10 Effective Ways to Maintain a Secure Website
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So, you think your website is secure and not worth being attacked, don’t you? Think again, because even the most secure websites can be hacked. Companies like Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn, Target, Facebook, JP Morgan, and Uber have had their fair share of cyberattacks and data breaches.
Well, website attacks happen for a number of different reasons. While stealing data and destroying a website’s layout is among the most common, attacks may also occur in hopes of using a site’s server to send spam emails, hold illegal files, or mine Bitcoin. All these examples emphasize the importance of ensuring you have a secure website.
10 Tips for a Secure Website
1. Keep Your Software Updated
This may seem obvious, but making sure your software is up-to-date is essential in order to keep it secure. This applies not only to your server’s operating system but also to any software that you are using on your site, such as your CMS. When loopholes are found in your site’s software, attackers can abuse them and attack right away.
Now, if you are using a managed hosting service, you don’t have to think much about applying security updates because your service provider will take care of it. Otherwise, you need to apply any security patches yourself as soon as they’re available. Don’t worry because most third-party vendors like WordPress will notify you if a system or security patch is released.
Picture 1. Keep your software updated
2. Beware of SQL Injection
Ever heard of SQL injection attacks? They happen when attackers use a URL parameter or a web form field to have access to your database. When your site is using standard Transact-SQL, it will be easy for cybercriminals to insert rogue code into queries, which could be used to retrieve information and change tables. However, this can be prevented by using parameterized queries.
For example, if you use this SQL query:
“SELECT * FROM table WHERE column = ‘” + parameter + “‘;”
An attacker can easily change it to:
“SELECT * FROM table WHERE column = ” OR ‘1’=’1′;”
What the second query does is add another query to the end of the statement. This query will also be recognized and executed. To fix this, you have to parameterize it. For instance, if you are using MYSQLi in PHP, the query will now become:
$stmt = $pdo->prepare(‘SELECT * FROM table WHERE column = :value’);
$stmt->execute(array(‘value’ => $parameter));
3. Always Be on the Lookout for Error Messages
These error messages differ from those common Mac error codes you encounter on your computer in a way that they are error messages that you give away to users.
Make sure you provide minimal error information to users. This way, no secret on your server gets leaked. Avoid sending full exception information as well because it can make complex SQL attacks easier. As much as possible, keep all detailed error messages in the logs of your servers. As for users, provide them with the details they need.
4. Validate the Server and the Browser
Validation must be done on the server and the browser. In case you didn’t know, browsers can detect even the simplest failures, such as mandatory fields that are empty and numbers entered into a text field. But these instances can be bypassed.
What you can do is make sure you inspect your server and browser for validation. Failing to do so may result in malicious code being inserted into your database. It may also affect certain elements on your website.
5. Use Strong Passwords
You know that you need to use passwords that are not easy to guess, right? But it doesn’t always guarantee security. It is imperative to use passwords that are strong and complex on both your server and your website for security purposes. Likewise, it is equally important that your users create secure passwords to protect their accounts.
Although they may not fancy the idea, imposing password requirements, such as the use of uppercase, numbers, and special characters, will help protect their data.
Picture 2. Strong password concept
To heighten your site’s security, passwords must be stored as encrypted values. One popular encryption method is the use of a one-way hashing algorithm like SHA. In this method, when users are validated, only their encrypted information is being checked and compared. In case a hacking event occurs, hashed passwords remain safe as decrypting them is nearly impossible.
For an attacker to get hold of information protected by strong, hashed passwords, he/she might need to do a dictionary attack, where he/she guesses a combination of passwords until a match is found.
6. Keep Your Web Server Secure
A web server is an important and critical component of a website’s infrastructure. And also one of the most effective ways to maintain a secure website. It is responsible for hosting the site and other related code, services, and files.
To keep your site’s server secure, here are some things you should do:
- Keep the staging, development, and production environments separated.
- Ensure your server’s operating system has its own hard drive partition.
- Enable security on the web server. Pay close attention to accesses and permissions.
- Provide separate logins for different users.
- Delete any unnecessary services.
- Do not allow remote access. Should there be a need to enable it, make sure it is done on a secure network.
- Install a firewall and anti-malware software.
- Store web scripts, code, and applications on a separate hard drive partition.
- Make sure your site is using the latest SSL versions.
- Close any default open ports.
- Avoid the use of shared servers.
7. Make It a Habit to Back up Your Data Regularly
Back up your website regularly. Have a copy of all your website files so you can quickly recover them in the event they become inaccessible.
If you are working with a web hosting provider, ask them to provide you with backups. But still, back up your files yourself, too.
As for your content management system, you can install extensions or plugins that backup your site.
8. Run Web Security Scans
Perform regular web security scans to check for server and website vulnerabilities. These scans can be scheduled or can be done after making any changes to certain web elements.
To run a web security scan, you may need to use third-party tools available online. However, be sure you use legitimate and trusted web security scanning tools. Avoid the use of free tools as they might not do a pretty good job of detecting possible security vulnerabilities. Your best option is to avail yourself of the services of professional web security firms. They can provide you with a detailed and in-depth review of possible threats or vulnerabilities on your site.
9. Avoid File Uploads
Allowing your site’s users to upload files can be a major security risk, even if it’s just a profile photo. The risk is that an uploaded file could be hiding a script that, when executed on the server, may open your entire website to vulnerabilities.
If your site has a file upload form, be sure to treat files with suspicion. If users can upload images, do not just rely on file extensions as they can be faked.
10. Install an SSL Certificate
Do you always visit websites? Well, you may have noticed that green lock icon and the word https in the browser bar. The icon and word are an indication of security. They are a signal that it is safe to provide information to that website.
To have that icon and word, your website needs an SSL certificate. This will secure the exchange of information, including contact numbers, credit cards, and other personal information, between the server and the website.
Picture 3. Secure website with SSL certificate
Before, an SSL certificate was only recommended for eCommerce websites. But with all the online threats today, it has become essential for all sites. As a matter of fact, last July 2018, Google Chrome released a security update informing website visitors whether or not a site has an SSL certificate installed.
What does all this mean for website owners? If you want users to trust your website, you have to invest and install an SSL certificate. Though the cost of this SSL certificate is minimal, the extra level of protection it offers goes a long way toward building trust and security.
Secure Website Summary
Long ago, people only associated online security with a long list of Mac error codes on their screens. Today, that is no longer the case. Threats and vulnerabilities do not just take the form of error code on a Mac. Instead, they take the form of invisible attacks that unknowingly steal crucial data.
Then again, there’s nothing to be scared about. As long as you take the necessary steps, your website will remain safe from the bad guys. Start with these ten tips to secure website!
A Computer Engineer by degree and a writer by profession, Cathy Trimidal writes for Software Tested and Outbyte. For years now, she has contributed articles focusing on the trends in IT, VPN, web apps, SEO, and digital marketing. Although she spends most of her days living in a virtual realm, she still finds time to satisfy her infinite list of interests.
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