News stories about large-scale data breaches have unfortunately become all too common. In fact, one incident this year exposed 65% of all American household information, due to an unsecured and unnamed server in the Microsoft cloud. Fortunately, if you’re concerned about security breaches on your own website, there are a number of simple steps you can take.
In this article, we’ll discuss why website security is so important. We’ll also take a look at four ways to prevent the most common on-site vulnerabilities. If you’re ready, let’s get started!
Why You Should Keep a Close Eye on Your Website’s Security
You’re not alone when it comes to concerns about online security breaches. In fact, there are entire charitable organizations dedicated to improving open-source application and software security. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is just one example of a not-for-profit organization with a mission to increase the security of web applications.
Despite all of those efforts, there are still plenty of high-profile examples of security weaknesses being exploited, including:
- Dunkin Donuts. The popular coffee and donut chain was hit twice in the last year by a credential stuffing hack. In other words, hackers attempted to sell password and login combinations obtained from leaked third-party affiliates.
- Facebook. While Facebook has had a number of concerning security issues over the years, one announcement in the spring of 2019 was particularly troubling. It was disclosed that millions of user passwords were available in plain text to roughly 20,000 of the company’s employees.
- WhatsApp. It was announced in May 2019 that hackers managed to exploit a flaw in this messaging app’s voice calling feature. In this case, surveillance software or ‘spyware’ could be installed on a user’s phone.
These examples highlight several common security concerns that are an issue for smaller businesses as well. Building trust with your customers through transparent security protocols can be a ‘make or break’ task, which is why it’s crucial to implement the right techniques.
4 Ways to Protect Your Site From Security Breaches
Building up your ‘security IQ’ is essential to protecting yourself and your site’s visitors from hacks and breaches. Let’s look at four of the best strategies you can use.
1. Implement Session Identifiers and User Authentication Protocols
One way to protect your site’s users is by implementing authentication systems for online data transactions. Authentication is the process of verifying that an entity is who or what they say they are. Most commonly, this is done through user IDs and verifying information that only the user would know.
There are a few ways to tighten up your website’s authentication process:
- 2-Factor Authentication (2FA). This approach means that users will have to provide a second piece of information, in addition to their passwords. You can often implement 2FA through your web host’s security features.
- Session identifiers. This is a string of numbers that is assigned to each site user by your website’s server. One of the most common identifiers is a cookie. OWASP offers a number of programming recommendations for implementing secure session identifiers.
Implementing a strong authentication system protects users from identity-related fraud, and is particularly crucial if you process payment or personal details.
2. Keep Transport Layer Security Certificates Updated
Another essential element for your website is a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate. Both can create a secure channel for your visitors’ data, although TLS is the more up-to-date option.
Your SSL or TLS certificate adds the “https” to your site’s URL. This means that any data traveling between a web browser and your server will be encrypted. It’s much more difficult for that information to be intercepted, and even if it is, it will be nearly impossible to access.
Keeping these certificates up-to-date is vital. You can obtain and manage them in two main ways:
- Web host-provided certificates. Most popular web hosting services offer some options when it comes to installing an SSL/TLS certificate on your server. In some cases, a free certificate might even come with your hosting plan.
- Third-party certificate authorities. You can also purchase certificates directly from a certificate authority. You’ll just need to check with your website hosting service to see how to integrate or apply that certificate.
Not only do SSL and TLS certificates tell site users that any data they provide will be sent over a secure and encrypted path, they can even improve your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
3. Institute Strict URL Access Protection
Another way to protect your website from hacks or intrusions is by prohibiting access to certain URLs within your website. This enables you to block certain requests for specific files, including any of your database files that might contain important or sensitive information. If hackers are able to access those files, they might extract admin passwords or customer details.
Fortunately, you can implement strong security measures by creating and maintaining an Access Control List (ACL). This is where you limit certain users from accessing specific parts of your website, based on key details such as IP addresses.
In order to do this, you’ll need to consider a few key techniques:
- Code analysis. Using a code analysis tool can help you pinpoint areas of your programming or website that are vulnerable. You can then use an ACL to shore up access to these areas.
- Security testing. Another way to make sure your site or application is secure is to conduct a penetration test. In this scenario, you’ll use many of the same tools a hacker would to try and infiltrate your own system. This can help you identify where you should focus your security resources.
However you decide to approach testing your site’s security, this is a part of your online strategy that can pay dividends in the long run.
4. Search For and Correct SQL Injection Vulnerabilities
A Structured Query Language (SQL) injection vulnerability is one of the most common and potentially dangerous web application vulnerabilities, according to OWASP. It involves a user exploiting SQL to send information to an application, and make it perform an action such as returning private database information.
There are several ways to mitigate this risk, including:
- Reduce error message information. One way SQL injections can function is by gathering information from error messages. You can disable error messages in your production system, to avoid providing table names or other key data to users with malicious intent.
- Whitelist input fields. This approach means telling your database to only accept data that is properly formatted for the input field. This can help prevent hackers from forcing your site to produce data through SQL forms and fields.
Any SQL application might be vulnerable to this kind of intrusion. So it’s important to find out whether your site is at risk, and take the above steps in response.
Keeping large-scale websites or e-commerce operations secure can be a big job. However, being proactive and establishing protocols for authentication and URL access is a great start. Additionally, making sure your SSL/TSL certificates are current is another simple step towards better site security.
Which security techniques are you most likely to try? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
Image credit: Matthew Henry