How to Secure a Website: A Guide for Small Businesses

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How to Secure a Website

Among global companies that Hiscox ranks as experts (based on their cyber readiness model), 36% report their website as the first point of entry for attackers. We’ll break down 10 common website security risks & 10 tips for how to secure your website without breaking the bank

There are few things worse than sitting down to work in the morning and realizing that your website has been hacked overnight. As if losing sales isn’t bad enough, having a hacked website also means that your customers’ sensitive data is at risk of compromise and theft! But your troubles don’t end there. When someone hacks your website, this also causes a slew of other issues, including:

  • Hackers using your website to carry out phishing campaigns or spread malware,
  • Your site getting blocklisted (i.e., blacklisted) by Google due to the hackers’ activities,
  • Your search engine rankings tanking,
  • Customers losing trust in your brand, and
  • Facing legal actions and fines and noncompliance penalties from regulators.

Needless to say, no amount of coffee is going to make things better. But this is the type of situation where knowing how to secure a website — or, more specifically, how to secure your website — ahead of time plays in your favor by preventing the issue from happening in the first place.

How to Secure Your Website: Be Prepared For the Most Likely Security Risks

When it comes to protecting your home, which is the bigger threat — an alien attack or a human burglar? While it’s theoretically possible that aliens could attack, the more likely scenario is that some human being — either someone you know or a stranger — is going to be the one trying to find a way in.

Perhaps your spouse forgets to lock the door when they go to work. Or, maybe, you like to keep a spare key hidden under the front welcome mat. Both of these situations are examples of security vulnerabilities that an attacker can exploit to easily get inside your home because they can simply open the door or retrieve the key from under the mat to gain access.

This same concept applies to website security. Malicious hackers and other cybercriminals are constantly looking for ways to gain access to companies’ websites. The best way to protect and secure your website against cyber attacks and data breaches is to mitigate these vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

Unfortunately, recent data shows many small businesses are overly confident about the security of their websites. Research from CNBC and Momentive shows some disturbing findings:

  • More than half (56%) of small business owners say they’re not concerned about their sites being hacked within the next 12 months,
  • The majority (59%) say they’re certain they can “quickly resolve any cyberattack,” yet
  • Only 28% of small business survey respondents indicate that they have a response plan in place for when crap hits the fan.

While having some confidence is healthy, being overly confident in some areas can be a detriment. Business owners need to know how to secure a website quickly and efficiently without breaking the bank. But that’s hard to do if you don’t know what threats you’re trying to defend your site against…

10 Common Website Security Risks That Can Ruin Your Day

We’ve put together a list of the ten most common security risks for 2021. This list is based on studies we’ve performed as well as data from the following industry experts:

But simply listing these common security threats isn’t enough — we’ve also put together a list of methods for how to secure your website and web applications against them.

Risk(s)DescriptionHow to Secure Your Website

Known Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities are the gateway to your world. Running outdated CMS versions, plugins and themes (e.g., WordPress vulnerabilities is one of the largest risks in this category).

  • Perform daily vulnerability testing
  • Carry out regular patching and updates
  • Use a web application firewall
Login and Credential Compromise AttacksHackers use brute force attacks to guess username-password combinations or use compromised credentials to break into legitimate accounts.
  • Offer security awareness training (to avoid phishing attacks)
  • Enable multi-factor authentication
  • Employ a web application firewall
  • Use HTTPS on all pages
  • Set login attempt limits

Unrestricted User Access

Not limiting access privileges to only those who need it (for the minimum period) expands your site’s attack surface.

  • Implement strict access controls
  • Follow identity & user management best practices
  • Document and enforce security policies and procedures
Security Misconfigurations & Unencrypted DataFor example, enabling database access without a password or failing to properly encrypt sensitive data.
  • Provide mandatory security awareness training
  • Conduct regular website vulnerability testing
  • Utilize a reliable web application firewall
  • Use data encryption to protect data both at rest and in transit
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Attacks

JavaScript-based attacks that can take over accounts, spread malware, etc.

  • Offer mandatory security awareness training
  • Carry out regular vulnerability testing
  • Use a web application firewall
Injection Attacks

Web applications and websites are vulnerable to SQL injection attacks, which allow bad guys to steal data from your databases, log in to admin accounts, etc.

  • Turn on your web application firewall
  • Perform regular vulnerability testing on your site
  • Implement security policies and procedures that outline security steps to implement during development
Security Logging FailuresSecurity logging is key to helping you track, identify and respond to security events quickly to minimize damages.
  • Turn on web application firewall logging & monitoring
  • Perform daily website backups
Backdoors & Other MalwareInstalling malware or a web shell on your website gives an attackers full control of your site.
  • Carry out daily malware scanning
  • Use a web application firewall
  • Inspect your code and files
  • Perform regular updates and patching
DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks aim to overwhelm your web servers with illegitimate requests so they’re unable to handle legitimate requests from your customers o or other users.

  • Employ a web application firewall to detect and block requests
  • Implement a content delivery network (CDN)
Bad Bots

Malicious bots are controlled devices that create a litany of issues for site owners and customers by propagating spam, sending phishing emails, and carrying out malicious orders.

  • Use a web application firewall

10 Tips For How to Secure Your Website Against Web-Related Threats

Taking steps to protect your website against these security threats doesn’t have to be an all-consuming process. Let’s breakdown some of the things you can do to reduce the chances of your company making headlines for falling for a cyber attack.

1. Use a Web Application Firewall

A web application firewall (WAF) is a type of security software (installed on your web server or CDN) that inspects access requests before they reach your website. If the request is malicious, the WAF blocks it immediately, which helps you stop hackers and malicious bots in their tracks.

Pro tip: Choose a fully managed web application firewall where the rules are updated regularly to block the latest threats.

2. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Using a reliable content delivery network is essential from both security and usability standpoints. A CDN is a great tool that helps to protect your web server(s) against DDoS attacks while also improving your site’s performance by reducing latency. It’s the “two birds, one stone” advantage — or even “three birds, one stone” if you use a CDN that also comes equipped with a WAF.

Pro tip: Choose a fully managed and reliable content delivery network that provides analytics and reporting capabilities.

3. Use Encryption to Secure Your Website & Stored Data

Encryption is key to keeping your data and connections secure both while it’s in transit and at rest. To protect communications between customers and your website (i.e., in transit), it’s essential to force HTTPS on every page. Installing an SSL/TLS certificate on your site ensures that your visitors are protected against insecure cookie attacks, password theft, and other risks.

Be sure to also encrypt all sensitive data before uploading it to the cloud. This helps you protect your data while it’s “at rest” — i.e., sitting on a server.

Pro tip: Wondering how to secure your website’s subdomains? A wildcard SSL certificate enables you to secure unlimited subdomains (on a single level) for a fixed price.

4. Document Your Website Security Policies and Procedures

Create and enforce cyber security policies and procedures within your business. These documents are resources that help your admins and users keep your business secure.

Pro tip: Review these policies and procedural documents regularly to ensure they continually meet your organization’s changing needs.

5. Perform Daily Website Vulnerability Testing

One of the most effective ways to protect your website against exploits is to detect and fix the security flaws (vulnerabilities) that lead to them. (The trick is doing so before a hacker finds them!) A step in the right direction is to set up daily vulnerability scanning to ensure that your site stays secure.

Pro tip: Ideally, you’ll want to choose a vulnerability scanner that specifically supports your website platform (for example, WordPress or Magento).

6. Run Daily Malware Scans to Find & Remove Malicious Software

Checking your website every day for malware may seem repetitive, but it’s a crucial step in keeping your website secure. If something malicious manages to get through your other defenses, you need to find and remove it right away to mitigate the damage it causes.

Pro tip: Use a malware scanner that scan both your source code and public pages. Scanner that only check one or the other will miss some malware, which leaves you and your website vulnerable.

7. Set User Access Controls & Restrict Privileges

User access management and controls are critical and should be something you cover in detail in your organization’s security policy documents. This is all about ensuring that only authorized and verified users have access to your secure resources (e.g., your website’s admin dashboard, databases, and backups).

Pro tip: Follow the principle of least privilege (PoLP) to ensure that access is restricted to only users who require it to perform specific tasks for the minimum amount of time.

8. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

It may be annoying, but multi-factor authentication is a great way to prevent unauthorized access to your accounts. Even if a hacker compromises your password, they won’t be able to access your account without having access to your second security factor. The most common type of multi-factor authentication is a one-time password (OTP), which gets sent to your email or phone.

Another more user-friendly option is to implement certificate-based authentication. Simply install a certificate on your device (or privileged users’ devices), and you (or they) can access secure resources without ever having to type in another password or OTP.

Pro tip: You can implement MFA using custom code, your WAF, or even a website plugin (e.g., for WordPress sites).

9. Implement Regular Security Awareness Training for All Employees

Your employees are one of the most important lines of defense against hackers. It only takes one employee falling for a malicious email to make things go sideways. The best defense is a good offense — arm your employees with the knowledge and training they need to recognize and avoid common tactics like phishing and other forms of social engineering.

Pro tip: The National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) maintains a directory of free training resources.

10. Maintain Regular Backups of Your Website

While backing up your website isn’t a prevention method (as it won’t actually stop bad things from happening to your website), it makes recovering from devastating situations a lot easier. And it doesn’t matter whether the website issue was caused by a hacker, a bad update, or an employee’s innocent mistake — having a current website backup allows you to get your business back up and running a lot sooner.

Pro tip: You can setup automatic backups with SiteLock or CodeGuard.

How to Secure Your Website the Easy Way — Use SiteLock

Why piecemeal your website cybersecurity using separate solutions when you can use a single tool that covers many of these key pieces? SiteLock is an automated security service that makes securing your website easy with:

  • Daily vulnerability testing,
  • Daily blacklist monitoring,
  • Automatic vulnerability patching,
  • Web application firewall,
  • Daily malware scanning & cleaning, and
  • Automatic website backups.

What makes this tool especially convenient is that everything is accessible in one easy-to-use dashboard. No more juggling different tools and switching between dashboards!

Now, for the best part: SiteLock is affordable — it costs just $15 per month — and can be set up within minutes. Needless to say, protecting your website has never been easier.

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