Ultimate Guide to Secure a Website

Do you want to keep your website secure from hackers? Are you looking for ways to increase website security? You’ve come to the right page.

Being a website owner, there isn’t anything more terrifying than someone stealing your data or altering your files. In this age of the internet, you need to secure your website because attacks on your website may also cause you to lose your personal data.

In this article, we’re going to go over each and everything that you need to know in order to make your website secure. This is a definitive security guide so sit back and read on to know more.

What is Website Security and Why Do You Need It?

Website Security
Website Security

Before we jump right into the ways of making your website secure, you must understand a couple of things first. With the internet taking over the world, your website can be easily compromised. So, let’s go through what website security actually is.

Security is a continuous process. Just because you applied some security principles doesn’t make you fully secure. You’ll need to continuously update things and switch to new security measures.

Burglars will find out new and innovative ways to break into your house. You could lock every door and window and they’d still get in if they really want to. It’s the same with your website.

Website security is the measures taken to secure your website from cyberattacks, which is an attempt to disable computers or steal data through the internet. It’s an essential part of managing a website. Since the cyber world is ever-evolving, security should too.

Why Do Websites Get Hacked?

Website Hacker
Website Hacker

The next part you need to understand is why websites get hacked. You could say that your website is a relatively smaller one and doesn’t have a lot of data. But that doesn’t mean hackers disregard your website. So, let’s look into why websites get hacked.

A lot of reasons to hack a website nowadays are just for fun. Hackers will disrupt anyone’s data they can find. Another reason may be for money. Hackers sabotage a website, change the admin details, and blackmail you for money.

Another common reason is personal disputes. Did you know that you can hire hackers to disrupt a rival company’s business? A lot of people do this around the world. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime is more profitable than the global illegal drug trade.

Hackers could also break into your website to exploit your visitors and potentially gain money from them illegally. They could also hack your website to steal information stored in the server or to abuse server resources and make you pay for it.

Cyberattacks have become so large in the past few years that one vulnerability can end an entire company if someone chooses to hack it. According to Fortune magazine, 66% of businesses attacked by hackers weren’t confident they could recover.

Even the bad guys, also known as black hat hackers, have openly claimed that traditional firewalls and anti-virus are irrelevant nowadays. But, by applying some basic security, you can prevent most of the weak breaches.

Let’s look at the basic security guideline every website owner and organization must follow.

i. The CIA Triad

The CIA Triad
The CIA Triad

A method of testing your own security is the CIA Triad which is: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. This model is the backbone of security on a website or an organization. It’s also a security check for secure websites just to be sure.

ii. Confidentiality

Confidentiality is the restriction of access to control of information to everyone in your organization. Only an authorized person may control the data of your organization. 

For example, if your house can be opened with keys and you leave the keys at your door, anyone can get in. Confidentiality is like adding an extra layer of protection to your private space, be it adding multiple locks or even fingerprint lock.

This helps in reducing risks of social engineering attacks, which we’ll get into later.

iii. Integrity

Integrity is the insurance that the receiver of data receives unaltered data. Your data can be altered during the transfer process by hackers. Your organization must be able to send and receive unaltered data.

For example, if a hacker were to interfere in your deal with a customer, the hacker can change the entire deal. That could be a loss for you.

iv. Availability

Availability is exactly as it sounds like. Access of data should be available to authorized personnel when needed. If your organization is compromised, a backup should be available instantly. This helps in reducing data leaks.

If your website or organization fulfills the triad, it’s secure at a basic level. Just know that those beginner hackers won’t be able to get into your website with this fulfilled.

Now that we have some basic understanding of why hackers would hack your website and a basic security check, let’s get into some potential vulnerabilities that may affect your website.

Common Website Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities are flaws in your website that can be exploited to gain access. To know how you can secure your website, you must first know what can compromise your website. Here are some common website vulnerabilities that can compromise your website.

Website Vulnerabilities
Website Vulnerabilities

i. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

XSS attacks are carried out by hackers injecting malicious client-side codes into your website and using it to spread the code. This usually affects your audience as their browsers are forced to run the hacker’s malicious code.

This could seriously harm your reputation as the hacker’s code could be anything. Sometimes, it could be something your website host’s terms and conditions don’t allow. That could lead to the deletion of your website.

Not only are your audience in danger, but you are also too. If you log in as a site administrator, the malicious code could take over your website using admin privileges.

ii. Structured Query Language (SQL) Injection

SQL injection is a technique used to inject malicious code into an existing SQL statement. This type of attack is carried out by a hacker modifying requests sent by your website to its database and gaining access to information.

SQL injections are usually done through one of your website’s pages where there is a text input feature. Search boxes and form fields are commonly used for SQL injections.

In some cases, the hacker might have an automated program for SQL injection that doesn’t specifically require the text input field. All they need to do is provide your website’s URL and the program can inject from any part of your website.

What’s scary about this attack is that hackers gain access to your database. Which means they now have all your customers’ private information. The hacker can then dump the data online and ruin your reputation.

iii. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

DDoS attacks are non-intrusive attacks. What this means is that they don’t rely on the website to execute. DDoS attacks are typically carried out by a hacker sending a lot of requests to the server in order to crash it.

DDoS attacks are always done without your website being involved so it’s a scary one. They work by flooding your website with requests more than the server can handle. This causes websites to crash.

And if you have a vulnerable endpoint, even less traffic is enough to crash your website. This type of attack causes your business to go down.

iv. Brute Force Attacks

One of the most common types of attacks is the brute force attack. As it sounds, this type of attack is carried out by forcing your website to give admin access through various means.

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, brute force attacks affect one in ten websites in the US every day. Brute force is carried out by a hacker running a malicious script. The script contains every letter and symbol in every language.

The script then runs over and over until it finds out the correct combination of letters or numbers to your admin details. This type of attack takes a long time to execute and you can see a lot of requests to your admin panel. So, you know a brute force attack is coming.

Brute force attacks are very effective against weak passwords. We’ll talk about dealing with this further into the article.

v. Malware Attack

Malware attack is the injection of malicious files on a website to maintain admin access. This type of attack is usually a second wave to any other attack.

A malware attack can only affect compromised websites. So, after your website has been compromised with any of the above attacks, hackers can infect your website with malware.

Malware can range from keyloggers, which record every keystroke you perform, to screen viewers, which lets a hacker view what you’re doing on your screen. This way, they know your password even if you’ve already changed it.

They can also affect your audience. If your audience isn’t aware, their computers can become a part of a botnet. A botnet is a collection of computers infected by the same malware that a hacker can use to control all of them.

This is pretty scary, so we’ll talk about how to combat malware attacks very soon.

vi. Phishing

Phishing is the act of tricking people to give out their personal data. This type of attack is usually detectable.

A hacker can carry out this type of attack by replicating your website and tricking your audience to enter their personal details on the fake website. The fake website then redirects the data to the hacker’s computer.

People with little to no technical knowledge are very vulnerable to this type of attack. Hackers will make use of your employees or the audience to disrupt your website.

This is a very common attack and can be combated easily through some technical training. We’ll talk in detail about how to combat this type of attack later in this article.

Now that we know some basic security vulnerabilities and what they do, let’s talk about your website’s security framework. How security works on your website and how you can modify some parts of your website to make it more secure.

Website Security Framework

A website security framework determines how secure your website is. Even if you’re just starting out, developing a firm framework can help reduce security breaches.

The model for a good cybersecurity framework was first made by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This framework should be taken for reference while constructing your own.

Security Framework
Security Framework

A security framework should be your foundation in making a secure website. But this framework isn’t really complete. Hence, you need to keep yourself updated about vulnerabilities and change the framework as required.

There are 5 stages of website security framework: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. Let’s see what each of them does.

i. Identify

During the identification stage, all the assets of a website are documented and reviewed. Assets of a website include web properties, servers, infrastructure, extensions, services, and access points.

This stage helps in identifying security threats in your website’s assets. You should take steps to solve any security vulnerabilities found during this process. We’ll be talking in detail about how to solve those security vulnerabilities over the course of this article.

The identification stage is also one of the key steps in securing your website as it helps protect against XSS, DDoS, and ransomware attacks. You should execute this stage very seriously.

ii. Protect

After you’ve identified vulnerabilities in your website’s assets, it’s time to defend against future breaches. Protect stage helps you secure your website further by applying some preventive measures.

Now you might question if hackers can get in through anywhere, where do I begin? This isn’t what the Protect stage actually is. Protection can come from training your employees to be aware of phishing and ransomware attacks, apply two-factor authentication on login pages, and so on.

But, the best way to truly protect your website is by activating a web application firewall. Firewalls help in filtering unwanted traffic and malicious files, so they don’t get to your website.

Since security is a process, you should take the time to think of potential vulnerabilities and solve them. You can also hire a cybersecurity professional once every six months to test your website.

iii. Detect

The detect phase is when you’ve completed previous security checks and are now starting to actively monitor your website for vulnerabilities.

You might be confused about where to get started. We recommend you check your Domain Name Server (DNS) records for any malicious files lingering around. After the gateway to your website has been cleared, you can move on to web server configuration, application updates, user access, file integrity, website firewall, and so on.

If you can’t do this on your own, you can always hire a professional to do it for you. You can also use security tools like SiteCheck to scan for potential threats to your website.

iv. Respond

The Respond stage is when despite your security measures, you get attacked. This can happen as security is always evolving.

A response plan is always needed if your website ever gets attacked. Having a plan will also be very useful for future attacks. A proper response plan includes having a response team, reporting incidents to review findings, and tackling the issue.

The response stage is very broad. Firstly, to respond to an event, you’d need to be prepared and well-planned. You need to collect resources and use tools available to you to secure your website.

Then, you need to detect and analyze the threat. Next is containment or eradication. Meaning that you can either choose to make the vulnerability useless or destroy it completely.

But this comes with time. That’s because you’ll need to analyze a lot of vulnerabilities in order to be able to correctly contain or eradicate a threat. You need to be able to identify a threat at first. And then you’ll need to identify the type of threat. Then you can proceed to destroy it.

It’s a long process but an important one. You can’t leave threats unidentified or not dealt with on your website.

v. Recover

Recover stage is the final stage of the website security framework. It’s done after the completion of all the above stages. Recover also refers to backup plans in case you fail on any of the above stages.

The above stages may fail on strong ransomware attacks or large DDoS attacks. In these cases, having a backup of all your data will be of great help.

You can also minimize your chances of failing at previous stages through the recovery stage because this stage includes uploading your data on the cloud. Cloud is the best way to combat DDoS attacks.

That’s because the way cloud works is; it redirects the heavy traffic from DDoS attacks to other servers on its network. And since those servers don’t have your website’s DNS, a hacker won’t be able to access or shut down your website.

Something that also helps a lot is having an effective communication strategy. You need to communicate to your customers that a breach has occurred so they can also apply safety measures on their part to be safe.

Another is to use automatic backups. Every time you make changes on your website, it should be backed up automatically, so you don’t forget to do so. This also helps in case a hardware failure occurs.

You can also use backup tools such as Rsync backup, Cpanel backup, and even cloud backup to keep your website secure.

After everything we know up until now, let’s jump into what you’re truly here for. How to secure your website. If you scrolled all the way into this, we recommend you read from the very beginning because everything before this was crucial information you need in order to understand how to secure your website.

Let’s see how you can secure your website in the most effective manner.

How to Secure a Website?

Now that you know how your website can be compromised, it’s time to actually secure your website. There are numerous ways to secure your website even after you’ve check-marked the CIA Triad.

Website security is something that you simply can’t overlook. Here are some effective ways to increase your website’s security.

Website Security Measures
Website Security Measures

i. Constant Updates

One of the major reasons why websites are compromised nowadays is due to outdated software. This may seem very obvious but updates are a vital part of your website’s security. You should update your website as soon as a new plugin or Content Management System (CMS) version is available.

Most website attack vectors are automated. And updates most likely consist of a security patch that can stop those automated attacks. You should update your website as frequently as possible.

If you’re using a website builder, you don’t have to worry about updates as much. That’s because most website builders will handle your website’s security for you. If you’re a WordPress user, we highly recommend you get the WP Updates Notifier plugin. This plugin emails you if a plugin or WordPress core update is available.

ii. Firewall

Having constant updates isn’t quite enough to secure a website. You need something that can filter unnecessary traffic and malicious code that your website gets.

That’s a website firewall. Firewalls add an extra layer of security to your website by filtering unwanted information. Hackers can take your website down from your server or network using DDoS attacks. A firewall prevents that from happening.

If you used a website builder, firewalls are usually readily available. In any case, you should always contact your website builder to make sure you have firewall protection.

iii. Strong Passwords

Strong Password
Strong Password

We can’t stress enough how important strong passwords are for your website’s security. A secure website greatly depends upon your passwords. Having a username and password as admin/admin is pretty useless.

Databases of cracked passwords are readily available online for hackers to use. Most of those passwords are moderately strong to weak ones. So, having a strong password already puts you in a safe zone.

The best way to have a strong password and protect yourself is to use unique passwords everywhere. If you’ve used one password somewhere, we recommend you don’t use that very password elsewhere.

Another way to secure yourself is to have long passwords. This is pretty obvious but very efficient. If you have a long password, hackers will have a harder time figuring out your password.

You can also use random passwords too. Since random passwords are very difficult to figure out by any means, using one adds an extra layer of security. There are a lot of password managers like LastPass through which you can use a random password and not forget it.

iv. Install SSL

SSL Certificate
SSL Certificate

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates encrypt data in between the host and the client. SSL certificates ensure that your data is reaching your clients without any hindrance in between.

SSLs also show who is sending the data to the receiver so that your clients know it’s your website. This also prevents hackers from using redirection to trick your clients.

However, SSL certificates don’t actually protect websites from cyberattacks. Their sole purpose is to encrypt your data so that nobody can interfere with it during the transmission process.

v. Reliable Backup

Backups are crucial in the event of a security breach. They help in recovering your files in case hackers modify or delete them. Backup shouldn’t be your only security option, but they do help in recovering your files.

But backups need to be reliable in order to be effective. For a reliable backup, you should have automatic backups enabled. This way, you don’t have to stress about backing up everything manually after you complete your work every day.

Second, your backups need to be off-site backups. Meaning that you need to keep your backup somewhere that is not in the same server as your website. This helps in various ways. If hackers target your website, they can’t destroy your backup, so you’ll be up in no time.

Off-site backups are a lifesaver in case of a hardware failure. If you have it on the same server as your website and a hardware failure occurs, you have no way to regain your files again.

vi. Limit Access and Permissions

Hackers have a lot of ways to get into your website. One such way we talked about before is phishing. If they can’t get to your website through you, they’ll surely try to get in through your employees.

And that’s where the principle of least privilege comes in. According to this principle, a website should be able to use minimal privileges to execute an action and grant privilege to individuals only at the time of execution of the action.

This ensures that there is only one person with the highest privilege who can grant limited privileges to lower-ranking individuals. Privileges dictate what individuals can and can’t do. So, the highest privilege should always be granted to the most responsible person.

Hackers can manipulate your employees to gain access to your website if they have admin privileges. This can harm your website. So, limiting access and permissions is a must.

vii. Monitoring Tools

Monitoring tools are exactly what they sound like. They monitor your website constantly to check for unwanted activity. Monitoring tools can improve your response time and help you in damage control in case of a security breach.

Monitoring tools are most useful in the long term. When you have enough data from potential breaches, you can further secure your website. Months of logs can be useful to detect application malfunction as well.

Record and regularly review all actions that occur in the critical parts of the application, especially in the administration areas. Hackers could try to exploit a less expected part of the website to gain higher access later. Creating triggers to alert you in case of a security breach helps a lot as well.

viii. Personal Security Practices

As a website owner, you should secure not only your website but your computer as well. Hackers may target your device to gain access to your website.

Remove all unused applications from your computer and scan for malware regularly to be safe from attacks. You should also have a computer password that is difficult to figure out.

Having unnecessary extensions can also harm your security. Extensions can have privacy issues that a hacker can exploit. Remove extensions you don’t need. Also, only install trusted extensions.

If you see an odd application on your computer, you can search it online to know what it does. If it doesn’t come up on searches, it’s most likely malware.

ix. Use Website Security Service

Website security services are tools that help to strengthen your website’s security. They check your website for malware, provide you with search engine diagnostics and security reports.

There are many website security services on the internet. We recommend you use Sucuri security tools to secure your website as it’s one of the best and most trusted tools.

There are other security services such as the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), SANS Institute, and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). They all provide security services so you can focus on your business. Whichever you plan on using, always remember to read their reviews first.

Conclusion

In this article, we went through what website security is and what can compromise your website’s security. We also talked about how to deal with potential vulnerabilities and went through some security measures that you can apply to keep your website safe.

If you have any queries or suggestions feel free to comment below in the comment section.

We hope this article helped you to learn about website security. You might also want to see our comprehensive guide on optimizing your website speed.

And if you liked this article, do share it with your friends and colleagues. If you’d like to, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more articles like these.

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