Whether you’re running an online business or managing a professional blog, internet security is an issue that affects everyone. From viruses and phishing scams to large-scale data espionage, the internet is a minefield of cyber threats that need to be avoided at all costs.
What’s more, such online attacks are constantly evolving in terms of both form and complexity, so it’s absolutely crucial to remain one step ahead. So, here are five ways to safeguard your website against malicious encounters.
1. Never Skip a Software Update
There’s no denying that those little pop-ups that appear every now and again reminding us to run a software update are somewhat annoying. And yes, it can be extremely tempting to postpone them – or worse, ignore them altogether. However, in doing so, you are making your website an easy target for cyber criminals.
If you are running your site via a managed hosting solution, the hosting company itself should see to it that all necessary security updates are applied to the operating system.
However, when it comes to third-party software, maintaining tight security is down to you – and it’s essential to be vigilant. Third-party software can be anything from Content Management Systems (CMS) to the software you use to run a forum on your site, and the way you are notified of necessary updates will vary from type to type. Whichever systems you are using, get into the habit of checking regularly for updates and, most importantly, install them as soon as they become available.
2. Protect Your Site with SSL
A major issue concerning both website owners and visitors alike is the protection of sensitive data. SSL (or Secure Socket Layer) ensures that data transmitted via a website is encrypted, making it much more difficult for cyber criminals to intercept.
Websites protected by an SSL certificate will have “HTTPS” as part of their web address, whereas unsecured versions simply appear as “HTTP.” Ideally, new websites are developed with SSL encryption, but it is also possible – and advisable – to convert older sites to the HTTPS version.
This can be done by obtaining an SSL certificate, installing it on the server and effectively redirecting your website content to the new secure version. A complete step-by-step guide to converting your site to HTTPS can be found here.
3. Install a Web Application Firewall
A Web Application Firewall (or WAF) acts as a virtual security guard, monitoring the traffic to and from your website and identifying any unusual or potentially dangerous behavior.
A WAF can be cloud-based or appliance-based, and functions as a filter in front of your site, analyzing requests in accordance with a rule base – that is, a set of rules determining what is and isn’t permitted.
One major advantage of a WAF is that it acts in real-time, giving you a better chance of detecting a potential threat before any real damage occurs.
4. Use Tough Passwords
Whilst it may seem like a no-brainer, tough passwords form a crucial part of your armor against cyber attackers. In addition to setting complex passwords for the administrative areas of your site, it is important to ensure that visitors to your site are just as vigilant.
You can encourage users to set more secure passwords by imposing certain requirements, such as a minimum number of upper and lowercase characters, as well as numbers and symbols.
As the website owner, you are also responsible for storing passwords in encrypted form, making it harder for hackers to get hold of them. You can also add another layer of security by using a technique known as salted password hashing.
5. Test Your Site’s Security
Finally, an effective way to ensure your site is well-protected is to test it. Penetration testing – or pen testing for short – can be carried out using free online tools such as ScanMyServer and SucuriSiteCheck.
These tools will attack your site in much the same way that a hacker would, subsequently alerting you to the most vulnerable areas.
Testing your site and reviewing your security strategy on a regular basis will help you to remain one step ahead, decreasing your chances of falling victim to a malicious attack.
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