Have you experienced a malicious attack on your website in the last 12 months?
In 2019, there were an estimated 1.473 billion data breaches that resulted in over 164 million sensitive records exposed. Many of these were from well-known companies like Marriott, Capital One, Facebook, and Instagram.
Larger companies are often targeted for obvious reasons — they have access to more customer information like email addresses and credit card numbers.
But it’s not just large companies that are targeted. Hackers are increasingly targeting smaller companies simply because their security is easier to break. Many don’t have the resources to secure their networks or they neglect to keep their software up-to-date.
Before we look at how to secure a website, let’s look at why it needs to be a priority if it isn’t already.
Why Does Website Security Needs to Be a Priority?
An estimated 30,000 websites are hacked every single day.
If your website isn’t protected, you could be unknowingly distributing malware or giving hackers access to sensitive information about your customers.
Here’s how a compromised website can affect your company:
It Affects Your Reputation
Consumers don’t take lightly to having their sensitive data stolen.
70% of consumers indicate that they would stop doing business with companies that have experienced a data breach. A breach indicates that a company hasn’t done enough to protect customer data.
Experiencing a data breach can have a negative impact on how customers perceive your company. They may even choose to take their business elsewhere.
It Affects Your Search Rankings
Google actively takes steps to protect its users from malicious websites. If your website has been hacked or contains malware, Google displays the following warning and restricts visitors from entering:
Rather than risk getting their computer infected, most visitors will click the back button, which means your search traffic will suffer.
Google is consistently testing your page against dozens or even hundreds of potential competitors. This is a critical process in which they analyze both content strength and security.
That’s not all either — Google has removed more than 80% of hacked websites from its search results in an effort to fight spam. If your site gets hacked and you don’t fix it immediately, you risk getting your site completely removed from Google’s search index.
It Affects Your Revenue
An insecure website ultimately affects your bottom line.
Consumers are wary of sharing sensitive information online. If your website doesn’t instill trust, visitors will hesitate to buy. They don’t want to risk their personal data being exposed.
96% of people use search engines for legal advice. If your website is taken down, you won’t be found in Google for your target keywords and you’ll lose a major traffic source.
Bottom line: Website security matters more than ever. And taking it seriously can give your business a competitive advantage online.
Let’s look at how to safeguard your website and protect your customer data.
How to Secure a Website
Every company is a potential target, which means you need to take a proactive approach to securing a website. Here’s how to secure a website:
1. Install an SSL Certificate
Trust is critically important on the web. Users are less likely to interact with sites that have lax security measures.
An SSL certificate is a type of digital certificate that creates an encrypted connection between a web server and a browser. It provides authentication, meaning the information you send is being directed to the right server and not to a hacker.
An SSL certificate also protects your customers. It ensures that all their personal data is sent over a secure network.
Browsers like Safari and Chrome display a lock icon for secure sites in the address bar. Have a look at the example below on the BloomCU website — you can see by the lock in the address bar that the site uses an SSL certificate to secure their data:
The lock icon instills trust as visitors know that their connection is secure. And existing customers feel confident knowing that the company is taking steps to protect their information.”
An SSL certificate costs about $50 a year and takes a few hours to approve. Once everything is set up, your visitors can securely access your site.
In addition to general security, SSL has compounding benefits to your site speed and reputability.
According to Ardent Growth, one of the key benefits of an SSL is that it uses HTTP/2, increasing site speed while simultaneously securing data.
That means that customers will have a more secure interaction with your site while experiencing faster site speeds, which is a win-win scenario.
2. Keep Your Software Updated
More businesses are using platforms like WordPress to power their websites — they’re easy to use and provide a ton of functionality. You can create a full-fledged website in an afternoon even if you don’t have much technical experience.
But the fact that WordPress has so many installations also makes it a target for hackers. If your software is not up-to-date, you’re putting your business and customers at risk.
Hackers target vulnerabilities found in older versions of software. Make sure to update to the latest software to patch all security holes.”
Be sure to also update your plugins as they’re the largest source of vulnerabilities in WordPress:
Having too many plugins can not only slow down performance, but also opens up your site to more potential attacks. Only install those plugins that are absolutely essential and remove those you aren’t using.
3. Enforce Strong Passwords
One of the most common ways that hackers steal sensitive information is through brute force attacks — checking all possible passwords until they guess correctly.
Strong passwords are important as they act as a first line of defense. They make it harder for hackers to gain unwanted access to an account.
But despite the prevalence of data breaches, a survey conducted by Avast found that 83% of users have weak passwords. They don’t include all of the following in their passwords: numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and special characters.
Many users also don’t create passwords that are at least 10 characters long and more than half use the same password for multiple online accounts.
Suggest ways for users to set up a strong password when they create a new account. You can even take it a step further by setting minimum password strength requirements.
4. Schedule Website Security Audits
No matter how vigilant you are, things can pass through the cracks — you might forget to update your software or renew your SSL certificate.
Conducting regular security audits allows you to identify and address vulnerabilities before hackers take advantage of them.
Use a tool like the Sucuri SiteCheck scanner to quickly scan the contents of your site for malware, viruses, and malicious code. The tool also checks for site errors and out-of-date software.
Simply enter your URL and click the “Scan Website” button. After a few moments, you’ll see the following:
This particular site is using an outdated version of WordPress. Down the page, we can see that the site is free of malware and injected spam, but other issues were detected:
Address any issues that the tool detects on your site immediately. Make it a habit to run security audits at least on a weekly basis.
Don’t overlook the comments section of your site. Comment spam not only impacts the overall user experience, but could even comprise your customers. Unsuspecting visitors could click on links that lead to malicious sites.
Use SEO tools to audit spam on your website and take steps to remove them. There are also WordPress plugins available that do a great job at filtering comment spam.
5. Choose Secure Web Hosting
Cheap web hosting may save you money in the short-term. But it could end up costing you in the long-term if your provider doesn’t offer basic security features.
Choose a web hosting provider that offers 24/7/365 network monitoring and firewall protection to block any known threats. The provider you choose should also have top-notch 24/7/365 customer support that’s ready to assist should any issues arise, day or night.
6. Consider Cloud Migration
Your customers trust your business with their data. It’s up to you to ensure that their data is safe.
One solution is with cloud migration — transferring on-premise data to the cloud. Storing data in the cloud offers a secure environment for customer data.
Cloud providers build their storage solutions to meet strict industry standards and government regulations, making them safer than data centers. A number of cloud providers also have built-in security monitoring and data backups.
7. Hire Security Experts
Taking a proactive approach is important for website security. That means installing an SSL certificate, updating your software, and scanning your site for malware.
Updating WordPress to the latest version is easy enough. But what if there are other security issues with your site? It’s best to let the pros handle those issues.
There are many companies that provide website security solutions. They regularly scan your site and immediately address any vulnerabilities. Many also provide detailed audits, so you know how they’re keeping your business safe.
You can also use platforms like Toptal to work with accredited freelancers who specialize in security. Toptal has a strict vetting process to ensure that you’re working with qualified experts.
Make Time to Focus on Website Security
The importance of website security cannot be stressed enough. A hacked site could harm your company’s reputation and put your customers at risk.
Show your customers that you take security threats seriously by implementing the measures outlined here. They can also help your business gain a competitive advantage over those that aren’t prioritizing security.
Nick is the Senior Director of Security & Compliance at Liquid Web. He has over 20 years of experience in Technology and brings a wealth of knowledge and a strong understanding of data security to help safeguard our customers' environments.
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