How To Secure a Server in 10 Steps

Posted on by Neil Golden | Updated:
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Whether you are an online small business or a blog owner, your site will only be protected if you take care of your security. Reports show that hackers don't just steal your data but also use your server as a base of operations for further cyber attacks such as phishing, spam, and even for mining cryptocurrency.

Following server security practices does not mean that your site will be 100% safe, but these server-securing strategies will significantly lower your risk of being hacked.

What Is a Secure Server?

Simply put, a secure web server protects all its information and transactions from unauthorized access. A secured server is a safe server. Read on to learn more.

Why Do You Need to Secure Your Server? 

You must possess a secured server to maintain your online reputation, gain new visitors, and retain existing customers. If your server is not secure, it poses a threat to both you and your customers. You could lose crucial data and see a decrease in your search engine ranking. In other words, leaving your server vulnerable endangers your business. 

Denial-of-Service (DoS) or Distributed-Denial-of-Service Attacks (DDoS)

The DDoS attacks aim to overload your server resources to bring all of the server's functions offline. DDoS attacks can last for days and sometimes even longer.

Various reasons are behind DDoS attacks. These include business owners wanting to destroy their competitors, activists wanting to disable access to certain content, and so-called trolls doing it just for fun.

How do you secure your web server against DDoS attacks? Cloud server hosting plans (like those offered by Liquid Web, for example) provide excellent protection from DDoS attacks. 

Implementing firewall rules can also protect servers from DDoS attacks.

Code Injection

Also known as remote code execution (RCE), a code injection attack occurs when a hacker finds an input validation flaw in scripts or applications and implements and executes malicious code. 

Applications that directly take unchecked input are vulnerable to code injection and represent a massive target for hackers. 

To secure your web server from a code injection attack, you should utilize whitelisting for input validation, encode HTML outputs, and avoid JavaScript code serialization. 

Cross-Site Scripting

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is one of the most frequently used methods of server attack. XSS attacks target users to steal their data. By manipulating the scripts of web applications, hackers can create a malicious script that is executed every time the web page is loaded. They can then further manipulate the user's computer and browsing history, control the browser itself, and use other applications and devices for further malicious activities. 

10 Key Steps to Make Your Web Server Secure

There are many tools and methods to harden and protect your servers from illegal access and other malicious activities. To secure your server, follow the next steps listed below:

1. Create Strong Passwords

The first step in securing your server is to use strong passwords. Most experts recommend a password of at least 12 characters, including numbers, both uppercase and lowercase letters, and special characters like exclamation points and ampersands. Additionally, do not use the same password for different systems. It is essential to change all of your passwords regularly. 

Because it can be difficult to remember passwords, many experts also recommend utilizing a password manager.

2. Use 2FA

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to protect your online identity. Enabling 2FA requires you to input a second authentication in addition to your username and password. Examples include fingerprints, retinal scans, and one-time codes and passwords that change frequently (often every 30 seconds).

3. Generate An SSH Key Pair

Using a secure shell key pair allows you to connect more safely to your server and remain protected from hacking attacks. 

Even though passwords are easier for many users, secure shell key pairs are much more secure. SSH keys are equivalent to a password of 12 characters.

4. Keep Your Server Updated

It is essential to check for server updates frequently. Indeed, keeping your server up to date ensures that it has the newest security patches and that any security issues found in the older versions are fixed. If you are not using the latest updates, your server can be compromised in a matter of minutes. 

If you prefer not to think about this maintenance, you can enable automatic updates. That way, your server can keep itself up to date for you.

5. Use Firewalls

Your firewall should always be up and running because it represents an important security layer preventing illegal access. 

It is possible to manually block certain IP addresses or ranges unknown to you or if you consider that the user trying to connect from a specific IP address has malicious intent. You should whitelist only those IP addresses or ranges that need access.  

Attackers can use all of your open ports to gain unauthorized access to your server. Close all of the ports you are not using. If you are already using Linux as your server's operating system, the netstat command can list all of the open ports and help you close the ones you don't need.

The firewall rules you set will block unwanted traffic or server manipulation. Most importantly, firewalls represent the perfect protection against DDoS attacks.

6. Consider Using Linux as Your Web Server Operating System

Even though Windows is still a widely-used operating system, Apache fuels a large number of web servers. The Linux operating system's biggest advantage is its open-source code. This means everybody can review the base code and propose updates for any discovered security flaws. Securing Linux servers is much easier. 

7. Limit Superuser/Root Access

Brute force attacks aim to compromise root passwords. If the root access is compromised, so is the whole server. 

Because a superuser has access to all systems on the server without any security restrictions, it is recommended to completely disable direct root login. Instead of logging in directly as root, create another user and grant superuser access. By doing so, you will significantly reduce the possibility of the superuser password becoming compromised.

8. Utilize VPNs and Private Networks

To secure communication with your server, you should use a virtual private network (VPN). Hackers much more easily compromise open networks, but VPNs restrict access to the selected users, greatly enhancing security. 

9. Use a Multi-Server Environment

Isolating web applications and database servers is a great way to secure your server. Separate database servers keep your sensitive data safe in case of server compromise. To configure the total isolation, you will need a fully dedicated, bare metal server that does not share anything with another server.

10. Employ Dedicated Servers for Maximum Security

Dedicated servers provide you with a unique level of security. Dedicated servers are physically isolated from other servers, making them much safer than shared servers. They both protect your data and maintain optimal performance. In addition, you will have physical security and the possibility to customize the configuration to your needs. Liquid Web offers great secure dedicated server hosting plans.

Consider Securing your server with Liquid Web today!

If you have applied the steps mentioned above, your server will be safer and more resistant to DDoS, code injection, cross-site scripting, and other attacks. 

Cyber threats are on the rise. Contact one of The Most Helpful Humans In Hosting® and take action today!

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About the Author

Neil Golden

Neil contributed to solving the complex puzzle of evolution for a long time by obtaining his Ph.D. in Archaeology. These days, he digs the Linux servers in his role within the Liquid Web Monitoring Department instead of Paleolithic stone tools in the caves on archaeological sites. Instead of mammoths, he is now hunting for bugs on Linux servers. He has written numerous scientific and technical articles because writing is one of his biggest passions. In his free time, Neil composes music, reads novels, and travels the world.

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