Every website can undergo security breaches and while you might not think that there is anything of value on your site, this doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for it to be compromised. Something to note is that the majority of website security breaches are attempts to use your server as an email relay for spam, so making sure your website is secure is important.  

Without a secure website, you could be hit by ransomware, have your server as part of a botnet, or serve files of an illegal nature. Most hacking that occurs is performed by automated scripts that scour the internet to exploit security vulnerabilities. Here are 6 ways to make sure your website is secure for customers. 

1. Protect Against XSS Attacks 

XSS attacks or cross-site scripting inject malicious code into your pages, namely JavaScript. These then run into the browsers of your users and can change page content and steal information to send back to hackers. 

One way this can happen is if you show comments on a page without any validation. An attacker can see this and then submit comments that contain script tags and JavaScript which can run in every user’s browsers and steal their login cookies. This then allows the attacker to take control of the account of every user who has viewed the comment. 

To prevent this from happening you have to ensure that users cannot inject active JavaScript content into your pages. Pages are now built primarily from user content which generates HTML that can be interpreted by front end frameworks like Angular and Ember. These frameworks can provide many XSS protections but not always. 

image for 6 ways to make sure your website is secure for customers blog

If you mix server and client rendering, then you can create new and complicated attack avenues for hackers. What you have to focus on is user-generated content could escape the bounds you expect and be interpreted by a browser in a way that you haven’t intended. 

To protect against these attacks when dynamically generating HTML, use functions that explicitly make changes you are looking for or use functions in your templating tool that automatically do appropriate escaping rather than setting raw HTML content. 

One powerful tool to consider as well is Content Security Policy or CSP. A CSP is a header your server can return which alerts your browser to limit how and what JavaScript is executed on a page. This could include things like disavowing the running of any scripts not associated with your domain or could disallow inline JavaScript.

infographic showing the issues you can encounter and why web security is essential
A CSP is a header your server can return which alerts your browser to limit how and what JavaScript is executed on a page. (Image Credit: Velocity Consultancy)

2. Check Your Passwords

Something every internet user is familiar with is the need to be constantly refreshing your passwords as they are something that can be compromised rather easily. It is an integral part of all internet use that strong passwords are used in your server and website admin area particularly. 

Enforcing password requirements is a must for users and some best practices include having an eight character minimum which includes a number or special character, as well as an uppercase letter. This ensures that your customer’s information is protected in the long run. 

Another important point here is that passwords are stored as encrypted values using a one way hashing algorithm like a SHA. This means when you authenticate your users, you are only ever comparing encrypted values.

In the worst case scenario where you have a hacker who has managed to get into your server and have access to your passwords, hashed passwords can help damage limitation as you cannot decrypt them. The only thing a hacker can do in this situation is to use a dictionary attack which is where they guess every combination until they get a match. 

In modern web development, nearly all CMSes provide their user management with a lot of these security features built in.

an infographic demonstrating the basics of web security
Enforcing password requirements is a must for users and some best practices include having an eight character minimum. (Image Credit: Sucuri)

3. Keep Your Software Up to Date

Software up dates are critical for keeping your site secure. This doesn’t only apply to your software but also your server operating system – anything that you are running your website on be it a forum or a CMS

One benefit of using a managed hosting solution is that they apply security updates regularly to your website. It should be noted though that if you are using third party software, it is advised to ensure that you are quick to apply any security patches. Most major CMSes like WordPress will notify you of updates as soon as you log on to them. 

You should always keep your dependencies up to date and tools such as Gemnasium can give you automatic updates or notifications when a vulnerability is announced in any of your components. 

4. Validate on the Browser and Server Side

It is integral that you do validation on not only your browser side but also on your server-side. This allows your browser to catch simple failures in mandatory fields. These can be bypassed which is why it is integral that you check for validation and deeper validation server side. 

If you don’t do this, you run the risk of malicious or scripted code being inserted into your database which could cause issues in your site and produce bad results. It’s part of making sure to reduce your attack surface, recognizing that any device or IT asset could be a point of vulnerability that you have to defend from incursions.

an arrow clicking on a security button on a website
It is integral that you do validation on not only your browser side but also on your server side. (Image Credit: M-W.com)

5. Watch Out for Error Messages

Error messages aren’t always as innocent as they seem. Provide only minimal errors to your users to ensure that they don’t unintentionally leak the issues on your server which could be anything from database passwords to API keys. 

Another thing to note is to not provide full exception details as they can make complex attacks from things like an SQL injection much easier. Ensure that you keep detailed errors in your server logs and only show users the information that they need. 

6. Use HTTPS

HTTPS is a protocol used to provide security over the Internet. It guarantees that users are talking to the server they expect and that nobody else can intercept the content they’re seeing. If you have anything that your users might want private, it’s highly advisable to use only HTTPS to deliver it.

Notably, Google have announced that they will boost you up in the search rankings if you use HTTPS, giving this an SEO benefit too. Insecure HTTP is on its way out, and now’s the time to upgrade.

an image showing https security on an url
HTTPS is a protocol used to provide security over the Internet. It guarantees that users are talking to the server they expect, and that nobody else can intercept the content they’re seeing. (Image Credit: Crucial.com.au)

Protect Your Customers

There are a multitude of methods to ensure that your website is safe and secure. This is integral to guarantee that your customers can browse your website without exposing them to anything unsavoury that could damage your site and their experience. 

Need additional security on your website and unsure of how to implement it? At ProfileTree, we have a myriad of web development experts waiting to help you with your website. Contact us today. 

Types of Website Threats: Lurking Dangers in the Digital Wild West

Imagine opening your front door to the online world, welcoming potential customers with open arms. Unfortunately, just like in the physical world, there are dangers lurking in the digital landscape that can harm both your website and your customers. Let’s explore some common website threats to understand why robust security is crucial:

1. Malware: These malicious software programs can infect your website, steal data, disrupt operations, and even redirect visitors to harmful sites. Common types include:

  • SQL Injection: Injects malicious code into your website’s database to steal sensitive information like customer details.
  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): Injects malicious scripts into your website, potentially hijacking user sessions or redirecting them to phishing sites.
  • Worms and viruses: Replicate and spread quickly across your website, consuming resources and potentially causing crashes or data loss.

2. Data Breaches: These occur when unauthorized individuals gain access to sensitive customer data like credit card numbers, passwords, or personal information. Breaches can have severe consequences, leading to financial losses, legal repercussions, and damage to your brand reputation.

3. Phishing Attacks: These deceptive attempts lure users into revealing personal information by mimicking legitimate websites, emails, or text messages. Once compromised, attackers can steal credentials, financial details, or even hijack user accounts.

4. Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks: These overwhelm your website with massive traffic, making it inaccessible to legitimate users. This can disrupt business operations, damage reputation, and cause financial losses.

5. Content Hacking: Hackers may deface your website with malicious content, inject spam, or redirect visitors to inappropriate or harmful pages. This can damage your brand image and erode customer trust.

Remember: These are just a few examples, and new threats emerge regularly. Staying informed and implementing robust security measures is vital to protect your website and your customers from these ever-evolving dangers.

Benefits of Website Security: More Than Just Protecting Customer Data

While safeguarding customer data is paramount, the advantages of website security extend far beyond that. It’s an investment in your brand reputation, search engine ranking, legal compliance, and ultimately, your business success. Let’s delve into the benefits:

1. Build Trust and Brand Reputation:

  • Peace of mind for customers: Knowing their information is secure fosters trust and loyalty, encouraging repeat business and positive word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Professional image: A secure website conveys professionalism and reliability, setting you apart from competitors and attracting new customers.
  • Reduced negative publicity: Security breaches can damage your reputation significantly. Strong security minimizes the risk of negative headlines and public relations nightmares.

2. Enhanced SEO and Search Ranking:

  • Google prioritizes secure websites: Secure websites with HTTPS encryption receive a ranking boost in search results, making your website more visible to potential customers.
  • Reduced bounce rates: Users are more likely to leave an insecure website, harming your bounce rate and SEO ranking. Security fosters trust and keeps users engaged, improving your overall search performance.

3. Legal Compliance and Regulatory Requirements:

  • Data privacy regulations: Many countries and regions have strict data protection laws, and compliance is mandatory. Strong security measures help you avoid hefty fines and legal repercussions.
  • Industry-specific regulations: Depending on your industry, additional security regulations may apply. Ensuring compliance protects you from legal issues and maintains trust with relevant authorities.

4. Improved Business Continuity and Performance:

  • Reduced downtime and disruptions: Security threats can take down your website, costing you valuable business and damaging your reputation. Robust security safeguards prevent downtime and ensure smooth operations.
  • Enhanced resource efficiency: Malware and other threats can drain your website’s resources, impacting performance. Security measures like firewalls and intrusion detection systems minimize resource consumption and optimize website speed.
  • Reduced operational costs: Investing in security upfront can save you significant costs in the long run compared to the potential losses incurred from breaches, data recovery, and reputational damage.

Remember: Website security isn’t just a “check-the-box” requirement; it’s a strategic investment in your business’s future. By prioritizing security, you gain a competitive edge, protect your customers, and lay the foundation for sustainable growth.

Prioritizing Your Website’s Security: A Tailored Approach

Securing your website is crucial, but navigating the vast array of security measures can feel overwhelming. Fear not! Here’s how to prioritize and implement the right security solutions based on your website’s unique needs:

1. Assessing Your Risk:

  • Website size and complexity: Larger websites with user accounts, e-commerce functionalities, or handling sensitive data require more robust security compared to simpler static websites.
  • Budget: Consider your budget constraints and prioritize essential measures within your means. Remember, even basic security is better than none.
  • Target audience and industry: Certain industries have stricter regulations, necessitating compliance with specific security standards.

2. Building Your Security Baseline:

  • Start with the fundamentals: Essential measures like strong passwords, two-factor authentication for admin accounts, regular software updates, and website backups form the foundation of good security.
  • Prioritize based on risk: For websites handling sensitive data, prioritize data encryption (SSL/TLS), secure login pages, and regular vulnerability scans.
  • Leverage free resources: Many free tools and resources can help you implement basic security measures, like Google Search Console’s security reports and website vulnerability scanners.

3. Scaling Up Your Security:

  • Advanced monitoring and detection: As your website grows or handles more sensitive data, invest in website monitoring tools to detect and respond to threats promptly.
  • Penetration testing: Simulate cyberattacks to identify vulnerabilities and patch them before attackers exploit them.
  • Security consultants: For complex websites or high-risk industries, consider seeking guidance from security professionals to create a customized security plan.

Remember: Security is an ongoing process, not a one-time fix. Regularly review your security measures, stay updated on emerging threats, and adapt your approach as your website grows and evolves.

Bonus Tip: Create a downloadable checklist outlining essential security measures based on website size and complexity. This empowers readers to take immediate action and provides a valuable resource for future reference.

Advanced Security Tips: Make Sure Your Website Is Secure for Customers

For tech-savvy users seeking to further bolster their website’s security, here are some advanced tips beyond the basics:

1. Leverage Two-Factor Authentication (2FA):

  • Go beyond passwords! Implement 2FA for admin accounts, requiring an additional authentication step (like a code from your phone) even with the correct password. This significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Consider offering 2FA options to users for an extra layer of security and peace of mind, especially for e-commerce transactions or sensitive data access.

2. Implement Continuous Website Monitoring:

  • Don’t wait for threats to be discovered. Invest in website monitoring tools that scan your website 24/7 for suspicious activity, malware infections, or unauthorized access attempts.
  • Real-time alerts allow for prompt response and mitigation of potential threats before they escalate and cause damage.

3. Regularly Conduct Vulnerability Scans:

  • Proactive vulnerability scanning identifies weaknesses in your website’s security posture before attackers exploit them.
  • Regular scans (weekly or monthly, depending on website size and complexity) help you patch vulnerabilities promptly and stay ahead of potential threats.

4. Secure Your Content Management System (CMS):

  • Many website vulnerabilities stem from outdated or improperly configured CMS installations.
  • Keep your CMS updated with the latest security patches, disable unnecessary plugins, and utilize strong passwords for administrator accounts.

For businesses serious about identifying vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers, penetration testing services play a key role. Simulating cyberattacks under controlled conditions helps strengthen security systems by pinpointing weaknesses and providing actionable solutions to enhance overall security posture.

5. Strengthen Server Security:

  • Secure your web server by implementing firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to filter suspicious traffic and block potential attacks.
  • Regularly update your server software and keep operating systems patched to address known vulnerabilities.

6. Encrypt Sensitive Data:

  • If your website stores sensitive data like credit card numbers or user passwords, ensure it’s encrypted both at rest (on your server) and in transit (during transmission).
  • Utilize strong encryption algorithms and regularly rotate encryption keys for added security.

7. Consider Web Application Firewalls (WAFs):

  • WAFs act as an additional layer of security, filtering incoming traffic and blocking malicious requests before they reach your website.
  • This can be particularly beneficial for websites facing targeted attacks or handling highly sensitive data.

8. Stay Informed and Adapt:

  • The cybersecurity landscape constantly evolves. Stay updated on emerging threats, new vulnerabilities, and best practices by subscribing to security blogs, attending industry events, and following reputable security experts.
  • Regularly review and adapt your security measures to ensure they remain effective against the latest threats.

Remember: Security is an ongoing journey, not a destination. By implementing these advanced tips and staying vigilant, you can significantly enhance your website’s security posture and protect your valuable data, customers, and brand reputation.

FAQ: Boosting Your Website Security

1. How often should I update my website software and plugins?

Aim for weekly or monthly updates, depending on the size and complexity of your website. Prioritize security patches and critical updates as soon as they become available.

2. What’s the difference between 2FA and MFA?

Both offer additional authentication beyond passwords. 2FA typically uses two factors (password + code), while MFA can involve more factors like fingerprints or biometric recognition.

3. Can I secure my website even with a limited budget?

Absolutely! Start with the basics like strong passwords, regular updates, and website backups. Free tools and resources can also help with vulnerability scans and basic monitoring.

4. Do I need a security consultant for my website?

Consider your website’s size, complexity, and industry regulations. Consultants offer valuable expertise for complex websites or high-risk scenarios.

5. How can I stay updated on the latest security threats?

Follow security blogs, attend industry events, and subscribe to newsletters from reputable security organizations.

Conclusion: Secure Your Website, Secure Your Success

Website security is not just about protecting data; it’s about safeguarding your brand reputation, attracting customers, and ensuring business continuity. By prioritizing security measures, adapting to evolving threats, and seeking expert guidance when needed, you can create a strong digital fortress that protects your website and paves the way for sustainable growth.

Remember, ProfileTree is your partner in website security. We offer a range of services, from audits and consultations to ongoing monitoring and maintenance, to help you achieve the peace of mind that comes with knowing your website is safe and secure.

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