As a business owner or marketing manager, you’ll know full well the importance of website stability and security. With cyber security threats growing and emerging with each passing day – and with companies across industries increasingly falling victim to breaches and hacks that result in lost business, customer trust, and reputational damage – it’s vital to take a proactive approach to website security.
The Importance of Proper Website Security
Insecure, unpatched and out-of-date websites can lead to swathes of customer or financial data being lost or stolen, funds being transferred to undetectable recipients (either automatically or through ransomware), and irreparable damage to your brand’s image and reputation.
Contrary to popular belief, simply updating software won’t always cut it; you’ll need to ensure that each plugin or solution you install is properly maintained, monitored and compatible with all other elements on your site if you want to stay secure in the long term.
Not only that, but many brand websites tend to be valuable lead generation tools and eCommerce platforms, and even just a few hours of interruption or downtime can lead to significant losses in revenue. Furthermore, if customers even remotely suspect that their data is at risk, they will not attempt to conduct transactions through insecure protocols or where sites have evidently been hacked.
Therefore, it’s clear that website security will require consistency and methodical, strategic implementation. Fortunately, there are numerous recommendations outlined here that you can implement to enhance your web security and build a more robust line of defense against emerging cyber threats. This comprehensive checklist will provide the key areas to focus on, from start to finish, to make your website as stable and protected as possible.
17 Steps for Enhancing Your Website Security
Planning Security From the Start
The first step is building security into your website from inception. It’s significantly easier to work with an existing stable setup rather than take an incumbent, unsecured site from an unreliable hosting provider and migrate it over.
When planning a new website or overhaul, be sure to:
- Select secure web hosting – Your web host stores your site’s files on their servers. Choose a reliable provider that offers security features like firewalls, security monitoring, and routine updates/patches. You’ll need to decide whether to adopt a private or shared environment with your chosen cloud hosting provider; a private cloud is generally viewed as more secure and exclusive, but often comes at a higher cost.
- Limit access – Restrict access to your hosting account and site files to only those who need it. Ensure that your hosting provisions are only accessible by secure, password-protected accounts which are backed up by multi-factor authentication (MFA). Never make these accessible via public or unsecured networks for backend access.
- Use HTTPS – Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) creates an encrypted connection between your website and visitors. This means that you have a valid SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate, notable for the use of a padlock icon in your browser’s URL bar. Having this certificate in place prevents unauthorized snooping of browser requests from the visitor’s computer to your hosting server, protects sensitive data and ensures secure financial transactions. Browsers will usually notify visitors if a site does not have a valid SSL certificate or HTTPS encryption.
- Have a backup plan – Select a web host that performs regular backups or back up your site manually to your own on-premise servers and drives. Store backups separately from live site files.
Securing Your Live Website
Once your website has been developed and the domain itself is live, staying on top of security involves taking a few additional preventative measures to ensure robust security:
- Use a CDN – Content delivery networks (CDNs) add an extra layer of protection by handling traffic flows. CDNs also make content delivery much faster so you will be adding UX and speed benefits to your site by localizing the server to users further away. CDNs can significantly reduce DDoS attacks and keep traffic moving steadily if your site goes down.
- Update software regularly – Using outdated software makes you vulnerable, as access is often easier when hackers can exploit known weak spots. Patching and updating CMS platforms like WordPress, plugins, themes, PHP versions, and other software as soon as new patches are released will mitigate these threats.
- Change passwords routinely – Establish a strong password policy, with minimum character length and usage requirements, and prompt users to refresh logins regularly. You may benefit from investing in enterprise-grade password management and generation software to make this process easier and more manageable.
- Monitor for threats – Use uptime monitoring tools like UptimeRobot to receive alerts for any unexpected server downtime. Continually refer back to server logs to ensure that downtime was either genuine, planned by the host, or had experienced anomalous activity, as this can be pivotal in catching malicious actors.
- Limit login attempts – Use additional verification measures like CAPTCHA and MFA, and allow only a handful of failed logins before locking an account, which an authorized administrator must reset manually. Making it harder for threat actors to conduct brute force attacks and repeatedly guess login credentials will make your lines of defense much stronger.
Ongoing Maintenance for Security
It’s wise to establish a foolproof sequence of monitoring and scanning processes to ensure that security doesn’t take a backseat. This includes:
- Performing penetration testing – Hire experts to manually test your systems and site for weaknesses using tools and techniques that real hackers employ. Address gaps uncovered to strengthen your security defences and isolate unsecured endpoints.
- Running vulnerability scans – Use automated scanners like Acunetix to detect open ports, misconfigurations, and outdated software that create security holes. These issues should be resolved quickly before they are compromised.
- Using a firewall – Firewalls filter network traffic and protect your infrastructure and servers through incoming/outgoing data regulation. Using these alongside enterprise-grade antivirus and internet security software will ensure that internal and external software is constantly being assessed for legitimacy.
- Securing backups – Prevent backup theft or ransomware encryption by storing backups offline and disconnected from your network. Restrict access to these secure backups to nominated, authorized personnel.
- Disposing of old files securely – When refreshing hardware and technology, use wiping software or destruction services to eliminate chances of data recovery. Even files that aren’t the latest versions can still be exploited if they were to fall into the wrong hands accidentally.
While you may take every possible step to ensure your website is protected, breaches can still occur, unfortunately. Therefore, it makes sense to establish a series of contingency plans:
- Incident response plan – Have a documented plan of action if an attack occurs, including roles and responsibilities, damage assessment procedures, communication template, and integration with tech teams to start remediation.
- Backup site option – Maintain a scaled-down version of your site that can be activated if your primary domain is taken offline. You can even consider finding an alternative hosting provider that you can immediately switch to if your host suffers a breach.
- Cyber insurance – Technology policies help cover costs of security incidents including computer forensics, legal services, public communications, ransomware payments and loss of income.
By consistently following security best practices – from your website’s inception through its ongoing maintenance – you can identify and address vulnerabilities before they threaten your business.
Use this comprehensive checklist to lock down your website and offer visitors and customers the peace of mind of a safe, secure site.