export – Customize the email that contains the settings export. This email is generated by the Settings Import and Export module.
    Site Lockouts – Receive a notification when an IP or user is locked out. During periods of heavy attack, iThemes Security can generate a large amount of emails as it helps protect your site.
  • Two-Factor Email – Customize the email users will receive that contains the authentication code. This email is generated by the Two-Factor Authentication module.
  • Two-Factor Email Confirmation – The email a user will receive when setting up Two-Factor. This email is generated by the Two-Factor Authentication module.
  • Two-Factor Reminder Notice – Customize the email sent to remind users to setup two-factor. This email is generated by the User Security Check module.
  • Unrecognized Login – Users receive a notification if there is a login from an unrecognized device. This email is generated by the Trusted Devices (Beta) module.

404 Detection

The 404 Detection module allows you automatically block users snooping around for pages to exploit.

  • Minutes to Remember 404 Error – How long a 404 will count towards a lockout.
  • Error Threshold – The number of 404 errors need for a lockout.
  • 404 File/Folder Whitelist – Use the whitelist to add any file or folder you do want to count towards a lockout. Keep in mind the 404s will still be recorded in the security logs.
  • Ignored File Types – Choose file types that you do not wish to count towards lockouts.

Away Mode

The Away Mode module disables access to the WordPress Dashboard on a schedule. When away mode is active, all traffic trying to access the login page will be redirected to the site’s homepage.

  • Type of Restriction – Choose if you want Away Mode to occur once or daily.
  • Start Time – The time away mode will become active and you will not be able to access the login page.
  • End Time – The time away mode will end and you will be able to access the login page.

Banned Users

The Banned Users module blocks specific IP addresses and user agents from accessing the site. Here you can find all things related to permanent bans.

  • Default Blacklist – Permanently ban a list of known bad actors.
  • Ban Hosts – The blacklist that will include all of the IPs that iThemes Security had banned. You can also manually add IPs to this list that you would like permanently blocked.
  • Ban User Agents – The list you can use to permanently ban User Agents from accessing the site.

Database Backups

From the Database Backups module, you can create backups of your site’s database. The backups can be created manually and on a schedule.

  • Create a database backup.
  • Backup Full Database – Check the box if you wish to backup everything in the database and not just tables belong to the site.
  • Backup Method – Choose how you want your backup delivered.
  • Backups to Retain – Set how many local backups you want to keep.
  • Compress Backup Files – Choose if you want to have your backup zipped.
  • Exclude Tables – Select any tables to exclude from the backup.
  • Schedule Database Backups – Select the frequency that a database backup is created.
Note: The Database Backup module will send a copy of any backups to the email addresses listed in the Database Backup section of the Notification Center module. You can customize the email subject and recipients.

File Change Detection

The File Change Detection module monitors the site for unexpected file changes.

  • Files and Folders List – Select which files you want to exclude from the file change scan. It is common practice to exclude items that are expected to change frequently. A good example of this would be backup and cache directories.
  • Ignore File Types – Choose file types that will not be included in the scan.
  • Display File Change Admin Warning – Choose if you want to see an admin notification when a change is found.
  • Compare Online Files – Compares file hashes of changed WordPress core and iThemes or WordPress.org plugins or themes to their online counterparts.
Note: The File Change Detection module will email a file scan report after changes have been detected. From the Notification Center module, you can enable this email, customize the subject and select which users should receive File Change emails.

File Permissions

The File Permissions module lists file and directory permissions of key areas of the site.

  • See the iThemes Security suggest file permission settings and compare them to your current file permission settings

Local Brute Force Protection

The Local Brute Force Protection module helps protect your site against attackers that try to randomly guess login details.

  • Max Login Attempts Per Host – The number of allowed invalid login attempts per IP before a lockout occurs.
  • Max Login Attempts Per Host – The number of allowed invalid login attempts per User before a lockout occurs.
  • Minutes to Remember Bad Login – The number of minutes an invalid login attempt will count towards lockout.
  • Automatically ban admin user – Immediately LOCKOUT a host that attempts to log in using the admin username.

Network Brute Force Protection

The Network Brute Force Protection module allows you to join a network of sites that reports and protects against bad actors on the internet.

  • Enable to block IPs that have been identified by the iThemes Network as bad actors.

Password Requirements

In the Password Requirements module, you can manage the password requirements for users.

  • Strong Passwords – Force users to use a strong password.

SSL

In the SSL module, you can configure use of SSL to ensure that communications between browsers and the server are secure.

  • If you have an SSL certificate installed, you can use this setting to redirect all HTTP traffic to HTTPs.

System Tweaks

The System Tweaks module contains advanced settings that improve security by changing the server config for this site.

  • System Files – Prevent public access to readme.html, readme.txt,
    wp-config.php, install.php, wp-includes, and .htaccess.
  • Directory Browser – Prevent users from seeing a list of files in a directory when no index file is listed.
  • Request Methods – Filter out hits with trace, delete or track request methods.
  • Suspicious Query String – Filter our URLs with suspicious query strings
  • Non-English Characters – Filter out non-English characters from URL.
  • Filter Long URLs – Filter URLs longer than 255 characters.
  • Remove File Writing Permissions – This will set the permissions settings of the wp-config.php and .htaccess files to a secure 0444.
  • Disable PHP – Disable PHP execution in the Uploads, Themes and Plugins directories.

WordPress Salts

The WordPress Salts module allows you to update the secret keys WordPress uses to increase the security of your site.

  • Change the WordPress salts & security keys. Note that changing the salts will log you out of your WordPress site.

WordPress Tweaks

The WordPress Tweaks module contains advanced settings that improve security by changing default WordPress behavior.

  • Windows Live Writer Header – Remove the Windows Live header if it isn’t needed.
  • EditURI Header – Removes the RSD header.
    Comment Spam – Prevent comments from bots with no referrer or user-agent.
  • File Editor – Disable the WordPress file editor and require using a different tool to edit the theme or other files.
  • XML-RPC – Choose how you would like XML-RPC to managed on the site.
  • REST API – Choose how you want the REST API used on the site.
  • Login Error Messages – Prevent login error messages from being displayed.
  • Force Unique Nickname – Force users to use a unique nickname when updating or creating a new account.
  • Disable Extra User Archives – Disable the author page for users with 0 posts.
  • Protect Against Tabnapping – Protect visitors against tabnapping external links.
  • Login with Email Address or Username – Manage what a user can use to login.
  • Mitigate Attachment File Traversal Attack – This helps to mitigate an attack where users with the “author” role or higher could delete any file in your WordPress installation including sensitive files like wp-config.php.

iThemes Security Pro Settings

While the free version of the iThemes Security plugin will secure your website on a basic level, Pro settings are designed to add an even stronger layer of protection to your website.

Pro settings can be accessed from the Settings page like all other iThemes Security settings modules.

  • Magic Links
  • Malware Scan Scheduling
  • Privilege Escalation
  • reCAPTCHA
  • Settings Import and Export
  • Security Dashboard
  • Two-Factor Authentication
  • User Logging
  • User Security Check
  • Version Management
  • Trusted Devices (Beta)
  • Grade Report

From the Magic Links module, you can configure a setting to send an email with a Magic Link that bypasses a username lockout.

  • Enable – The Magic Links feature allows you to log in while your username is locked out by the Local Brute Force Protection feature. When your username is locked out, you can request an email with a special login link. Using the emailed link will bypass the username lockout for you while brute force attackers are still locked out.
Note: The Magic Links module sends an email with a Magic Link that bypasses a username lockout. From the Notification Center module, you can customize the subject and message of this email. Basic HTML and some email tags are supported.

Malware Scan Scheduling Pro

With the Malware Scan Scheduling module, you can protect your site with automated malware scans. When this feature is enabled, the site will be automatically scanned each day. If a problem is found, an email is sent to select users.

  • Enable – Automatically scan your site for malware and known vulnerabilities.
Note: The Malware Scan Scheduling module sends an email if it discovers an issue or has repeated difficulty conducting the scan. From the Notification Center module, you can enable this email and select recipients.

Privilege Escalation Pro

With the Privilege Escalation module, you can allow administrators to temporarily grant extra access to a user of the site for a specified period of time.

  • Enable – Temporarily give a user more access.

reCAPTCHA Pro

The reCAPTCHA module protects your site from bots by verifying that the person submitting comments or logging in is indeed human.

  • Enable, then Configure Settings.
  • Type – Choose which version of reCAPTCHA you would like to use on the site.
  • Site Key – To use this feature you need a free site key and secret key from Google reCAPTCHA.
  • Secret Key – To use this feature you need a free secret key and secret key from Google reCAPTCHA.
  • Enable GDPR Opt-in – To assist with GDPR compliance, iThemes Security can prompt the user to accept Google’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service before loading the reCAPTCHA API.
  • Use on Login – Use reCAPTCHA for user login.
  • Use on New User Registration – Use reCAPTCHA for user registration.
  • Use on Comments – Use reCAPTCHA for new comments.
  • Language – Set the language for the reCAPTCHA text.
  • Use Dark Theme – A dark theme for reCAPTCHA V2.
  • Lockout Error Threshold – The number of failed reCAPTCHA attempts before a lockout.
  • Lockout Check Period – The length of time a failed reCAPTCHA attempt will count towards a lockout.
  • Include Script – Specify where the reCAPTCHA script should be loaded. Google recommends including the script on all pages to increase accuracy.
  • Block Threshold – Google reCAPTCHA assigns a score between 0 and 1 describing the legitimacy of the request. A score of 1 is most likely a human, and a score of 0 is most likely a bot.

Settings Import & Export Pro

With the Settings Import and Export module, you can export your iThemes Security plugin settings as a backup or to import on other sites for quicker setup.

  • Import or Export a file containing iThemes Security settings.
Note: The Settings Import Export module sends an email with the settings export file attached. From the Notification Center module, you can customize the subject of this email and the message. Basic HTML and certain email tags are supported.

Security Dashboard Pro

From the Security Dashboard module, you can see a real-time overview of the security activity on your website with this dynamic dashboard.

  • Enable, then Configure Settings.
  • Disable Creating Dashboards for Users – By default, any user who can manage iThemes Security can create dashboards. Prevent the selected users below from creating dashboards and from viewing/editing Security Dashboard settings.
  • After enabling, refresh the page to see the new Security Dashboard link in your WordPress admin dashboard menu. Visit this link to create your Security Dashboard with the following card options (click the Edit Cards link on the right side of the screen):
    • User Security Profile
    • Active Lockouts
    • Database Backups
    • 404s
    • Banned Users
    • Brute Force Attacks
    • Lockouts
    • Malware Scans
    • Trusted Devices
    • Updates Summary
    • User Security Profiles

Two-Factor Authentication Pro

The Two-Factor Authentication module allows you to enable two-factor authentication. Two-Factor Authentication greatly increases the security of your WordPress user account by requiring additional information beyond your username and password in order to log in.

  • Authentications Methods Available to Users – Select which two-factor methods can be used on the site.
  • User Type Protection – Require user accounts of specific roles to use two-factor if the account doesn’t already do so. The “Privileged Users” setting is highly recommended as this forces users that can change site settings, software, or content to use two-factor.
  • Disable Forced Two-Factor Authentication for Certain Users – Disable forced two-factor authentication and on-boarding for certain users.
  • Vulnerable User Protection – Require user accounts that are considered vulnerable, such as having a weak password or for recent brute force attacks, to use two-factor if the account doesn’t already do so. Enabling this feature is highly recommended.
  • Vulnerable Site Protection – Require all users to use two-factor when logging in if the site is vulnerable, such as running outdated software or software known to be vulnerable. Enabling this feature is highly recommended.
  • Disable on First Login – This simplifies the sign-up flow for users that require two-factor to be enabled for their account.
  • On-board Welcome Text – The text users will see during the two-factor on-boarding flow.
  • Application Passwords – Application Passwords are used to allow authentication via non-interactive systems, such as XML-RPC or the REST API, without providing your actual password.
  • Allow Remembering Device – Allow users to check a “Remember This Device” box that, if checked, will prompt the user for a two-factor code for the next 30 days on the current device.
Note: The Two-Factor Authentication module sends an email containing the Authentication Code for users using email as their two-factor provider. From the Notification Center module, you can customize the subject and message of this email.
The Two-Factor Authentication module sends an email containing the Authentication Code for users when they are setting up Two-Factor. Try to keep the email similar to the Two Factor Email. Disabling this email will disable the Two-Factor Email Confirmation flow. From the Notification Center module, you can customize the subject and message of this email.

User Security Check Pro

See how your users might be affecting your security and take action when needed in the User Security Check module.

  • Enable to see an overview of users using two-factor, and the strength of their last login. You can also send two-factor reminder emails and change their user role.
The User Security Check module allows you to remind users to setup two-factor authentication for their accounts. From the Notification Center module, you can customize the subject and message of this email.

User Logging Pro

With the User Logging module, you can log user actions such as login, saving content and others.

  • Enable to record user actions in the security logs.

Version Management Pro

With the Version Management module, you can protect your site when outdated software is not updated quickly enough.

  • WordPress Updates – Automatically update WordPress.
  • Plugin and Theme Updates – Automatically update plugins and themes. You can customize which plugin or themes to automatically update and choose to delay updates to specific plugins and themes.
  • Strengthen Site When Running Outdated Software – When the site is running outdated software, force users to use two-factor, disable the WP File Editor (which blocks people from editing plugin or theme code), XML-RPC pingbacks, and block multiple authentication attempts per XML-RPC request (both of which will make XML-RPC stronger against attacks without having to completely turn it off).
  • Scan for Old WordPress Sites – Check for outdated WordPress installs on your hosting account.
The Version Management module will send an email with details about any automatic updates that have been performed. From the Notification Center module, you can enable this email and select recipients.

Trusted Devices (Beta) Pro

The Trusted Devices module identifies the devices users use to login and can apply additional restrictions to unknown devices.

  • Minimum Role – Enable Trusted Devices for users with the selected minimum role.
  • Restrict Capabilities – When a user is logged-in on an unrecognized device, restrict their administrator-level capabilities and prevent them from editing their login details.
  • Session Hijacking Protection – Help protect against session hijacking by checking that a user’s device does not change during a session.
  • Geolocation – iThemes Security uses geolocation to improve the accuracy of Trusted Device identification. By default, a number of free GeoIP services are used. We strongly recommend enabling one of the MaxMind APIs.
  • Static Image Map API – iThemes Security uses static image maps to display the approximate location of an unrecognized login. We recommend using either the Mapbox or MapQuest APIs.
Users can receive a notification if there is a login from an unrecognized device. From the Notification Center module, you can enable this email and customize the subject and message of the email.

Password Requirements Pro

The Password Requirements module includes additional settings for Pro users.

  • Force Password Change – Force all users to change their password on their next login attempt.
  • Password Expiration – Set the length of time a password can be used.
  • Refuse Compromised Passwords – Force users to use passwords that do not appear in any passwords breaches that are tracked by Have I Been Pwned.

Grade Report Pro

The Grade Report module allows you to see your WordPress security grade and fix issues.

Note: Enable Grade Report must be selected in the Global Settings module for this module to display on the Settings page.

  • Enable then Configure Settings.
  • Disable for Users – Disable the grade report for selected users.

Once enabled, a new Grade Report link will appear in your WordPress admin dashboard beneath the Security menu. Click this link to see your Security Grade Report summary. You can manage the Grade Report Change emails from the Notification Center.

The Grade Report module can send a notification whenever your Security Grade Report changes. From the Notification Center module, you can enable this email and then customize the subject, schedule (daily or weekly) and message of this email, along with selecting recipients.

Advanced Plugin Settings

Several settings can be located by clicking the “Advanced” tab on the settings menu. Note: These settings are to be used with caution and only by advanced users!

Admin Users

An advanced tool that removes users with a username of “admin” or a user ID of “1”.

  • Change the user ID of the user with the ID of 1
Warning: Only do this on fresh WordPress installs and make a database backup before making the change.

Change Content Directory

Advanced feature to rename the wp-content directory to a different name.

Warning: This is an advanced feature and it will likely cause more problems than it solves. This feature can also break custom post types and other plugins.

Change Database Prefix

Change the database table prefix that WordPress uses.

Warning: Only do this on fresh WordPress installs and make a database backup before making the change.

Hide Backend

Hide the login page by changing its name and preventing access to wp-login.php and wp-admin.

Hides the login page (wp-login.php, wp-admin, admin and login) making it harder to find by automated attacks and making it easier for users unfamiliar with the WordPress platform.

Warning: While this can add a layer of security through obscurity by changing the login URL, you should rely more on strong passwords and two-factor authentication.

Server Config Rules

If you need to manually add the server config rules generated by iThemes Security to your server, you can find them here.

wp-config.php Rules

If you need to manually add the wp-config.php rules generated by iThemes Security to your server, you can find them here.

Get iThemes Security Pro

iThemes Security Pro, our WordPress security plugin, offers 30+ ways to secure and protect your website from common WordPress security vulnerabilities. With WordPress two-factor authentication, brute force protection, strong password enforcement, and more, you can add an extra layer of security to your website.

Get iThemes Security Pro

https://ithemes.com/ithemes-security-settings-explained/

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