POSTED BY: Yishi Chakrabarty

The Essentials of Website Security

10th Aug, 2023
The Essentials of Website Security from Neworld

The Essentials of Website Security

Your website is a crucial brand asset. It should be a key platform to promote and run your business. Securing it protects you from cyberattacks and mitigates the risk of financial theft, data breaches or losing the trust of your customers.

Especially in regions with stringent data regulations in place, like here in the EU, a client data breach could result in heavy fines, legal action and, of course, negatively impact your online presence. A hacked or blacklisted website can lose up to 98% of its traffic which, in turn, leads to poor search engine ranking.

Website security requires constant assessment and maintenance because software and hardware are rendered obsolete if not continually updated to the latest released versions. Different security principles and components have to work in sync together to maintain a secure site. Any incompatibility is a source of vulnerability.

So, in an ever-evolving landscape, maintaining the integrity of your site requires a dynamic and holistic approach.

Why websites get hacked

The Essentials of Website Security by Neworld

It helps to get familiar with the general intent of bad actors if you are trying to safeguard a website from hackers, malware, scams or phishing. It is relatively easy to publish a website at the drop of a hat by using any of the slew of open-source content management systems (CMS) available like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or Magento. As of 2023, there are about 1.13 billion sites on the internet. In such a vast digital landscape, bad actors have a variety of reasons to target your website, but the following overarching patterns are generally noticed in hacking attempts:

  • Exploiting site visitors (e.g. inserting malicious links or scripts to harvest user data)
  • Abusing server resources (e.g. hosting counterfeit product stores)
  • Pure hooliganism (defacement)

Although CMS platforms often provide frequent security updates, plugins and themes can make a site vulnerable to opportunistic attacks if not regularly updated. Bots constantly scan the internet for vulnerabilities that can be exploited. It is not enough to update your security patches once a month or even once a week because these bots can identify a weak link before you are able to patch it. A web application firewall (WAF) can help block such bad bots and spammers.

Since most attacks are automated, it is not just large, high-profile sites that are targets – small and medium-sized business sites are just as likely to be victims of cybercrime.

If you run a WordPress site, you could also consider adding the WP Updates Notifier plugin. It sends you an email every time a plugin or WordPress core update is available. Similar notification services are provided by some hosting providers for various site platforms.

Security risks and how to fortify your website

The Essentials of Website Security by Neworld

The most serious digital security risks lie in vulnerable code and poor access controls. Gaining access to a website’s control panel, admin area, database, DNS or File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server is a common vector for compromising websites.

A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, although non-intrusive, can take a website down in a matter of minutes. In such instances, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) service can distribute static cached versions of the site locally to mitigate downtime. CDN providers also offer DDoS protection.

Ensure that your website is built on a solid footing. Hosting providers play a crucial role by keeping systems, servers, databases and networks secure while your web developer/web agency or technical team can keep the web application updated and protected.

You can deal with security challenges efficiently by following these website security best practices:

  1. Permissions:
      1. Restricting global access to your site (or certain areas) via GET or POST methods to minimise exposure
      2. Updating directory and file permissions to ensure the read/write/execute access is properly set
      3. Maintaining and enforcing a strong password policy
      4. Only granting the bare minimum degree of access a CMS account holder needs to accomplish a task
      5. Activating two-factor authentication (2FA)/ multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible to add an extra layer of protection: Yubikeys make 2FA more robust and hassle-free. A Yubikey is a hardware authentication device that replaces the one-time code from an authenticator app with just a tap on the security key
  2. Security Tools and Website Components:
      1. Using a Website Application Firewall (WAF) and an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)
      2. Always using the latest version of website CMS, plugins, themes and third-party services
  3. Monitoring and Detection:
      1. Installing monitoring tools to verify the security state of
            1. DNS records
            2. SSL certificates
            3. Web server configuration
            4. Application updates
            5. User access
            6. File Integrity
      2. Website Penetration Testing: It is a type of security audit that simulates a hacker-style cyberattack on a website with the sole purpose of detecting and addressing the weaknesses and anomalies in the existing defence.
      3. Using security scanners (like SiteCheck) to scan for indicators of compromise or vulnerability
  4. Backup: Maintaining a local backup of the entire web application and an external backup not directly connected to the application in case of a hardware failure or an attack

While it may be confusing at first to simultaneously keep track of all of these points, working with your website developers will eventually make the process seem less daunting and relatively painless. But remember, no security measure can replace good internal processes like keeping CMS and control panel logins secure, removing or disabling CMS logins of former staff members and using strong passwords, among other precautions.

Neworld builds websites to help businesses grow and succeed. For information on how we can help your business get in touch today.