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Understanding WordPress Password Salting

3 min read
Published on 16th January 2024

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In the realm of website security, password protection is paramount. WordPress, as one of the most popular content management systems, employs a robust method for securing user passwords: salting. This technique is an essential part of WordPress's security strategy to safeguard user data. Let's explore how WordPress salts passwords and the frequency of this process.

What is Password Salting?

Password salting is a security measure used to safeguard passwords stored in a database. It involves adding a unique value, known as a 'salt', to each password before hashing it. This method prevents attackers from easily deciphering passwords using rainbow tables or similar attack vectors.

How WordPress Salts Passwords

When a user sets or updates their password in WordPress, the system applies a salt to the password and then hashes it using the PHPass hashing framework. This hashed and salted password is what WordPress stores in its database, rather than the plain text password.

The salts are random strings and are defined in the wp-config.php file of a WordPress installation. WordPress uses a set of different salts and keys for various authentication purposes:

  • AUTH_KEY
  • SECURE_AUTH_KEY
  • LOGGED_IN_KEY
  • NONCE_KEY
  • AUTH_SALT
  • SECURE_AUTH_SALT
  • LOGGED_IN_SALT
  • NONCE_SALT

Generating Salts for WordPress

For a new WordPress installation, unique salts are generated during the installation process. WordPress retrieves these salts from the WordPress.org API. However, they can be manually set or changed in the wp-config.php file.

It’s recommended to use the WordPress.org secret-key service to generate these salts: https://api.wordpress.org/secret-key/1.1/salt/

The Importance of Salting Passwords

Salting adds an additional layer of security. Even if two users have the same password, their salted and hashed passwords will be different. This approach significantly reduces the risk of password theft and makes it exponentially harder for attackers to use pre-computed hash tables to crack passwords.

How Often Are Passwords Re-Salted in WordPress?

WordPress does not automatically re-salt passwords. Once a salt is generated and applied to a password, it remains the same until the password is changed or the salts in wp-config.php are updated. Changing the salts in wp-config.php will invalidate all existing login cookies, forcing all users to log in again.

Should You Regularly Change WordPress Salts?

Regularly changing WordPress salts is not necessary for most users. However, it can be a good practice after resolving a security breach or as a periodic security measure. Keep in mind that changing salts frequently can inconvenience users by requiring them to log in again.

WordPress's approach to password salting is a testament to its commitment to user security. By understanding and occasionally updating these salts, website administrators can enhance the security of their WordPress installations. While the system itself does not require frequent changes to these salts, knowing how to update them is an essential part of maintaining a secure WordPress site.

Remember, while password salting is a robust security measure, it's just one part of a comprehensive security strategy. Regular updates, secure hosting, and vigilant monitoring are also crucial in safeguarding your WordPress site against threats.