Every day, innocent websites are compromised by malicious hackers. Google identifies almost 10,000 malware-infected websites each day, and half of those are genuine websites belonging to legitimate companies. These companies haven’t done anything wrong, but they find themselves blacklisted by Google, and that’s only the edge of the brutal iceberg.
Hackers inject vicious malware into these sites to infect visitors. They confuse and lure users to dodgy websites and they break in and steal important and often sensitive customer information.
It’s a real and constant problem, but there are easy and simple steps you can take to guard against these attacks and keep your site, your network, and your customers safe and sound.
1. Use strong passwords, keep them secure and change them frequently
We all know that we should choose complex passwords, but sometimes laziness takes over and we slack off. This is a crucial mistake. Obviously, you want to choose exceptionally strong passwords for your server and website admin area, because a vulnerable password here is a free ticket for hackers to cripple your site and do untold amounts of damage.
It can be inconvenient to remember frequently changing passwords, but in the end, it’s a simple solution that can save a lot of headaches in the future. It’s also imperative that you enforce good password practices for your users.
Compromised user accounts are a special hell of their own. Demanding that minimum password requirements are met for registration will force users to make smart choices. Insist on eight characters, at least an uppercase letter and a number or special character. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s worth it.
Make sure that any passwords are stored as encrypted values. Ideally, you’ll use a one way hashing algorithm like SHA. This method means that during authentication, only encrypted values are ever compared. In a worst-case scenario, if someone hacks in and steals passwords, this will limit the damage.
They can’t decrypt them, and they will be reduced to attempting dictionary or brute force attacks, trying every single combination until a match comes up. It’s time consuming and computationally expensive and just not worth the effort for most people.
Your wireless network password should be seriously strong, and the network should be protected by Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) rather than WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). WEP encryption is brittle and hackable in minutes these days and should never be relied upon.
It’s also imperative to ensure that your PCs are well protected against viruses at all times to prevent password theft.
2. Be discreet with your error messages
Make sure your error messages aren’t giving away too much information. If your website requires a login, you should pay attention to how your error messages deliver the message that their login attempt has failed. A quick-and-simple, very generic message such as “incorrect login information” is your best bet.
It doesn’t tell the user if half the query is right (especially not which half!) When a hacker is attempting brute force attacks to gain access to usernames and passwords and the error message identifies one field as correct, that’s valuable information for him. He then knows that he’s halfway there and can concentrate all his attention and effort on the remaining field. Don’t make it easy for them!
3. Keep software up to date
Make sure that you’re consistently and quickly applying security updates to all of your software. From your personal PC’s virus protection, to your server operating system, and website software like content management systems, blogging, forums, and blogging platforms.
Hackers are quick to exploit any known holes and bugs, and you want to get there first. Sign up to the mailing lists and RSS feeds of all your software vendors. They’ll be the first to alert you to any security issues and their solutions. Find out and follow it up.
4. Limit Use of your Administrator Account
Keep your computer’s admin account for installing updates and software, or for reconfiguring the host when you have to. Don’t go online while logged into your admin account. Non-privileged user accounts are not just for guests and visitors: you should have one yourself for everyday use. If you browse the web and read your email with an admin account, you leave yourself open for an attacker to gain entry and access to your host.
5. Ask the experts
You don’t have to do it all on your own. There are good tools out there for monitoring your own website, but not everyone has the time or inclination to stay on top of security 24/7.
It’s possible to find monitoring services for very reasonable prices. These companies will check for malicious activity, give you an alert if your website shows up on a blacklist, scan your site for vulnerabilities, and be there for support and repairs if you do fall prey to a hack.
If you’re dealing with databases of sensitive customer information that are attached to your site, it’s probably worth it to get an expert in from the start, sweeping your code for bugs and building in extra lines of defense from the ground up. For small businesses, companies such as SiteLock and Stop the Hacker offer packages for under $100 a year.
This guest post was provided by Amanda Gareis on behalf of Drexel University Online. Drexel expanded into the online learning sector in 1996 and now offers its recognized curricula to a worldwide audience. Drexel Online offers degrees in Information Science, Information Technology, and Computing and Security Technology. The university also provides an Information Technology Career and Salary Guide resource for those looking to enter the industry.