How to prevent direct file access in your wp-content directory

I was working on a secure site with sensitive video material that we needed strict members access to. Even though many plugins can make sure your direct permalinks can only be seen by logged in members, direct links to files in your wp-content directory are still accessible to others. They can even be hotlinked from other sites.

One way around this is to move the wp-content directory outside the web visible portion of your directory on the server, but even so WordPress can always link to such files. A better way is to tell your server not to give access to certain files (say ending with mp4 or mp3) and only allow access from your own domain.

We can use Apache Mod Rewrite for this – it’s a complex language that you can utilise in your .htaccess file within the wp-content folder.

Let me show you how to keep prying eyes out of your content.

The Problem

Say you had a PDF file that you’d like visitors on your own site to download.

However, if someone were to copy this link and call it from a browser window directly, or if they were to post the link to you PDF on another website then the document shall not be accessible. By default it is. Let’ fix that.

The Solution

Upload a .htaccess file into your wp-content folder. Have a look if one exists already, then append this code to the end of the file. If you don’t have one, just create a new blank file and add this code to it:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?yourwebsite\.com/ [NC]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !hotlink\.(gif|png|jpg|doc|xls|pdf|html|htm|xlsx|docx|mp4|mov) [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_COOKIE} !^.*wordpress_logged_in.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule .*\.(gif|png|jpg|doc|xls|pdf|html|htm|xlsx|docx|mp4|mov)$ http://yourwebsite.com/ [NC]

This rather strange sounding code is neither Linux nor PHP nor MySQL – it’s Apache (that’s the service which usually takes care of serving up those websites from a server). These are instructions that will tell Apache to do the following – I’ll explain this line by line:

  • here are some instructions I’d like you to use in this directory
  • IF someone comes from anywhere other than yourwebsite.com
  • AND they ask for a direct file that ends with any of the following (gif, png, jpg, etc)
  • AND they are not logged into WordPress on this domain
  • THEN direct every link to such files to http://yourwebsite.com

If these conditions are not met, then give out the file – everyone’s happy.

Why do I need this?

To prevent people hotlinking to your files. One aspect is security: say you have sensitive material that you only want your direct visitors to see. Or imagine you had a members area and give out a PDF that you’d like only logged in visitors to see without an encrypted link.

The same goes for image files or videos hosted on your site which you’d like to embed into your own pages but not allow embedding on external sites.

I had a guy once hotlink one of my images as his MySpace profile, the background graphic came from my server. If you’re on a plan with bandwidth limitations this can get you into trouble.

I want this functionality, but this all sounds Chinese. Can you help me?

Certainly! Book a half hour support slot here or over at WP Hosting and I’ll get this setup for you in no time.

Further Reading

These articles discuss the same subject:





Jay is the CEO and founder of WP Hosting, a boutique style managed WordPress hosting and support service. He has been working with Plesk since version 9 and is a qualified Parallels Automation Professional. In his spare time he likes to develop iOS apps and WordPress plugins, or drawing on tablet devices. He blogs about his coding journey at http://wpguru.co.uk and http://pinkstone.co.uk.