Can Your Website’s Images Make It Less Secure?

Images are an essential element of the modern web. However, in some cases, they can also make your website vulnerable to security breaches that jeopardize your data.

Understanding how these vulnerabilities work and how to protect yourself against them is key to securing your site and your users’ information. With the right security measures and best practices in place, you can rest assured your content is safe.

In this article, we’ll break down how images can impact your website’s security. Then we’ll talk about image theft and how to avoid it. Let’s get right to it!

Can Your Website’s Images Make It Less Secure?

Keeping your website safe means protecting it against a wide range of possible threats. One issue most people don’t pay close attention to is their media files, specifically images. Depending on which formats you use, you may be leaving your site open specific types of attacks.

By and large, the most popular image file formats used on the web are pretty safe. That includes JPEGs, PNGs, and GIFs. If you’re using these formats exclusively and you always keep your site’s components up to date, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Typically, for images to be security threats, they must carry some type of malicious code that can be executed on your server. For instance, there have been cases of attackers hiding malicious JavaScript within image tags

Additionally, for many years WordPress included a vulnerability that allowed certain user roles to upload images that could trigger remote code execution. In other words, it enabled hackers to take control of your server. This issue has since been patched.

Additionally, for many years WordPress included a vulnerability that allowed certain user roles to upload images that could trigger remote code execution. In other words, it enabled hackers to take control of your server. This issue has since been patched.

File formats that, by their nature, include executable code tend to be considered more dangerous. If you use SVGs in WordPress, for example, you’ll notice there are several plugins for ‘sanitizing’ your images:

This process involves removing any potentially malicious XML or JavaScript, which could impact your website’s security.

In practice, the security risks posed by images are minimal if you follow some basic guidelines, including:

  • Only uploading screenshots, photographs, or other image files that you created yourself, to ensure their integrity.
  • Sticking to secure file formats.

WordPress takes care of the second point for you, by only enabling you to upload a limited range of formats by default. If you stick to these guidelines, images shouldn’t pose a threat to your site’s security.

How Should You Protect Against Image Theft?

Image theft isn’t so much a security issue as it is a byproduct of the way the internet works. If you run a quick reverse search for basically any image on the web, you’re likely to find hundreds of instances of its use:

Image theft isn’t so much a security issue as it is a byproduct of the way the internet works. If you run a quick reverse search for basically any image on the web, you’re likely to find hundreds of instances of its use:

This applies to all types of intellectual property online. Trying to stop image theft altogether is basically impossible, much like piracy in general. However, you can discourage it by implementing protection methods such as:

  • Disabling right-clicking. This won’t stop determined image thieves, but it’s a basic approach that’s easy to implement. Making it harder to download your images should help deter those who are looking for a fast way to source content.
  • Using watermarks. If someone does manage to download your images, at the very least they won’t be able to take credit for them.
  • Disabling image hotlinking. In some cases, other websites will link to your images directly, which can cost you bandwidth. Disabling hotlinking prevents them from being able to do this.
  • Password protection. If you’re selling digital copies of your images, for example, password protection can help limit who has access to them.

If you’re using WordPress, it’s easy enough to implement all of these features using our plugin, NextGEN Pro. It also enables you to set up advanced image galleries and various e-commerce features.

Conclusion

Some file formats, such as SVGs, come with inherent security risks. However, by and large, images don’t pose a threat to most websites as long as you follow basic security guidelines. Even with ‘vulnerable’ files, if you take proper precautions, your website should be safe.

As far as image theft goes, it shouldn’t be high on your list of concerns unless you’re displaying original, artwork, a digital portfolio, or other similar content on your site. In those cases, there are several ways to protect your intellectual property, such as including watermarks, disabling right-click functionality, and using password-secured pages.

Do you have any questions about image security in general? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!

WordCandyWill Morris is a staff writer at WordCandy.co. When he’s not writing about WordPress, he likes to gig his stand-up comedy routine on the local circuit.