Robust website protection is the shield that stands between your business and relentless cyber attacks. Prioritizing website protection enables businesses to fortify defenses to safeguard their online presence and preserve the trust of their customers in the face of ever-evolving cybersecurity threats.
Effective website protection is never a one-fits-all solution. Rather, it’s a continuous process that requires adopting a proactive approach to risk management to stay one step ahead in the battle against malicious actors and devastating bot-driven attacks.
In this guide, we are exploring today’s complex threat landscape to provide you with five ways to keep your website and its visitors safe. With a defense-in-depth strategy in mind, we will delve into key aspects of website protection and explain how you can implement them on your WordPress website.
Today’s Threat Landscape
With the rapid evolution of modern technology, cyber security continues to be a top priority for everyone, from tech giants to website owners and ordinary internet users. In an effort to make the Internet a safer place, new security specifications and major updates to the web technology are regularly rolled out.
The evolution of technology, however, prompts the evolution of cyber security threats. The rise of bot-driven cyber attacks and application vulnerabilities inevitably follows the progress in the tech industry.
Today’s threat landscape is incredibly complex, with a wide variety of factors influencing the state of cyber security on the global web. And despite some erroneous beliefs website owners often possess, cybercrime does not only affect large corporations and governments. Nobody can feel one hundred percent safe on the Internet, not even small, seemingly unimportant websites.
Hackers simply do not choose what websites to target, and there won’t be a better time to fortify your website protection than now. Robust website security is not only critical for safeguarding your business assets online but also for fostering a strong and trustworthy relationship with your customers. Providing them with a safe browsing experience undoubtedly makes a top priority for all business owners.
Why Do Websites Get Hacked?
Why would a hacker attack my website? Is there any way to prevent hackers from discovering my business online? These are one of the two most common questions business owners have when it comes to cyber security. Both are mired in controversy and a lot of misconception.
Thousands of small businesses and non-commercial blogs get hacked daily, and this number is expected to grow even further. The reason for this is simple: automation. The global computer network continues to evolve, and automation is the driving force behind it.
Modern cyber attacks are highly distributed. Taking advantage of the newest advances in technology powering the web, cybercriminals design complex computer networks to harvest them for their malicious activities. Networks of thousands of compromised computers, known as botnets, are then used to launch large-scale attacks spanning hundreds of thousands of websites and devices connected to the Internet.
Even with the best defenses deployed, websites can still fall victim to cyber-attacks. All it takes for a website to get hacked is a single unpatched vulnerability capable of exposing critical data to unauthorized users.
What is Website Protection and Why is It Critical?
Website protection is a layer of defense between your website and malicious actors. It is a complex of security measures implemented on a website in order to reduce the attack surface and minimize the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information and malicious exploitation. Acting as a shield, website protection enables you to defend against ever-evolving security threats and keep intruders away.
Regardless of the malicious actor’s intent, the consequences of a hack or a cyber attack targeting your website can be devastating and long-lasting. Reputational damage and financial losses inevitably follow as website owners discover the breach and try to recover from it. Cleaning a hacked website often entails a lot of time and effort, which could have been avoided if proper security measures had been deployed.
As a set of preventative, detective, and corrective controls, website protection encompasses a wide range of security measures that help safeguard critical areas of your website and effectively respond to and mitigate ongoing threats.
Website Protection Objectives
Robust website protection is guided by a set of well-defined cybersecurity objectives that act as central principles in formulating a good security strategy. These objectives are important benchmarks for measuring the effectiveness of the chosen security controls while preserving seamless website functionality. The three key website protection objectives include confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
As a vital cyber security objective, confidentiality refers to the protection of sensitive information from unauthorized access. In the context of website protection, it dictates that critical user data such as login credentials and personal information, including financial details, remain confidential. This means that it must be stored and transmitted securely and can only be accessed by authorized users.
Confidentiality is achieved through various security measures such as encryption of data, strong authentication and access control mechanisms, and secure handling of sensitive information. By maintaining data confidentiality, websites can prevent unauthorized exposure of sensitive data and cultivate a foundation of trust with their users.
Integrity focuses on maintaining the accuracy and trustworthiness of data exchanged between websites and their users. It involves protecting web pages and other information accessible by website users from unauthorized modification and alteration. Ensuring data integrity prevents hackers from tampering with website content or any user-submitted information.
Data integrity is maintained through security measures such as encryption, user input validation, and secure code practices, as well as invoking strict browser security through HTTP response headers. As an additional corrective control, building a strong backup strategy ensures that data integrity can be swiftly restored in the event of a compromise or corruption.
Availability refers to ensuring uninterrupted accessibility of a website and its resources. This means that a website needs to remain fully operational and accessible to all intended users whenever requested. This website protection objective seeks to mitigate denial of service (Dos) attacks, server outages, and other disruptions that compromise website availability.
Website security measures such as scalable infrastructure, traffic management such as web application firewall, and uptime monitoring are often implemented to ensure the high availability of services and minimize downtime.
Exploring 5 Common Security Threats
Robust website protection plays a pivotal role in upholding the fundamental cybersecurity objectives of preserving confidentiality, integrity, and availability. By adhering to website protection objectives, websites can create an effective security strategy to safeguard against a range of common security threats. The most common security threats targeting modern websites include malware infections, phishing and brute force attacks, code injections, and denial of service.
Malware, which stands for malicious software, refers to a broad group of software specifically designed to inflict damage on websites, computer systems, and whole networks. It is created by hackers in order to exploit vulnerabilities, steal sensitive information, provide unauthorized access, or use the computing resources of the victim’s system to launch network attacks.
Malware can take various forms, from viruses, trojans, and ransomware to bots and command-and-control (C&C) infrastructures that allow cybercriminals to run entire networks of compromised systems. Each type of malicious software exhibits distinct traits, utilizes different distribution methods, and is used to accomplish different goals. However, all malware shares one common objective: compromising the integrity and security of the targeted system.
The most common types of malware infecting websites are backdoor shells, botnet malware, and different types of injections. These groups of malicious software enable attackers to gain privileged access to the website by bypassing normal authentication methods, controlling the website remotely and exfiltrating stolen data, and facilitating malware distribution.
Phishing is a broad term used to describe a vast array of social engineering techniques focused on the fraudulent acquisition of sensitive information such as user credentials and credit card details. These types of attacks typically involve creating a malicious web page impersonating a legitimate organization, such as a bank, online service provider, or social media platform, in order to gain the trust of the targeted user. The fraudulent web pages created by the attacker are then distributed via email in the form of spam messages.
In contrast to malware that is used to cause harm to websites and target the website owner as the victim, phishing attacks target website visitors. Most of the time, the infected website used to carry out phishing attacks serves merely as a conduit and is completely unrelated to the legitimate entity being impersonated by the malicious web page.
Moreover, the targeted users are rarely even familiar with the website that hosts the phishing attack. The ease of execution and high success rates make phishing attacks one of the most prevalent security threats to website protection.
Brute Force Attacks
Brute force attacks and phishing attacks are closely related, as they share a common purpose of obtaining user credentials from unsuspecting individuals. What sets the attacks apart is the method of execution. They differentiate themselves from social engineering techniques used by phishing attacks by relying on automation to generate thousands of unique username-password combinations.
Brute force attacks employ automated tools to systematically generate different combinations of user credentials until a successful match is found to gain unauthorized access to a system or account. Brute force attacks rely on the assumption that users create weak, easily guessable passwords, which makes password spraying very effective. As a type of brute force attack, password spraying focuses on attempting a small number of commonly used passwords against a large number of user accounts.
Brute force attacks often leverage a highly distributed approach by employing a network of compromised websites and computers, known as a botnet, to utilize a collective pool of resources to improve the efficiency of the attack. Unless website protection controls such as multi-factor authentication are used, nothing prevents attackers from compromising user accounts through brute force attacks.
Code injections and malware are largely intertwined as attackers often use injection techniques to insert malicious code into a website. They refer to a large group of application-level attacks that exploit insufficient user input validation and other types of vulnerabilities to bypass website protection and make the website execute malicious code or even redirect to fraudulent resources. The purpose of code injections is typically to manipulate the functionality of the victim’s website to gain unauthorized access or steal sensitive data.
As a whole group of injection-style cyber attacks, code injections include cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injections, and file inclusion attacks, among many others. The malicious code inserted into a website through a code injection is often executed by the website visitor’s browser without their knowledge, exploiting their trust in the website. This makes code injections an ideal mechanism for malware distribution and fraudulent acquisition of sensitive user data.
Denial of Service
Denial of service is a security threat aimed at compromising the website protection objective of availability. Flooding the targeted website with a deluge of malicious requests, denial of service (Dos) attacks seek to render it unavailable to the intended users by depleting the server’s bandwidth and processing power.
The impact of a denial of service can be severe, resulting in significant financial losses through disruptions in critical business operations. In some cases, DoS attacks can be used to divert attention from other malicious activities, leading to even more serious consequences.
Denial of service has considerably evolved over time, giving rise to more sophisticated variations of attacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS). DDoS attacks are an amplified version of denial of service attacks leveraging a network of compromised systems to launch a coordinated assault on the victim’s website or server, making them even more challenging to mitigate.
5 Ways to Keep Your Website Safe
A reliable website protection strategy allows you to prevent malicious exploitation by reducing the attack surface and effectively mitigating all security before significant damage can be inflicted. This requires a multifaceted approach to website security with regard to each aspect of website functionality. Outlined below are the top five ways to safeguard your website in the ever-evolving landscape of modern security threats.
Perform Regular Software Updates
Performing timely software updates, including the WordPress core, plugins, and active theme, is key to ensuring your website is protected against common security threats. Whenever a security vulnerability is identified in software, developers strive to swiftly release an updated version that includes a patch, ensuring protection against potential exploits. Not installing updates in a timely manner exposes your website to significant security risks, making it vulnerable to malicious exploitation.
Regular updates help keep your website secure and reduce the attack surface – the areas of it that could be targeted by hackers. This makes it one of the most important preventative measures in maintaining a secure website.
One of the challenges website owners face is the need to monitor the availability of updates, which becomes even more difficult when dealing with a large number of installed plugins and extensions. Automatic software updates offer a viable solution to this challenge by alleviating the burden of manually tracking and installing updates for each piece of software.
iThemes Security Pro allows you to streamline the process of keeping your website up-to-date and protected against common security threats. The Version Management feature keeps track of all WordPress core, plugin, and theme updates for you, ensuring that new versions of the software are installed on your website as soon as they become available to WordPress users. If you manage multiple WordPress websites, iThemes Sync Pro helps you install all updates from a single dashboard and leverage advanced uptime monitoring from a single dashboard.
Create a Strong Backup Strategy
Website backups act as an important corrective measure that helps recover from a malware infection and restore your website to full functionality in case of a compromise. A strong backup strategy provides a critical layer of protection against data loss and unauthorized modification, making it one of the key components of a comprehensive approach to website security.
A combination of full website backups stored locally and at a remote location ensures the chances of successful recovery, upholding the principle of data redundancy. Having off-server backups is especially important in the event of a ransomware attack or any other incident that may render your website fully inaccessible or affect your primary storage location.
As an industry-leading solution for data protection and recovery, BackupBuddy helps you build a solid backup strategy for your WordPress website. With BackupBuddy, you can be sure that multiple copies of your website are securely stored at multiple remote locations of your choosing. Flexible backup schedules, one-click resources, and fully customizable backup options make BackupBuddy the perfect solution for ensuring your critical data is easily recoverable in any scenario.
Use Strong Authentication and Follow the Principle of Least Privilege
Strong authentication and access control mechanisms, such as file permissions, are critical to website protection, playing a pivotal role in safeguarding sensitive information and protecting user accounts from unauthorized access. All users granted access to your website should have only the level of privilege required to perform their tasks.
Passwords are broken. Even using the strongest passwords, you are only one step away from being impersonated by a malicious actor that obtained your user credentials. Modern authentication standards such as two-factor authentication and passwordless, biometric authentication based on passkeys. As passwords are gradually becoming a thing of the past, there won’t be a better time to go passwordless on your WordPress website.
iThemes Security Pro brings passwordless authentication to WordPress. Combined with advanced brute force protection, it puts an end to the devastating impact that account compromises have on WordPress websites. File permission checks add an additional layer of protection to your website data.
Take Advantage of Malware and Vulnerability Scanning
According to multiple studies, it can take over six months for organizations to discover a security breach and over two months to fully contain it. Most of the time, website compromises are hard to detect as hackers do their best to conceal their presence and not raise any suspicions until their primary goals are achieved. If a website is infected with malware, Google will eventually alert its visitors with a “Deceptive Site Ahead” warning, but relying on it to detect a compromise is not what you should be doing.
Regular malware and vulnerability scanning are essential for rapid breach detection and timely vulnerability patching. While vulnerability scans will detect any weaknesses in your website protection and take action on your behalf to address them, powerful antivirus software will identify any traces of malware on your website. Paired with file integrity monitoring, this comprehensive approach ensures the continuous monitoring and detection of any unauthorized activity on your WordPress website.
Implement Defense in Depth
In today’s threat landscape, relying on a single layer of website protection is not sufficient to safeguard your online presence. A defense-in-depth approach to website security is what ensures continuous protection against a wide array of security threats, minimizing the risk of any disruptions to normal website operations.
Implementing defense in depth means having multiple security layers in place. This can include a web application firewall (WAF) as the primary first line of defense to filter out malicious traffic, HTTP security response headers such as Content Security Policy (CSP) to protect against cross-site scripting and request forgery as well as clickjacking and other attacks, and a variety of other security controls.
Supercharge Your Website’s Security with iThemes Security Pro
Building robust website protection is a continuous process that requires constant reevaluation of the existing security measures and implementation of new approaches. This is why protecting your WordPress website against ever-evolving security threats can be a challenging task. But it does not have to be.
With over 30 unique security features, iThemes Security Pro provides a comprehensive defense-in-depth approach to fortifying your WordPress website’s security. iThemes Security Pro will automatically patch all security weaknesses and take action on your behalf to mitigate attacks targeting your website in real-time, not leaving a single chance for hackers to exploit it.
Kiki has a bachelor’s degree in information systems management and more than two years of experience in Linux and WordPress. She currently works as a security specialist for Liquid Web and Nexcess. Before that, Kiki was part of the Liquid Web Managed Hosting support team where she helped hundreds of WordPress website owners and learned what technical issues they often encounter. Her passion for writing allows her to share her knowledge and experience to help people. Apart from tech, Kiki enjoys learning about space and listening to true crime podcasts.