One of your most critical responsibilities as a small business owner is safeguarding your website against cyberthreats. After all, a successful hack-attack on your site will not only be ruinous financially but also compromise your customers’ trust in your organization. You don’t want to be seen as the business that’s careless with customers’ data (or plain inept) – especially since a massive 60 percent of small companies shut shop within 6 months of being hacked, according to Cybercrime Magazine.
Keeping your site secure takes diligence and know-how, and there’s no time like right now to begin. Today, D Techweb Blog walks you through the most important steps to keeping your business protected.
Evaluate your web host
Start by checking your website host’s security setup. Most small business websites are hosted on an external server offered by an unaffiliated provider. As such, the web host is responsible for the security of your web server and, by extension, much of your site. However, not all web hosts have an up-to-date or especially secure setup, which could be a problem. Essentially, if there are holes in the host’s security, your site could be affected.
Check to see whether your host knows what they’re doing. A good host will offer the following:
- A secure OS for the server
- Administrator restrictions
- Regular updates
- SSL (to encrypt data that goes in and out)
- Backup and restoring support
- DDoS protection
- Malware scans
- App Firewall (WAF)
- Private (non-shared) server
If one of these features is missing, it may be time to change hosts. You could even set up your own personal web server with all these features, although that’ll be technically challenging.
Choose your CMS wisely
Next, evaluate your content management system (CMS). The most popular one – WordPress – is generally secure (as long as you keep the plugins updated). When you use a CMS, follow security best practices – keep it patched, backup often, monitor, use secure (non-default) settings, and change your passwords. Please note that these tips don’t apply if your site is custom-built from scratch on HTML or similar.
Design (or redesign) your site from scratch with security in mind
If you’re serious about site security, consider doing away with the CMS or third-party site builder altogether. Instead, build a site from scratch on HTML, PHP, CSS, and other coding languages (you can hire a developer for help) and host it on your own server.
There are multiple advantages to this approach. Primarily, any holes present in the host or CMS you’d otherwise be using won’t carry over to your website. You’d have full control over the security – and you could make it airtight. Lastly, if you know what you’re doing, you can build a faster site than you ever could on a CMS.
When building a web application to host on your server (that’s what a website is, in technical terms), here are the primary security considerations to make:
- Implementing data encryption
- Removing SQL and stopping SQL injections
- Implementing industry-standard authentication and authorization
- Setting up secure APIs
- Setting up logs and analytics tools
You can always get help
As you’ve probably figured out, designing (or redesigning) a secure site is a technical challenge, whether you use CMS (and managed host) or not. You may need to hire a competent, knowledgeable web developer for help. A good one will be able to evaluate your existing setup, pinpoint security holes (if any), and implement upgrades. They can also help you redesign your site, if necessary.
You can also do yourself a big favor by using process mapping templates when launching a new product or service. That’s because in addition to making sure you don’t miss a vital step, mapping out each element of the business process makes it easier to analyze later, so that you can spot potential problems and weaknesses – and guard against them.
Train your employees (and yourself)
9 times out of 10, human error will be the main culprit in the event of a successful cybersecurity attack. Simple mistakes like leaving your password lying around or unknowingly installing malware on your web server offer hackers the opportunity to infiltrate your otherwise-secure site. Make sure you train your employees on security best practices:
- Avoiding unknown links, pop-ups, and emails
- Downloading only from trusted sources
- Using secure WiFi
- Recognizing malware, ransomware, and similar
The majority of data breaches happen because of tardy updates, says IT Support Guys. Manufacturers frequently release security updates that cover up newly-discovered vulnerabilities in their apps. Many people fail to download and apply such updates quickly, which gives hackers a window to exploit found weaknesses. Keep your CMS, third-party plugins, and web apps updated to stay safe.
Use strong passwords (with a password manager)
It’s common sense but well worth repeating – always use strong passwords that can’t be guessed by anyone. Instead of using personal phrases or words, it’s better to use random strings of letters and numbers. Special characters and interspersing lower and upper casings offer an extra layer of protection. Of course, such passwords are next to impossible to remember – that’s where password managers come in. These apps not only auto-insert passwords for you, but also generate unique, super-secure passwords on demand.
Test, retest, and monitor
How would you get into your website if you were a hacker? Testing allows you to figure out likely paths – and then blockade them. Testing should be done periodically, especially if major changes or updates have been made to your site recently. You can use a vulnerability scanner for this or ask a web developer for assistance. Monitoring your site can be done manually if you have logs and analytics tools set up. Alternatively, you could automate the process by using relevant software. Cloud-based security apps are usually effective and affordable.
Backup your site
No matter how good your security setup is, it’s never foolproof. An attack may eventually succeed. Your critical files could be overwritten or wiped, and your data held for ransom. This is why backing up is important. If you have a backup, you can restore your site to its original state (after you patch up the security hole), without much downtime. Use backup software, schedule regular backups, and make sure your critical files and databases are covered.
There’s an appropriate response to a website attack
If your site ever gets hacked, you must respond in a measured, level-headed manner. First, call in your tech support, if you have any. This includes your host and web developer. Ask them for suggestions and/or help. Next, take your website offline and run a diagnostics scan. Check for affected files, and pinpoint the vulnerability that led to the breach. Afterward, clean your files and patch up the hole(s). You could also perform security upgrades at this point. Finally, restore your site from the backup.
If the attack compromised customer or stakeholder data, you should inform them of the same. Be transparent, let them know how you’re fixing the problem, and offer assurances. You have to do everything possible to preserve your reputation.
Build your knowledge base
Whether you encounter an attack or realize just how much you don’t know, it could be highly beneficial to boost your knowledge when it comes to cybersecurity, website upgrades and anything else IT related. Certification programs will help you quickly learn the ins and outs, while online degree programs take a bit longer but can ensure you have a deeper understanding. By widening your skillset here, you’ll be better prepared to take on tech issues that trouble your business.
Sadly, site security is never a one-and-done type of thing. Hackers will always find or create new vulnerabilities to exploit. That’s why staying updated, constant monitoring, and periodic security upgrades offer the best chance of protecting your site.