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Web Server Security: Proactive Measures to Shield Your Online Business

Imagine waking up to the news that your website has been hacked overnight, a chilling reminder of why proactive web server security isn’t just important, it’s absolutely critical for your online business!

Do you own a website or run a WordPress blog? If yes, then it is your responsibility to ensure that your web server is maintained at the highest possible level of security.

Website server security threats pose a constant and growing concern. Hackers, cybercriminals, and other malicious actors are constantly developing new methods to breach website security and steal sensitive data, infect systems with malware, or bring down your website entirely.

For website and blog owners, it’s essential to understand the most common website server security threats and how to fix them. In this blog post, we’ll delve deep into the world of website server security, discussing the most significant threats, their potential impacts, and the best practices for mitigating web server security threats.

Let’s dive into the topic of web server security and how to keep your website safe from hackers!

Web Server Security: Table of Contents

What are the Top Web Server Security Threats?

Web server security threats constantly emerge and evolve, but certain threats consistently rank at the top of web security threat lists. These include:

Web Server Security: Unpatched Software

keep your software up to date
keep your software up to date

As security vulnerabilities are discovered, it’s important to keep the software that runs your website or blog constantly updated. Which software on your web server requires updating?

Programming Language

The software on your web server uses a specific programming language. For instance, most blogging platforms use PHP. It’s important to keep the programming language up to date to fix security issues.

Newer versions of languages can also speed up your website which helps you rank higher on search engines.

Blogging Software

The software that runs your blog. For most websites this will be WordPress, other CMS’s such as Joomla or Drupal are available.

Hosting providers generally offer quick install scripts for different types of software. For instance, this is SiteGround’s app installer options:

SiteGround app installer drop down list
SiteGround app installer drop down list

WordPress will notify you when updates are available. You should update to the latest version as soon as possible because hackers will promptly exploit any vulnerabilities they discover.

Use WordPress if you are not sure what blogging platform to use. It is by far the most popular blogging platform on the internet.

Themes

A theme is a collection of software, CSS, Javascript, images and font files that define the visual layout of your website. Themes can contain security vulnerabilities and need to be updated quickly as well.

Your theme affects not only the security of your website but also the speed and usability. You should choose carefully as it can have a big impact on your SEO and ranking potential.

For a fast and lightweight WordPress theme (the same theme I use on this website), check out my review here:

GeneratePress review

Plugins or Modules

Depending on your blogging platform new features can be added by installing plugins. WordPress has over 60,000 plugins available for every conceivable feature.

You need to be careful choosing a plugin as some are poorly maintained or even malicious. Check the ratings and comments on the plugin page to ensure you are using a plugin from a high quality source.

To keep your WordPress plugins updated, you can turn on the automatic updates feature, which is useful because WordPress will notify you of updates for installed plugins. This way, you can ensure that your plugins are updated quickly to the latest version.

Don’t use too many plugins. They slow down your website and increase the attack surface for hackers.

Failure to keep your software current could put you at risk of…

Web Server Security: Ransomware

ransomware

Ransomware is a form of malware that results in an attacker holding their victim’s data or computer hostage. The attacker threatens to block access to, corrupt, or publish the data unless their victim pays a ransom fee.

66%

percentage of organizations affected by ransomware in 2021

Source: Ransomware statistics in 2021 and 2022

Ransomware attackers initiate attacks by sending emails with malicious attachments or links that lead users’ computers to download malware. The malware infects the device and blocks user access. Ransomware spreads through drive-by downloading, where users visit an infected website that downloads malware onto their device without their knowledge.

Keep daily backups of your website. You can always restore a hacked site from your most recent backup.

Web Server Security: SQL Injection

database

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a computing language used to search and query databases. WordPress websites (and other blogging platforms) use databases and are vulnerable to SQL injection attacks.

Software (themes, plugins or even WordPress itself) can allow attackers to insert SQL commands that expose sensitive information including usernames and passwords if not written correctly.

Web Server Security: Cross-site Scripting

Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a form of web security issue that enables attackers to execute malicious scripts on trusted websites. In an XSS attack, web applications or pages are used to submit malicious code and compromise user interactions. The attacker can then seize a user’s identity to carry out malicious activity, gain authorized access to corporate information, or steal their data.

The script used in XSS attacks prevents users’ browsers from identifying malicious activity. The attacker is therefore free to browse the user’s cookies, sensitive data, and session tokens stored in their browser.

Web Server Security: How to Secure Your Web Server

Web Server Security: Protect your website with a digital padlock

Choose a high quality hosting provider to ensure your web server is properly locked down against major threats. Choose a hosting provider with 24/7 customer support. If your site should go down for any reason you want to be able to resolve it quickly.

Hosting Provider

This is likely the most crucial factor affecting your website’s security. Be sure to do your research and confirm that your web host prioritizes security. Avoid selecting the cheapest option since hiring professional security experts is not cheap.

Recommended hosting providers

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SiteGround Host: The Ultimate Solution for Reliable Web Hosting

Discover why SiteGround host stands out as the top choice for superior hosting, offering unmatched reliability and performance.

I use SiteGround for this site and I have never experienced a hack. Although choosing a good hosting provider is necessary, it is not enough. Ensure you follow best practices to find and fix website security threats.

Automatic Patching of Server Software

Make sure your hosting provider makes it easy to keep your server software up-to-date, especially if you use WordPress or other blogging software.

Keep PHP, the programming language used by WordPress and other blogging software, up-to-date.

SiteGround - automatic updating of WordPress and plugins
SiteGround – automatic updating of WordPress and plugins


Restrict Traffic By Country

You should consider restricting the countries that can access your web server. If you do business only in certain regions, it may be wise to block countries that have a high incidence of hacking groups like Russia and China.

Check with your hosting provider to see if they offer this feature. For instance, SiteGround provides tools to restrict countries, but other providers may not have this feature.

From the Site Tools section for your website select Security then Blocked Traffic. You will see the Blocked Traffic page below:

SiteGround - block country
SiteGround Blocked Traffic – block traffic by country

Select the BLOCK COUNTRY tab and type in a country from the Country drop down box. Then click the BLOCK button.

You can see all countries that are blocked next to the domain and the actions column let’s you unblock a country.

In addition to blocking an entire country you can block an individual IP address or range of IP addresses.

Web Server Security Best Practices

Your website will inevitably be subject to attack by hackers, spammers and bad actors. Let’s review some of the best practices for keeping your blog or website safe.

Daily Automated Backups

SiteGround - daily automatic backups
SiteGround – daily automatic backups

Having recent backups that can be quickly restored is crucial to render many threats, such as ransomware, useless. You shouldn’t try to do this manually, as it can be tedious and unreliable, so you need automatic backups for peace of mind.

When choosing a hosting service, make sure they provide fully automatic daily backups of your entire website. This will give you the reassurance that your website can be restored in the event of an attack.

Enable Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) on Your Website

This means in addition to your password to log in to your blog or website you will require another authentication method. Typically these other methods are one of the following:

  • SMS
  • Email
  • Google authenticator
  • Security key

Various security plugins can provide TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION (2FA) solutions. Setting up 2FA is straightforward for WordPress. Here is how do this using the SiteGround Security plugin:

SiteGround Security Plugin - enable two-factor authentication (2FA)
SiteGround Security Plugin – Enabled two-factor authentication

This plugin is completely free and works with any hosting service.

Get SiteGround Security Plugin

Once enabled you can turn on two-factor authentication and connect it to Google Authenticator. Just follow the instructions to set up 2FA.

You should turn on the other site protections from this plugin as well to harden your web server to hacking attempts.

Web Server Security: Final Thoughts

Securing your web server from hackers and ransomware gangs should be a top priority. The risks increase each year and you don’t want to wake up one day to find your website hacked.

Here is a reminder of the practical steps you can take to harden your web server to attackers:

  • Choose a high quality hosting provider that takes security seriously
  • Ensure you have daily, fully automatic backups of your website
  • Keep all software up to date, including programming languages, blogging software, themes, and plugins
  • Block traffic from countries known for having hacking groups if you don’t do business there
  • Enable two-factor authentication for logging in to your web server, which is available through various /security plugins
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