Website Security Check: How to Secure Your Website
More and more website owners and businesses are affected by devastating security breaches. The tide of web attacks, and thus compromised data, continues to rise. Worldwide, up to 120 million cyber attacks are currently recorded every day. Thus, the issue of security is increasingly becoming a major concern for website owners and web developers.
Whether you are an owner of a huge multinational online store or just run a small personal blog, there is always a threat of getting hacked. Some attackers will try to deface your website and inject malware into it, steal your or your customer's data, and delete important content from your server.
This article contains some practical tips to eliminate malwares from which attackers take advantage. But, first, let's look at the importance of website security.
Why a website security check is so important
In 2019, it was found that over 60% of websites were vulnerable at the time of infection. This represents a 4% increase over 2018, with many attacks occurring mostly due to outdated software, indicating that most website owners either lack knowledge or care too little about the security of their websites.
You may think that the attackers won't target your website because it is of a small size, and no one would get much out of it. Or maybe security has never been your concern, and the threat figures don't bother you much.
But what might be the effect of the unwanted intrusion on your website? Unfortunately, it's not just some tiny irritation that could be quickly resolved by changing your password:
- Your website might be implemented with code injections that can cause visitors to get infected by malware, which could be very hard to find and remove.
- Your crucial pages might be blanked, defaced, or stuffed with illegal website links.
- It may result in deleting important content like pages and blog posts.
- Sensitive information such as credit card or login information that belongs to you, your customers, or your site visitors may be illegally accessed and sold online.
- Attacks could spread to other crucial websites linked to your server.
- Suppose Google can detect any kind of malware on your website. In that case, it will immediately block the access and eliminate it from the search results, wasting all your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts.
- The username and password of the admin's account can be changed, preventing you from accessing your website.
Hacked websites could cause a lot of damage, especially if you are an owner of an ecommerce store.
You might think that your website could not be the target of the attackers as your website does not matter much; you must know that not all attacks are targeted. For example, quite a several WordPress attacks are automated– a bot checks if your website is vulnerable to attacks and initiates an attack without the involvement of a human being.
That is the reason which makes it necessary for every website owner requires to take a few steps to secure their website in any condition.
What are the vulnerabilities of WordPress?
Hacking is vast, but which are the most common vulnerabilities hackers take advantage of to break into your website?
You might think that getting inside a website is a process full of challenges and requires weeks of hard work and a great amount of knowledge about coding, computers, servers, etc. This might be true when targeted hacking attempts to crack the defenses of a huge, well-safeguarded website, but when the attack is upon a small WordPress domain, this becomes quite different.
Most attacks on WordPress succeed as the websites' owners use passwords that are easy to guess and do not update their plugins and themes. Hackers break mostly into such sites with the use of automated programs.
Password cracking is possibly the easiest way to hack a website, and this method is so common because it has a high success rate. Most site owners set their WordPress login on the default admin, who takes out half of the guesswork, and after they utilize a simple, easy-to-guess password.
If this method fails, attackers will try to leverage common vulnerabilities in outdated versions of WordPress or common plugins. This is why it is suggested to keep everything up to date.
A huge list of complex, complicated ways to break into a website exists. Still, most WordPress attackers utilize the low-hanging fruit of a not-so-secure password and outdated software, making it very easy to access the website's backend.
Website security check: This is how it works
The first step an individual must take to secure his website is determining which condition your website is already in. Are there any visible vulnerabilities in the backend of your website that you require to treat immediately, or any simple fixes you can make at the moment?
1. Secure accounts and passwords
If your main account has a weak password, it makes the website easy to break into with the help of brute-forcing programs, giving the attacker's administrator access, and the attackers can make any change they want.
While a complex password can be challenging to remember, making the login process a bit inconvenient, it can be much more problematic to recover your website once it has been hacked. Hence it is recommended to use a strong password, even if you are required to keep it written down somewhere.
A secure password does not contain personal (and therefore guessable) information such as birth dates or names of family members. Instead, a password should consist of a long sequence of random characters. Excellent free password managers like KeePass or Dashline can help you create a strong password. If you feel that your passwords have been too simple so far, now is exactly the right moment to adjust them!
2. Ensure everything is Up To Date
As we already discussed, not up-to-date software is by far the most common reason for WordPress infections. Therefore, if there is anything that you can do to safeguard your website, it should be to keep your website up to date.
The most straightforward way to check the status of every software running on your website is to go to Dashboard> Updates, which will inform you if your theme, core, or plugins are up to date.
WordPress performs automatic updates since the 5.5 version; everything should be up to date unless you are using anything inferior to the WordPress 5.5 version.
3. Scanning with WordPress Plugin
We will discuss online scanners that work well later. However, it is even better to install a plugin as it can dig deep into the roots of your website code and fish out the vulnerabilities or malware that are hard to detect.
Install the plugin of your choice, and once the installation is done, it will most probably give you instructions to run a scan immediately. The advantage of these plugins is that they can eliminate malware and automate changes.
A very popular security plugin is Wordfence Security: a free and easy-to-use WordPress security plugin that includes a malware scanner and an endpoint firewall (WAF).
4. Look for uncommon changes
Identifying the source may be challenging if you are under suspicion or are aware of your website being infected with malware. Here are a few changes that don't have an explanation that you may notice on your website, as well as the files that attract hackers the most.
- Sudden links to suspicious websites which were never added by you personally.
- New pages or articles not created by you, or the content of the current pages changing suddenly.
- Changes to settings that you did not make.
- Addition of a new user, especially of an individual with privileges of high-level, who you never added.
- Plugins or themes that you did not install.
- Malware can infect your files with malicious codes. Check theme and plugin files, WordPress core files not located in the correct directory,wp-config.php, the wp-content/uploads folder, and .htaccess. You should always back up your website and must fully understand the code before you make any sensitive changes.
You can sort unwanted code by recently modified files if you get connected to your website with FTP.
If your website is infected with malware periodically, and you cannot detect any cause in the files, the issue might be of your server or some other website present on your server.
5. Check your SSL software
If your SSL certificate is not up to date, you will usually know it immediately; browsers like Google Chrome would block access to your website with a humongous expired certificate warning. However, if you are unsure or are already facing this error, you must check your SSL certificate to check if it is up to date and whether or not you are using the current version of SSL/TLS.
When you visit a website, you will notice a lock icon in the address bar in almost every browser. If your certificate has expired, this lock may become red or will have a slash through it.
6. Utilization of an online tool
A simple and quick way to check if your website contains malware and is vulnerable to web attacks. Tools like Intruder or the Sucuri SiteCheck scanner remotely scan your website and check it for common problems. These tools are convenient because they don't require any plugins or software and only take a few seconds.
However, keep in mind that such online tools are not a panacea regarding your website's security needs. Use them mainly as a supplement to your existing security measures.
Most WordPress sites are filled with small vectors for attacks that might not seem harmful but can share much more information than you want.
If you have a visible WordPress version on your front end, it indicates to the hackers exactly what your website's vulnerabilities are; especially if you are not using the latest version of WordPress, you must hide this information.
You will see file editor under Appearance> Theme Editor> and Plugins> Plugin Editor in the backend of your website.
Tips to secure your website
If your website is infected with malware, a good security plugin should be enough to remove it. We have some quick tips which you can use in order to secure your website and prevent your website from getting infected. Most of these tips could be applied in minutes. Hence they are easy to set up even if you are unfamiliar with web security and WordPress.
Secure hosting as a top priority
When hackers try to make a way to your website, they mostly turn to the server to look for advantages. Unfortunately, there are many cheap hosting available in the market which generally don't invest much into security.
Shared ghosting can be most prone to infections. If one website on the server is infected with malware, it will most likely spread to other websites sharing the server. Hence, if you did everything right, a shared server might make your website prone to infections by malware.
Hence, one should be very conscious that choosing a host as an unsecured host is one of the biggest reasons websites get infected by malware and other web-related issues.
Backup does not protect your website from hackers trying to get in; backing up is like insurance; if anything happens to your website, you will at least have your data and won't require starting everything from scratch.
There are plugins available that can help in backing up the data. However, choosing a service that backs up daily is recommended to eliminate the risk of data loss.
Two-step authentication adds an extra layer of security to your website. Apart from username and password, anyone trying to log in will also require another piece of information: a one-of-type additional code.
It could be a numerical code sent to your phone, or it may require email verification or a piece of information you only know.
To implement a two-step verification, you must apply a plugin to your WordPress, as there is no built-in function in WordPress to activate this functionality.
Use a Web Application Firewall
A WAF or Web Application Firewall uses rigid rules to filter the inflowing traffic, blocklisting IPs that are suspected to be associated with hacking DDoS attacks. As a result, it prevents several attacks even before they can reach the server.
While you can apply WAFs at your server's level, it is simpler to buy a cloud-based service available on many cloud-based service providers.
Website security is not a simple task; if you haven't already, it's time to make it your priority now. Getting hacked is not joyful for anyone; it's not just about joy– a website with weak security may end up with damaged SEO, sensitive data loss, loss of user trust, and malware that keeps on returning.
You don't require an expert developer to make your website secure. Instead, it is just a matter of a few extra steps. The first step towards a secure website is to conduct a proper website security check. Even something as simple as setting up a strong password or switching to a host who provides better security could make a major difference.
Hence, start by taking some small steps, and you won't even realize what security you have managed to build just by those small steps.