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Website Security in the Age of Cyber Threats

You’ve put in the hard work to get your website up and running smoothly, but there’s one critical component you might need to look into: website security.

Did you know that cyber-attacks occur every 39 seconds? That’s equivalent to around 2,200 attacks per day, and your website could be a prime target.

Whether you’re running an online store, a healthcare portal, or a finance platform, every corner of the web is susceptible to these threats.

As technology progresses, so do cybercriminals’ tactics. They are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities to exploit.

So, how can you ensure the safety of your business website? Keep reading to explore some expert-assured website security best practices.

But first, let’s cover the basics of cyber attacks.

Understanding Cyber Threats

Neglecting website security isn’t an option, especially considering the global cost of cybercrime, expected to skyrocket to $13.8 trillion by 2025.

Take, for example, what happened to the Canada Revenue Agency in August 2020. A cyber attack using stolen passwords shut down their online systems for days, compromising over 5500 accounts. This incident underscores the importance of prioritizing web security measures.

Cybersecurity serves as a protective barrier against a range of cyber threats. Here are some of the most common tricks hackers use:

  • Malware: Harmful programs meant to disrupt or infiltrate systems.
  • Ransomware: Blocks access to files or systems until a ransom is paid.
  • Phishing: This involves tricking users into revealing confidential information by posing as a trusted entity.
  • Brute-force attacks: Repeated attempts to guess passwords through trial and error.
  • DDoS attacks: Overwhelm websites with so much traffic that they crash and become unavailable to legitimate users.
  • Code injection: Introduces malicious code into applications to gain unauthorized access.
  • Zero-day attacks: Exploits vulnerabilities before they’re patched or fixed.

RELEVANT READ: 11 WordPress Security Issues And Vulnerabilities You Should Know About

The Anatomy of Website Vulnerabilities

Web security vulnerabilities are weaknesses or misconfigurations in a website that attackers can exploit to gain unauthorized access or carry out harmful actions.

Think of these vulnerabilities as open windows in a house that intruders can use to break in. They can pop up anywhere in a web application, whether it’s the server, host, or the application software itself. Since web apps connect with users over various networks, they’re prime targets for hackers.

Some common vulnerabilities include:

  • Inadequate Authentication Mechanisms
    Weak or poorly implemented authentication mechanisms allow unauthorized access. Robust authentication practices, including multi-factor authentication, are crucial.
  • Unpatched Software
    Outdated software harbors security holes. Regular updates and patches are essential to plug these gaps.
  • Insecure APIs
    Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) facilitate communication between different software components. Insecure APIs can lead to data leaks and breaches.

Developing a Strong Security Plan

Securing a website might seem complex, but there are several straightforward measures you can take to reduce the risk of security breaches. Consider implementing the following steps to safeguard your website’s integrity.

  1. Security from web development stages

    Securing your website starts right from its development phase. This is when vulnerabilities can crop up due to insecure coding, framework choices, and configuration mistakes. Here’s how to ensure robust security:

    • Choose Secure Frameworks: Pick frameworks with a solid security track record and active community support. Do your research to find ones without known vulnerabilities.
    • Follow Secure Coding Practices: Train your developers on secure coding techniques like input validation, output encoding, and parameterized queries. These practices help prevent common issues such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).
    • Perform Security Testing: Make sure to test your website for security issues during development. This includes things like scanning your static code for vulnerabilities, testing your application while it’s running [dynamic application security testing (DAST)], and even trying to break into it to find weak spots. Early detection means quicker fixes.

    RELEVANT READ: Cyber Security Threats a Poorly Built Website Can Face

  2. Limiting administrative privileges

    The fewer people with admin access, the simpler it is to manage everyone effectively. When someone leaves your organization, especially if they’re terminated, make sure to review their user permissions promptly or deactivate their account right away.

    Not everyone involved in your website’s operations requires admin privileges. Assign permissions based on specific job roles and tasks.

    For instance, if someone only needs access to a particular project, you can temporarily assign them the necessary rights. This approach helps maintain tighter control over who can make changes to your website, reducing the risk of unauthorized alterations or breaches.

  3. Do not skip the SSL certificate

    Encrypting sensitive data, such as emails, addresses, and credit card numbers, during transmission from your website to a web server is made possible in large part by SSL/TLS certificates.

    Do not skip the SSL certificate
    It’s a fundamental security measure, so much so that leading browsers and search engines label sites lacking SSL as “insecure.” This can raise suspicions among visitors and often prompt them to leave your site.

    Depending on your website’s functionality and the kind of personal data it collects, like for eCommerce or financial transactions, selecting the right SSL certificate tailored to your business is essential for ensuring robust protection.

    ⇛ When an SSL/TLS certificate protects a website, you’ll notice “HTTPS” in the URL

    RELEVANT READ: Moving to HTTPS Website on WordPress

  4. Implement a web application firewall (WAF)

    If you’re concerned about protecting your website from threats like cross-site scripting and SQL injection, consider using a web application firewall (WAF).

    Implement a web application firewall (WAF)
    Think of a WAF as a protective barrier between your web applications and the internet. It keeps an eye on all incoming traffic trying to access your web app and stops any attempts to exploit its weaknesses.

    Especially for e-commerce sites dealing with sensitive cardholder data, having a WAF in place can assist in meeting specific compliance standards.

  5. Put multi-factor authentication into practice

    By activating multi-factor authentication (MFA), you’re adding an extra shield to your data. Alongside your password, you’ll need another form of confirmation, like a one-time password, QR code, or a notification sent to your mobile device, to log in to your accounts.

    Put multi-factor authentication into practice
    Even if a hacker somehow gets hold of one of your passwords, the extra step of MFA will likely deter them, making it much harder for them to access your accounts.

  6. Change default CMS settings

    Approximately 56% of website infections occur because of outdated CMS applications.

    If you haven’t adjusted your default CMS (content management system) settings, your website becomes an easier target for hackers. It’s crucial to modify these settings during your site setup.

    Change default CMS settings
    For instance, tweak your comments and user settings by assigning distinct privilege roles to each admin. These adjustments make it harder for hackers to decipher your system’s workings, reducing its susceptibility to attacks.

Securing Website Data

Even with top-notch security measures in place, preparing for the worst-case scenario is essential. As technology evolves, so do hackers’ tactics.

In a cyber attack, your website may become unavailable or compromised. Regularly backing up your site is the best defense against such incidents.

Having backups of your files allows for quick recovery from any cybersecurity attack. If you’re using any website builder, consider enabling automatic backups during setup – it’s easy to overlook but strongly recommended.

Do not forget to save your backup files apart from your website files in a safe place. Your backups may potentially be compromised if a hacker manages to get access to your web account.

Keeping your files offline provides an alternative to paying a ransom, as you can restore encrypted files yourself without giving in to criminals’ demands.

Insider’s Tip:
Whether your business relies on a WordPress or static HTML website, simply having the right security plugins and services isn’t enough.

Every member of your team, no matter their role, should grasp the basics of website security and data management. To provide your staff with the skills they need to safeguard your website and confidential data, think about providing training sessions on subjects like GDPR compliance and password management.

Observation and Incident Handling

Keep a close eye on your application to maintain its integrity. Alerting mechanisms can help you respond quickly and minimize damage if there’s a breach. Without regular checks and scans, you won’t know if your website has been compromised.

Having access to at least a month’s worth of logs can be incredibly helpful for detecting application issues. These logs can also reveal whether your server is under a DDoS attack or experiencing unusual stress.

Record and review all actions, especially in critical areas like administration, to spot any suspicious activity. Attackers might target less crucial parts of your site to gain higher access later.

Set up triggers to notify you of brute force attacks or attempts to exploit any site features—even ones unrelated to authentication systems.

Check for updates regularly and apply them to ensure you have the latest security patches. This is especially important if you’re not using a web application firewall to block vulnerability exploits.

As a general rule, enable security alerts for all software applications you use on your website, whether it’s a content management system, WordPress plugins, or client portal software. Though it may seem like extra work, prioritizing site security will pay off in the long term.

Conclusion

Before we finish up, remember that security isn’t something you can set up and forget about. Instead, it’s an ongoing process that needs regular attention to minimize risks.

Imagine website security like peeling layers of an onion. Taking a systematic approach means we’re addressing each layer to form a stronger overall defense. It’s crucial to see website security as a whole and tackle it with a comprehensive strategy that covers all angles.

Quick Website Security Checklist

Ask yourself these questions to assess the current state of your website’s security and identify areas that may need improvement.

  • Does my website use HTTPS to encrypt data transmission?
  • Are all plugins and add-ons regularly updated to patch security vulnerabilities?
  • Are strong passwords enforced for all users accessing the website?
  • Have I implemented two-factor or multi-factor authentication for added security?
  • Have I carefully assigned user roles to limit admin access?
  • Is my website regularly backed up to prevent data loss, either manually or automatically?
  • Is my server properly secured against potential security threats?
  • Do I perform routine scans of my website for irregular activity or attempted attacks?
  • Do I have a monitoring system in place to detect any suspicious behavior on my website?
Shikha Gupta Author

Shikha is a content marketing specialist with experience in creating compelling and effective content for SaaS businesses. With 5 years of experience, she has a proven track record of developing content strategies that resonate with target audiences, drive website traffic, and generate leads.