Knowing the security basics is essential to staying safe. Knowing the website security basics is no different. You wouldn’t walk alone by yourself down a dark alley (or most of us wouldn’t). It’ security 101. You wouldn’t take a boat handed up to you from a clown in the sewer. It’s security 101.
But how many of us click on emails or links we don’t know?
It’s important to understand right now that your website is at risk. In fact, every website in existence is at risk from a cyberattack or malicious hack. That’s why website security is so important in 2021 and beyond.
But we don’t tell you this to try to invoke fear. It’s simply the reality of our current world that every day, over 30,000 websites are hacked.
Many website owners have a mentality that it can’t happen to them. They may assume that cyber hackers prefer to target big businesses and websites that have millions of visitors each day.
But that’s not the case.
The reality is that 43% of all cybercrimes are perpetrated against small to medium-sized businesses. And while nearly half of all companies throughout the world reported that they were the target of a cyber attack in 2019, only 40% report that they’re prepared to deal with a future attack.
Hackers aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, they’re constantly trying to find new approaches and gain new advantages in attacking websites. Because of this, it’s incredibly important that you improve the security protocols of your website.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of website security. Then, we’ll show you exactly what you need to do to secure your site and keep it safe from attack.
Let’s take a look.
The Most Common Website Security Threats
There are many different ways a website may be attacked. Before we get into the meat of the subject, let’s first look at the most common threats to the security of your website.
Almost all of us have received a message from a random “Nigerian prince,” or got an email telling us that an unknown wealthy relative has died and we need to claim the money before it’s too late.
And while these messages are certainly annoying, they are also mostly harmless if you simply ignore them.
However, there are other types of spam that are much more malicious than these attempts. Spam in website comments sections is an all-too-familiar sight, for example. Bots can completely take over your site’s comment section by posting links to other sites in an attempt to build their own backlinks.
These types of comments do a lot of hard to your site, because:
- They make your site look spammy and turn off readers who may have otherwise engaged with your content.
- These phishing links often contain malware, which will do hard to your site visitors if they click on the links.
But beyond that, the crawlers for Google will detect any malicious URLs on your site, then penalize you for “hosting” these spam links.
When this happens, your SEO ranking will fall through the floor.
Malware and Viruses
The word malware is short for malicious software. This means that, in a lot of ways, malware and viruses are the same things.
Think of malware as one of the greatest threats to your site. In fact, as many as 350,000 malware samples are created every single day. They are most often used on server resources or to gain unauthorized access to private data.
Cybercriminals will also utilize malware as a way of making money, by hacking the permissions of your website and posting affiliate links and other advertisements.
The biggest piece of advice here is to never click on links that look suspicious. And while that may sound obvious, it’s actually easier to fall for a hacker’s trap than many people think. Because of this, it’s important to educate your employees and anyone else using your organization’s network to always remain vigilant against clicking on malicious links.
And remember that it’s your job to keep your site fully secure and prevent something like this from happening.
A DDoS attack will deny users the ability to access or visit a website. In this type of attack, the hacker will use spoof IP addresses that overload website servers with fake traffic. Most often, this will take a website completely offline.
The site host then needs to work on getting the server back up and functioning as quickly as possible, which often leaves the server open to malware attacks. Plus, the site owner may lose a lot of revenue and credibility during the time that the site is completely down.
DDoS attacks have been on the rise in recent years. In fact, in the third quarter of 2020, there was a 50% increase in these types of attacks compared to the same time in 2019.
If you don’t pay close attention to your website security, there’s a chance it could have a negative ripple effect in other areas of your organization. As an example, Google will often diminish the rankings of websites they notice as being hacked.
A recent study tells us that nearly 75% of hacked sites were attacked for reasons related to SEO, like adding unauthorized links to your site. Hackers are also able to create brand new web pages on your site. They can even display a completely different site on your URL, which will destroy your Google rankings while boosting the rankings of whatever site they choose.
If a lot of your site users start reporting your site to Google as unsafe or spammy, your site will end up in the dreaded search engine blacklist. And once your land on that list, it’s very difficult to get removed from it.
In fact, it could spell the end of your site.
The Best Ways To Keep Your Website Safe
Now that you’ve learned about the most common types of website security threats, it’s important to get serious about keeping them far away from your site.
Never assume that your site is secure by default. If you haven’t taken any active measures to secure your site from attacks, it’s currently vulnerable. And even if you’ve taken some security measures in the past, you’ll need to continually run updates on your site that will ensure that it stays safe from attack.
Remember, the Internet moves very fast and there’s no room to take any chances when it comes to site security.
These are the steps you should take to beef up your site security in 2021 and beyond.
1. Update Software
When you’re working on your computer, you’re often asked to update software to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. And while it’s sometimes an annoying process, it’s an important process that can’t be ignored.
The same holds true for your website.
If you’re using WordPress as your content management system, make sure that you’re running the current version of the WordPress core software. You also need to update all of your plugins and themes to their most current versions, as soon as they are released.
Beyond fixing glitches and bugs, these updates come with added security improvements that help keep your site safe from an attack. There is no such thing as perfectly coded software, and hackers are always looking for new ways to take advantage of software vulnerabilities.
2. Choose a Quality Host
If the web host you choose provides site security on its servers, you will, in theory, benefit from their security protocols. But that’s not always the case.
You may be tempted to use a shared hosting plan because of how inexpensive it is. But this isn’t the best choice you can make when it comes to site security. As the name “shared hosting” implies, your site will be sharing a server with other sites on a shared hosting plan.
If another site on your server is attacked by a hacker, they can also gain access to the server your site is running on. This could mean that a hacker could gain unauthorized access to your site even though they weren’t directly targeting you.
While shared hosting plans definitely have their place in the online world, remember that you could be compromising your site security if you use one.
3. Changing Passwords
Make sure to change your administrator login password about every six months. This is incredibly important.
Too many people are still using the same password on all of their online accounts, and have been using the same password since their college days! The problem with this practice is that if a hacker gains access to your “universal” password, they’ll use it on other things such as your social media accounts and bank accounts.
If you’re using the identical password over many different online accounts, you’re basically handing a hacker the master key to your entire online life.
And what’s shocking to know is that about 25% of all passwords in use can be hacked in about three seconds.
This is why it’s so important to regularly update and change your password. Consider using a password manager such as LastPass. This software will help you generate and save secure passwords that are almost impossible to break.
A quality password manager will also leverage a high level of encryption that will keep your passwords safe.
You should also pick a host that uses two-factor authentication (2FA). This feature will require that you confirm your login on multiple devices, and adds an extra layer of protection and security for your login information.
If you’re working with a host that doesn’t offer 2FA, you can also enable it by using a third party plugin.
4. Limit User Access
We all make mistakes. And that especially holds true in the world of cyber security. In fact, over 95% of all successful cyber attacks are the direct result of simple human error. This is why it’s so vital to keep yourself and your employees educated about how important cyber security is.
One of the best ways to reduce human error is to limit how many people have access to the backend of your site. Remember, not every one of your employees should be able to login to the site and make changes.
If you’ve decided to hire a web designer, consultant, or a guest blogger, think twice before giving them the power to change any settings on your site. Instead, use the principle of least privilege.
Let’s pretend for a minute that you’ve decided to assign a specific project to an individual that will require a higher level of security access on your site. By applying the principle of least privilege, you only give the user the minimum level of access that will be required to complete the assigned task.
Once the task is completed, the user will go back to their standard access levels (Author, Editor, etc.)
It’s also important that every user has their own unique credentials for logging into the backend of your site. When you allow multiple people to share login credentials, there’s less overall accountability and it makes it much more difficult to trace down the specifics of a security breach.
If an error can be traced down to a specific employee, your team will likely be much more careful and take more individual accountability.
5. Backup Your Site
In the world of website security, it’s better to prepare for the worst and expect the best. Obviously, no one ever wants to be in a situation where their site has been compromised by a hacker. But if it ever does happen, your life will be a lot easier if all your site content is fully backed up.
The WordPress backup plugin called BackupBuddy is the perfect solution for this. If your WordPress site is ever hacked or goes down unexpectedly, you’ll be able to immediately restore it to a safe point with only a few clicks.
6. Employ a Powerful Security Plugin
If you’re a WordPress site owner and want to fully lock down your site against hacks and malicious attacks, there’s no better WordPress security plugin than iThemes Security Pro.
Think of iThemes Security Pro as your all-in-one solution that will constantly monitor your site for potential vulnerabilities that hackers are looking to exploit. It’s a full security suite that will leave you resting much more comfortably, because you’ll know that it’s working to keep you ahead of potentially harmful attacks, 24/7/365.
7. Adjust the Default Settings of Your CMS
Almost all of today’s cyberattacks are automated. A hacker will program specific bots to find sites that are running on default WordPress settings. By doing this, a hacker can target a wider range of sites and gain access to many different sites by using one type of virus or malware.
Don’t make the job so easy on them.
Once you’ve installed WordPress, it’s important to change some of the default settings to thwart these types of attacks.
You’ll want to make changes to areas such as:
- File permissions
- Comments settings
- Information visibility
- User controls
Go ahead and make these changes as soon as you can.
8. Consider Restricting File Uploads
It can be risky to allow your site visitors to upload files to your site. Any file a user uploads may potentially contain a script that can exploit vulnerabilities on your site when the script is executed on your server.
In some cases, the very nature of your site may require that user file uploads are allowed. For example, you may run a video-sharing site that allows any user to upload their own videos.
In cases like this, it’s important to treat every upload as a possible threat.
You could also consider setting up your site so that the uploaded files are stored in a database or folder in a different location. That could look one of three different ways.
- DIY – You write a script that fetches the uploaded files from a remote and private location, then delivers them to a user’s browser. This option requires coding knowledge and can be a bit difficult to set up
- Third-party software – Software such as Transloadit and Filestack offer secure file upload systems with robust virus protection and security. However, they can get a bit expensive
- Avoid it altogether – The simplest solution is to not allow user file uploads on your site. Or, consider restricting the file types that users can upload on your site, such as only MP4 video files, for example
The important thing is to make the choice that best protects your site from attacks.
Website Security Is Incredibly Important
Website security definitely needs to be on the top of your priority list. Just take a look at these website security stats to see how urgent the need is to take any active steps to secure your site. Your site is currently at a certain level of risk even while you’re reading this guide.
And even if you’ve taken security steps in the past, it’s important to run updates regularly in order to keep your site protected from the thousands of new threats that are arising every day.
Start by downloading and installing iThemes Security Pro on your WordPress site. It’s your first and best line of defense against hackers that wish to do harm.
Kathryn Lang believes it is simple, and as an award-winning author and natural-born hopesmith, she shares tips on how to find your why, pursue your purpose, and live a bold, intentional life – always with a dash of twisted encouragement.