website security checklist: 11 Steps to Protect Business Website
Scan Website To Detect Security Vulnerabilities
Around the world, an estimated 30,000 websites fall victim to hacking every single day. So, scanning a website for security weaknesses becomes an essential element in maintaining a robust security posture. It’s an integral part of any comprehensive website security checklist. This process involves automated and sometimes manual testing of a website to identify potential security vulnerabilities. Website scanners are indispensable tools in modern cybersecurity.
They operate by launching safe exploits, detecting vulnerabilities that hackers could potentially use to infiltrate the site.
From a security standpoint, these website security scanners are like a burglar attempting to pick a lock – except their purpose is to strengthen the lock rather than break it. a website scanner is an integral part of a comprehensive website security strategy. It aids in detecting various types of weaknesses and vulnerabilities, providing an invaluable tool to help maintain robust security protocols. Regular scanning and timely remediation of discovered weaknesses can greatly reduce the risk of website exploitation and data breaches, thus maintaining the site’s integrity and the trust of its users.
There are several types of weaknesses that website scanners can uncover:
SQL Injection Scanning
This is a code injection technique that attackers use to exploit a security vulnerability occurring in a website’s database layer. For example, a scanner can help detect if user inputs are not appropriately sanitized, thus allowing hackers to insert malicious SQL statements.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Scanning
This involves the injection of malicious scripts into otherwise benign websites. These scripts are then executed by the victim’s browser. Scanners can identify if a site is vulnerable to XSS attacks by testing various inputs to see if they’re echoed back without proper encoding or validation.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) Scanning
In this type of attack, an end user is tricked into performing actions on a website without their knowledge. Scanners can discover if a site fails to incorporate anti-CSRF tokens or similar protective mechanisms.
Website Security misconfigurations Scanning
These might include unnecessary open ports, outdated software versions, default credentials, or improperly set up permissions. Scanners can help identify such misconfigurations that expose the website to potential attacks.
Sensitive data exposure Scanning
This involves sensitive data like credit card information, Social Security numbers, or passwords not being properly encrypted. Scanners can help pinpoint where such data is being transmitted in an unsafe manner.
Server vulnerabilities Scanning
These include outdated server software or unpatched security vulnerabilities. For instance, a scanner can identify if a website’s server is running a version of Apache that is known to have security issues.
The list goes on, encompassing other vulnerabilities such as Directory Traversal, Insecure Direct Object References (IDOR), and many others. Regularly scanning a website for these vulnerabilities allows them to be identified and remediated before they’re exploited by attackers.
However, it’s essential to note that while website scanners are a vital tool, they’re not a silver bullet. They should be a part of a layered security approach that includes secure coding practices, manual code reviews, intrusion detection systems, and a well-trained team that’s aware of the current cybersecurity landscape.
Obtain website’s SSL certificate for encrypted connection
SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a cryptographic protocol designed to secure communication over a computer network. It uses asymmetric cryptography for key exchange, symmetric encryption for privacy, and message authentication codes for message integrity.
The process of establishing a secure SSL connection involves an operation called an “SSL Handshake,” which is a series of communications between the client and the server.
Here is how SSL works in a typical website security scenario:
- Client Hello: The client sends a Client Hello message, which contains the SSL version it supports, a client-generated random number (Client Random), a list of supported cipher suites (in preferential order), and a list of supported compression methods.
- Server Hello: The server responds with a Server Hello message, selecting the SSL version for communication (chosen from the list provided by the client), a server-generated random number (Server Random), the cipher suite, and the compression method from the options provided by the client. The server also sends its certificate and its public key.
- Authentication and Pre-Master Secret: The client verifies the server’s SSL certificate against a list of trusted Certificate Authorities (CAs) and checks whether the certificate has expired or been revoked. If the server is authenticated, the client creates a pre-master secret using the agreed-upon SSL version and another client-generated random number. The pre-master secret is encrypted using the server’s public key (extracted from the server’s certificate) and sent to the server.
- Decryption and Master Secret Creation: The server decrypts the pre-master secret using its private key. Both client and server independently compute a master secret from the pre-master secret and the Client Random and Server Random numbers. The master secret is used to generate session keys for symmetric encryption and MAC secrets.
- Client Finished and Server Finished: The client sends a Finished message, which is encrypted with the session key, to the server. The server will do the same, sending an encrypted Finished message to the client. These messages are the first ones protected by the newly negotiated algorithms, keys, and secrets.
- Secure Communication: Once the handshake is completed, the client and server can exchange messages that are symmetrically encrypted with the shared session key.
By this process, SSL protects sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card numbers, and personal data from being intercepted by attackers. A website with SSL deployed is indicated by “https://” in the URL, and a padlock symbol is usually displayed in most browsers, assuring visitors that their data is secure.
Run Online Website Penetration Testing to test website security posture
Online website penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking, is an excellent way to evaluate a website’s security posture. It involves simulating cyber-attacks on a website to uncover potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses that a malicious attacker could exploit.
Penetration testing can reveal a variety of issues, such as software vulnerabilities, configuration errors, insecure network architecture, and flaws in systems and protocols. It also provides a clear, real-world assessment of what an actual attacker could do, rather than just a theoretical assessment.
- Identify and Fix Security Flaws: Penetration testing identifies security vulnerabilities in your website that could be exploited by cyber attackers. For example, suppose a penetration test reveals your website is susceptible to SQL Injection. This knowledge would allow you to take necessary action, such as adding input validation or parameterized queries, to fix this flaw and bolster your website’s security.
- Holistic View of Misconfigured Integrations: Penetration testing gives a comprehensive view of how different integrations on your site might be misconfigured, thereby leading to security loopholes. For instance, a third-party payment integration might be improperly configured, leading to data leakage. A penetration test would reveal such an issue, allowing for appropriate remediation.
- Emulates Real-life Attack Scenarios: Penetration testing simulates real-world cyber-attacks, helping identify how and where your site could be breached. For example, penetration testers might employ a phishing attack to see if they can trick staff into divulging login credentials. Understanding these scenarios allows you to proactively develop strategies to mitigate such risks.
- Achieving Compliance Requirements: Penetration testing can help demonstrate compliance with various regulations, including GDPR, ISO 27001, PCI-DSS, and HIPAA. These regulations require you to ensure your data is secure. A successful penetration test can serve as evidence of your security measures. For instance, PCI-DSS compliance requires quarterly penetration testing to ensure credit card data is secure.
- Uncovering Potential Vulnerabilities: Through penetration testing, you can uncover potential vulnerabilities, such as weak passwords, outdated software, or insecure protocols. For instance, a penetration test might discover that your site is running an outdated version of WordPress with known vulnerabilities, prompting you to update your software.
- Avoiding Legal Consequences and Penalties: Data breaches can lead to severe penalties under data protection regulations. By identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities before they are exploited, penetration testing can save your organization from costly fines. For example, under GDPR, a data breach can lead to fines of up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 Million, whichever is higher.
- Preparing Your Security Team: Penetration testing provides your security team with valuable experience in handling an attack, allowing them to improve incident response strategies. For instance, if a penetration test successfully exploits a zero-day vulnerability, your team can learn from this experience, enhancing their ability to respond to similar situations in the future.
Question 1: Why is penetration testing important for a healthcare online store?
Answer: A healthcare online store typically handles a significant amount of sensitive data, including personal health information, insurance details, and payment information. An attacker gaining access to this data could have severe repercussions, from financial theft to identity fraud. Penetration testing can identify potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited to gain unauthorized access to this data, allowing these issues to be addressed proactively.
For example, if a penetration test reveals that a healthcare store’s website is vulnerable to Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), the website can fix this vulnerability before an attacker can exploit it to steal customers’ session cookies and gain unauthorized access to their accounts.
Question 2: How does penetration testing benefit the reputation of a healthcare online store?
Answer: A successful cyberattack can lead to a significant loss of trust and damage the reputation of a healthcare online store, impacting its relationships with customers and partners. By proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, penetration testing can help prevent security breaches that could harm the store’s reputation.
For instance, if a penetration test uncovers that sensitive customer data is being transmitted unencrypted, the store can take corrective action, such as implementing HTTPS, to protect data in transit, thus preserving customer trust and confidence.
Question 3: How can penetration testing help a healthcare online store comply with regulatory requirements?
Answer: Healthcare organizations are often subject to stringent regulatory requirements, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the U.S., which requires safeguards to protect patient information. Penetration testing can help demonstrate compliance with these requirements by providing evidence that the store has taken proactive steps to identify and mitigate security risks.
For instance, if a healthcare store undergoes a regular penetration test to check for vulnerabilities in its online payment system, it could demonstrate its commitment to protecting sensitive patient data and financial information, helping to meet HIPAA’s technical safeguard requirements.
Question 4: How can penetration testing prepare a healthcare online store for potential cyber attacks?
Answer: Cyber attackers are continually evolving their tactics, and healthcare organizations, due to the sensitive nature of their data, are prime targets. Regular penetration testing allows a healthcare online store to stay ahead of these threats, by simulating potential attack vectors and evaluating the effectiveness of their security controls.
For example, if a penetration test exposes an unpatched vulnerability in the store’s web server software, the store can patch this vulnerability before an attacker exploits it, potentially preventing a severe data breach.
Use Secure Passwords to Secure Your Website
Strong passwords are one of the first lines of defense in securing your personal data and digital assets. In an increasingly digital world where cyber threats are continually evolving, the importance of having robust passwords cannot be overstated.
One of the most devastating types of cyber threats we face today is ransomware attacks. In these attacks, cybercriminals infect a victim’s computer with malicious software that encrypts their files, making them inaccessible. The attackers then demand a ransom, often in cryptocurrency, for the decryption key to unlock the files. In these scenarios, the encryption algorithms used by the attackers generate strong, practically unbreakable passwords, demonstrating the power and security provided by strong credentials.
So, how do strong passwords help you? Consider the following scenarios:
- Protection Against Brute Force Attacks: These attacks involve an attacker systematically attempting all possible password combinations until the correct one is found. A strong password, which includes a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, increases the possible combinations exponentially, making it incredibly time-consuming and computationally demanding for an attacker to crack.For example, a password with eight characters using only lowercase letters has over 200 billion possible combinations. If you add uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters, the number of possible combinations skyrockets to over 6 quadrillion.
- Mitigation of Dictionary Attacks: In dictionary attacks, attackers use precompiled lists of common or previously leaked passwords. A strong, unique password that isn’t a common phrase, a simple pattern, or personal information (like your name or date of birth) is unlikely to be on these lists.For instance, a password like “123456” or “password” would be easily guessed in a dictionary attack, while a strong, unique password like “rG9#4^7zKx” would resist such an attack.
- Protection Against Credential Stuffing: In this type of attack, cybercriminals use large databases of usernames and passwords (often obtained from data breaches) and attempt to log in to various online services. If you use strong, unique passwords for each of your online accounts, even if one account is compromised, your other accounts remain secure.For example, if your email account password is unique and different from your online banking password, a breach of your email wouldn’t automatically put your financial assets at risk.
- Preventing Unauthorized Access in Case of Ransomware Attacks: Some ransomware strains not only encrypt your files but also attempt to spread across your network by exploiting weak credentials on other systems. Strong, unique passwords on all of your accounts and systems can help prevent the lateral movement of such threats.Suppose an employee’s workstation gets infected with ransomware. If that workstation has stored passwords for network shares, and these passwords are strong and unique, the ransomware’s ability to spread to these shares could be hindered.
Perform Backup Website Regularly
Backups are a critical aspect of website security as they can save your website data in the event of a catastrophe, be it a cyberattack, accidental file deletion, hardware failure, or even a natural disaster. Having a robust and recent backup allows you to restore your website to its previous state, minimizing downtime and ensuring business continuity.
Let’s delve into some specific scenarios where backups prove their worth:
Recovery from Cyberattacks
In case of a severe cyberattack, such as ransomware where your website’s data is encrypted and held for ransom, having a backup can be a lifesaver. Instead of paying the ransom to possibly untrustworthy criminals, you can restore your website using your backup, effectively neutralizing the threat. For example, the city of Atlanta, USA, experienced a severe ransomware attack in 2018 and was able to restore many of its services thanks to timely backups.
Restoring Accidentally Deleted Data
Human errors, like accidental file deletion or overwriting, can lead to loss of vital data. With a backup, you can retrieve the deleted or overwritten files, thereby mitigating the impact of human errors. For instance, imagine a scenario where an employee mistakenly deletes a crucial section of your online store’s product database. With a backup, you could restore this data without significant downtime or loss of business.
Resolving Technical Glitches
Sometimes, updates to your website’s system or plugins can cause compatibility issues, leading to malfunctions or even a complete site crash. In such situations, having a backup allows you to revert to a previous, stable version of your website while you figure out how to resolve the compatibility issues. Suppose you update your website’s content management system, and it causes your site to break. If you have a backup from before the update, you can restore your website to its prior state, ensuring continued availability of your services.
Recovering from Hardware Failures
Hard drives and servers are not infallible, and they can fail unexpectedly, leading to data loss. Regular backups, preferably stored off-site or in the cloud, ensure that you can recover your website data even in the event of a hardware or server failure.
Preserving SEO Rankings
If your website goes down for a significant period due to any of the above reasons and you can’t restore it promptly, it could negatively affect your SEO rankings. Search engines prefer reliable, always-available websites. Restoring from a backup can get your site up and running quickly, preserving your hard-earned SEO status.