A Brief Guide to Web Security
The internet is a dangerous place. Nothing you put out there is 100% safe. Despite encryptions, firewalls, and other security measures, attackers sometimes still find a way to compromise businesses and organizations through their attacks. And, of course, website vulnerability has never been this obvious, which is why proper web security is the need of the hour.
Nearly half the cyber security attacks that threaten the internet are on small businesses. This disparity exists because they are easy targets. And nearly 40% of all businesses have suffered from cyber-attack attempts. And most businesses did not prepare to thwart these attacks either. If you believe web security is not a big concern, think again.
Web security issues span from small neglects in security practices to proper, organized attacks that can leave a company distressed for days. We hear about company-wide data breaches where entire client bases get compromised, password leaks, hackers weaseling their way into servers to gain access to sensitive information, and so much more. To prevent these situations, website owners need to deploy proper web security methods and ensure complete protection of all their data online.
What Is Web Security?
When putting up any information on the internet, what people fear the most is a breach of privacy. They are afraid of their credit card information getting into the wrong hands, their pictures being leaked, or their systems getting hacked. To prevent all of this, we need web security.
In recent years, you must have noticed how people are much less apprehensive when uploading any of this information online. This improvement is also due to web security. Therefore, web security aims to protect websites and applications from being attacked. If a website is online, it is under the threat of cyberattack. And only when an appropriate web security solution is applied can the owners try to relax. But even then, it is essential to remember that web security is not something you can apply and then forget about afterward. The security of your website needs to be intertwined in the website's design and should be consistently updated.
It can protect websites against unauthorized access, modification, or destruction of web security is consistently monitored. One of the significant web security issues that website owners face is that even with all the appropriate measures, there is still a chance of an attack. Therefore, the developers need to ensure that they are constantly monitoring the system and catching any suspicious activity.
The good news regarding web security practices is that the default mechanisms available in web frameworks are robust, comprehensive, and aggressive. The monitoring required is relatively laid-back and manageable.
Another example of how developers can mitigate security risks to a website is by enabling HTTPS. Https enabling keeps in-transit data secure, protects from data breaches from phishing and other scams, and helps build trustworthy website visitors are not apprehensive of using.
Why Do We Need Web Security?
We need web security for many reasons but let us discuss the most straightforward reason: generating traffic.
Most websites are after user traffic. They want people to visit the website, explore it, use their services, and trust them with sensitive information like bank details and credit card information. Sharing this information is risky, and because the internet is always susceptible to attacks, they need special measures to ensure security.
Users will think twice before giving any sensitive information to a website that shows any warning of not being secure or shady. And if a user does end up as a victim of an attack, it will be long before they can trust that website again.
There is a reason why people trust giants like Amazon.com. They know there is hardly any security risk when they trust these websites with sensitive information, which is why they continue to do so. And the success of Amazon.com is in front of the whole world to see. Yes, they have a web security solution for every existing problem and keep updating. Yes, not many people will dare to hack those servers, but caring for web security and putting up ample measures have been one of the primary reasons for their success.
What Are The Vulnerable Areas of Web Security?
There are innumerable ways through which a website can get compromised. Proper web security is necessary to protect websites from threats just looming on the internet and planned attacks on the server as well. When you know what you are trying to protect your website, it will be much easier to plan your website's security around it. So here are some concerns that your website will likely fall victim to if adequate security measures are not set in place by the web developers:
There are hundreds of different viruses in the world, and some are more harmful than others. Viruses are malware. Specifically, they are the kind of malware that self-replicates and moves from one system to the other through websites, email, etc.
Sometimes, a virus downloads on the user's system if they visit the website or click a link in disguise. This virus sometimes does nothing to the website itself, which is why it is trickier to detect.
Most viruses are purely there for destruction purposes. They can erase important data, make a website glitch, and threaten the systems of whoever visits these websites.
It is essential to tighten the security protocols on your website and secure web browsing.
Malware, also known as malicious software, is still one of the most common threats on any website. Malware accounts for some of the most common web security threats in the world at present, and this has been the case for a long time. As time passes and technology evolves, malware attacks become more sophisticated.
Hackers can quickly gain access to your website and your server if there are any vulnerable scripts or other easy entry points that the attacker can add through malware. These entry points only arise when there are no adequate security measures.
While not every type of malware steals information and money from the website, it can still incur a high cost to the website. The website may go offline, get spammed, or begin glitching, preventing people from visiting it or sharing sensitive information.
A prevalent type of malware is known as Spyware. Attackers use Spyware to monitor the usage and movement of the website till sensitive information is added. Then, the attackers use the information against the website for personal gain.
Unsecure websites are often full of malware, and it is not advisable to trust them with any information that can put the user at significant risk.
Most people in tune with the online world now believe it is easy to ignore spam. And for the most part, it is. Many spam emails we receive are automatically routed to the junk mail section. Even if we come across messages claiming that we are suddenly billionaires, we know how to ignore them.
But like all other malicious activity on the internet, spam has also evolved. Sometimes, spam messages in the form of comments or live chats are undetectable. So, people can fall prey to their endgame and might incur losses.
But the problem runs deeper because spam messages can reduce the credibility and reliability of a website or page on social media. When going through comments and links on a website, if a reader comes across spam, they automatically lose faith in the content, no matter how credible and exciting it may seem.
On the other hand, even Google can penalize a website with too much spam if they detect any malicious activity. Of course, this will be akin to a death sentence for the SEO of that webpage, and it will take a lot for the website's owner to develop their rankings again.
If Google detects malicious activity on your website, it might blacklist it. And the end goal for many attackers is precisely this: to drop the SEO rankings of a website and have it blacklisted on Google.
Attackers do this in various ways. For example, they can add malicious backlinks to the page, harming the website visitors and causing them to report it to Google. The attackers also use phishing and malware links to diminish the user experience. Eventually, a website with far too many issues gets blocked by Google for needing to be more secure.
Of course, applying web security solutions is one of the best ways to prevent this outcome.
Security Attacks That Can Put Your Website at Risk
Many attackers now use sophisticated, and complex means to launch an attack on a particular website. Many of these attacks can bypass traditional web security and put entire organizations at risk. Some of the most common attacks among these include the following:
DDoS attacks are like spam. The attackers use imitation IP-addressed to direct traffic to a website. The intention is to overload the servers with spoof traffic, which often causes the website to crash, and more legitimate visitors cannot access the site.
DDoS attacks are particularly malicious because they give the website exactly what it wants: more traffic. But instead of that traffic being beneficial in any significant way to the organization's owners, it crashes their servers and leaves the site open for malware attacks. And, of course, if the website remains inaccessible, the owners lose credibility and possible revenue.
XSS (Cross-Site) Scripting
XSS or cross-site scripting attacks are a class of complex attacks carried out by seasoned attackers to gain access to the website as users. Because they infiltrate the website as users, they have access to all the user's information. They can even perform user activities on the website, which include making purchases, changing passwords, and retrieving sensitive information about the webpage.
The attackers generate a code that they inject into other users' browsers. Because the scripts are portrayed as part of the website, the security protocols automatically trust it and allow it to run. XSS scripts are often disguised as enticing links on the webpage that the user might click. Once they do, the attacker can receive all the information they were after and launch their attack.
A successful SQL Injection can create many vulnerabilities in the system. The attackers execute a malicious SQL code on a database, allowing them to change the database, reveal or modify sensitive information, and even delete important data on the website.
An SQL Injection attack can also create spoof identities, grant all users administrator rights, and even corrupt all the data in the database, making the website unusable.
Of course, proper web security solutions, such as preventing new SQL queries from changing existing queries, are essential in preventing these attacks.
Cross-site Request Forgery (CSRF) Attack
This is a reasonably common, yes, complex cybersecurity threat. It allows the attacker to use another user’s credentials to execute malicious activities on the website. It makes the users involuntarily make transactions that profit the attacker only.
There are ways to prevent these attacks, implemented when websites pay attention to web security.
Clickjacking is a type of cyberattack where the attacker hijacks top-level links on a website, which are meant to increase visibility and traffic to the website. The click-jacked website routes users to a display of a legitimate website, allowing the attacker to get the user's credentials and any sensitive information that the user may enter.
Domain Registration Attack
When registering for a domain, some personal information of the website's owner is registered on WHOIS. Part of that information includes details of the URL name servers, which hackers can gain access to and infiltrate the server you are using. This information retrieval creates an entry point into your website, which the hackers can use for an all-out attack.
File inclusion is one of the precursors for executing an XSS attack. The attacker uses an unintended file for execution when using this method.
Promising Practices to Ensure Web Security
All website owners should make it a priority to practice the different web security types by embedding them into the design of their websites. Some of the best Web Security solutions that you can come across include the following:
The first line of defense for your website should be an HTTPS protocol. The protocol assures the viewer that the content they are viewing is intended for viewing and has not been modified by hackers or attackers.
Attackers can quickly gain access to webpages without an HTTPS protocol, steal other users' personal information, or modify the website's content.
Besides that, the protocol also helps rankings on Google by improving the reliability of the webpage.
As we have mentioned before, the primary purpose of every website is to gain organic traffic and improve rankings on search engines, which is almost impossible without an HTTPS protocol.
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certificate is an additional level of security for your webpage on top of the HTTPS protocol. This certificate is mandatory for E-commerce websites or any other website that deals with sensitive information, such as credit card details and locations.
This certificate encrypts the webpage and secures the communication between the page and the user's browser.
An SSL Certificate, however, is not a complete solution since it cannot prevent cyberattacks such as malware distribution. The primary purpose of the SSL certificate is to secure sensitive information on the website.
Cloud Computing vs. Shared Hosting
Putting your system online can be done with the help of cloud computing or a shared hosting plan. Both have pros and cons, but cloud computing is far more secure than the two.
Many websites choose a shared hosting plan because it is much cheaper and offers many features and additional benefits for the price. But the problem with shared hosting is precisely that: it is shared.
So, unless all the users who share the plan with you are extra-vigilant about their security, there is always a real chance of getting attacked. And unfortunately, you cannot control the actions of those sharing the plan with you.
Cloud security, on the other hand, is evolving rapidly. Even on public cloud servers, the levels of security are on another level. You get an entire server to yourself, with resources that are exclusively yours. And yes, your security measures depend on you and not another entity's actions.
Of course, with cloud computing, you need proper time to configure and modify your system before you move online. With shared hosting, you can go online almost immediately. And this is one of the only reasons why some website owners make use of shared hosting.
It is crucial to stay on par with the latest software updates for WordPress, CMS, and any plugins and extensions your website uses. Web security is one of the main priorities of software updates. All updates aim to upgrade security measures by securing possible entry points and removing glitches and bugs that could become security vulnerabilities.
The purpose of software updates in terms of security is to stay ahead of the all-out attacks used by hackers and attackers.
One example is attackers using bots and scripts to scan websites that show any entry points or vulnerabilities. They infiltrate a website that shows a weakness as soon as they spot it. So by not updating your website, you will only be marking a bullseye on your webpage.
Adding Security to Devices
Securing your software is essential, but so is securing your hardware. Your device can become the biggest weakness for your website if there is any malicious file in it.
So even if your website has all the latest security measures, it can still get attacked if your device is not secure.
People ensure this is okay by separating their personal and work devices. Personal laptops and PCs are much more prone to viruses and malware attacks because people also visit unsafe websites without care. With a dedicated work device, the user will think twice before visiting any website that could jeopardize all their work.
Unless you need to, you should allow users to upload anything to your website. Allowing external parties to upload files to websites opens a gateway for attackers where they can upload malicious files to your page. These uploads could put a lot of your hard work at risk.
But sometimes, website owners need to allow external uploads on their websites for their benefit. One example of such a thing is pictures for reviews of items users have received. Pictures add a lot of credibility to reviews and encourage more people to buy the product, which is suitable for the website.
But if the users in question upload something malicious to the site, it might wreak havoc, especially on e-commerce websites.
So, the easier way to counter this web security concern is by using secure, third-party software which allows users to upload files to the website. Otherwise, the website can also use a complex code that will allow it to view the file from a remote location.
Microservices involve a loosely coupled system where a team is dedicated to each service a website or an application offers, which means that there is a separate security team for every service. Naturally, this means that the web security issues faced by one team will not spill over to the next.
With the help of loosely coupled systems, a security threat in one part of the system does not affect the other parts, making it one of the most effective ways to enable web security on any platform.
The most lucrative organizations out there need to use microservices to make a seamless application and tighten security for each service they offer.
Regularly Changing Passwords
One of the best web security practices that most people deploy the least is changing passwords regularly. Any seasoned developer and cyber security professional will tell you that one of the best web security examples is when website owners regularly change their passwords.
On the contrary, most people still have the same password for everything, including their bank accounts, email, website, and any other platform that requires a login. If a hacker can crack your password to one platform, they will essentially have access to your entire online existence.
And yes, if a seasoned attacker does gain access to one of your platforms, they will likely try the same password on everything else you use.
One of the biggest reasons people keep their passwords the same is because they believe they will need help keeping track of all the passwords. But there are comprehensive password managers now that can generate complex passwords and even keep track of them for you. Password managers also add an encryption layer to the password, protecting your account from potential attacks.
Another way that websites can protect your accounts is by enabling multifactor authentication. With multifactor authentication, a single password is no longer enough for the attacker to access any account. They need access to one more thing, either the user's phone or email, to ensure that the user is legitimately trying to access their account.
According to the latest developments, the use of multifactor authentication has also proven to be less than 100% secure. However, it is still one of the most widely deployed methods of cyber-security.
Practicing Least Privilege Access
Another good web security example is that of least privilege access. This factor is one of the principles of Zero-Trust Security which suggests that every user in a system should only have access to a limited part of it. They can only work on the part of the system where they are needed, and they need permission from the authorities and the system for any irregular movement.
Micro-segmentation is one of the methods by which the least privileged access is used. With the help of this method, the system is segmented, with each segment having its layer of security. And for users to move from one segment to another, they need permission.
With the help of least-privilege access and micro-segmentation, if the users detect any irregular movement in the system, they can identify it immediately and take appropriate action.
Backing Up Your Data
One of the most basic web security examples includes data backups. It is essential to back your data on the drive and your system. So even if a security breach occurs and you lose essential data from your webpage, you can quickly put it back up there with the help of your backup files.
Tools and Techniques to Enhance Web Security
While good security practices are of the utmost importance, you can use specific tools and techniques to enhance web security further.
For example, WordPress security plugins help handle many security concerns with websites. These plugins help to protect data, secure your access to the system, help your website with SEO rankings by making them secure, and even help to prevent attacks as they are being planned. Some of the most widely used WordPress plugins include Jetpack and BulletProof Security. They help to prevent malware attacks on websites and help to make your website trustworthy and reliable for users.
Another highly beneficial technique to protect your website is by securing DevOps. DevOps security is one of the most important aspects of website design. Securing DevOps allows the developer to pin security to every part of the application or website. It is one of the critical practices in preventing data breaches and helps improve the website's reliability.
A relatively new technique for user verification is Adaptive Authentication. Adaptive authentication is the evolution of multifactor authentication. Instead of granting access to anyone with credentials to an account and device, this form of authentication takes note of movement patterns. The system asks for further verification if they notice suspicious activity or irregular movement from the user's end. Such aggressive verification is a step ahead in the security world and helps ensure that no account falls into the wrong hands.
Other than that, hundreds of free and premium security checking tools are available online. They help to protect the system from all potential threats and even notify the developers if any suspicious movement is detected. You can find many such tools when you use cloud computing for your system.
What is Zero Trust Security? Is It Practical?
One of the most innovative Web security practices in the modern world includes Zero-Trust Security. As the name suggests, Zero-Trust Security does not trust any entity within or outside the system.
When using traditional means of security, the assumption is that the security protocols can trust every user inside the system. This trust is why one of the main modes of web security attacks for hackers is to gain user access to the system.
Zero-Trust Security eliminates this problem because even users already in the system are not trusted. They require consistent and aggressive verification for any movement within the system.
Least Privilege Access and micro-segmentation are also vital components of Zero-Trust Security because they work on the principle of not trusting anyone.
There are many limitations to implementing Zero-Trust Security because it is a very rigid web security solution.
However, organizations need to realize that Zero-Trust Security is a concept that is gradually adapted into a system instead of a complete shift in an organization's security system. The gradual adaptation of Zero-Trust Security allows the employees and the users to slowly get used to the changes instead of being subjected to an entirely new system.
The implementation of Zero-Trust Security is practical when the system is adapted gradually. The fundamental principles include aggressive verification, which can quickly irritate the employees and even lock them out of the system for basic human errors, making it difficult to adopt by many organizations.
Similarly, the Zero-Trust Security system can only partially Zero-Trust because someone needs to control the system. If the system is machine-controlled entirely, even the administrators may get locked out of the system, and it would just be an impractical model.
Current Limitations of Web Security
While secure web browsing is the moment's need, and there is no way you can go around it, it poses some challenges. The current limitations of web security are the main reasons we need constant updates and evolution of the system.
If we compare web security now to how it was a decade ago, we will see hundreds of differences. For once, people are much less hesitant to share sensitive information on the internet than they were back then. Security methods have caught up to even the most seasoned cybersecurity threats, and further developments will continue.
However, we need to understand certain limitations of web security as it is now:
It Can Be Expensive
Protecting your system from any threat can be expensive. All the sophisticated software out their cost’s severe money and upgrades too. Naturally, businesses that have yet to start making a profit or are at a loss would find it incredibly difficult to come up with the funds that can help them improve cyber security.
And cybersecurity does not directly increase the revenue of a website either. So many businesses fear that they will be putting more money into it than the output they will be getting from it. So naturally, they will be reluctant to simultaneously set up all the means of cyber security.
Not All Organizations Understand it.
Many organizations will need help to deploy effective means of cyber security. One of the only ways to effectively implement cyber security is by having a separate team dedicated to it. And no, only some organizations can afford a security team or even a single person; with them, it will be easier for the organization to figure out what they need in terms of web security.
Inexperienced people can fall for scams and allow other web security issues to enter the system. They may even allow cyber-attacks because they do not know what they are doing. So no, cyber security is not for everyone.
It is not a One-stop Solution.
Cyber security requires constant vigilance and monitoring. If you have a security system that tracks movement across the infrastructure, you will need someone to monitor it constantly and prevent data breaches.
Other than that, you cannot just install a few programs and expect security to handle itself. You need to upgrade security means from time to time, deploy maintenance methods, and constantly stay updated with the latest security practices. If your system has sensitive information, a slight lag in security can be all the difference between a system and a security breach.
The More Effective It is, the More Rigid It is
The most effective means of web security make work difficult for users and employees. They might find themselves locked out of the system from time to time. They might also need help accessing the information they need. The user interface of websites with strict security is also unfriendly.
All these things put off employees and users. Many users are reluctant to visit the website because of the constant verification and the security means that follow.
Technology has yet to find highly effective web security solutions that allow convenience for the user and aggressive security to co-exist, making it one of the most challenging things to achieve for web developers.
Tools Are Challenging to Setup
Specific tools, such as firewalls, can be tricky to set up. They can block access to necessary websites and prevent the system from completing essential functions online. Security tools can also slow the system down and make it annoying for users to visit the website.
The Work Required Is Difficult
Only a few people in the tech world are enthusiastic about working in cyber security. The challenge arises because the work is extremely tiring and very tedious. Sometimes the tasks require the workers to monitor, which can get quite monotonous. But it is also anxiety-inducing because even a minute of non-vigilance can cause a security breach or a cyber-attack.
Other than that, the updates continue interminably. The workers must constantly stay updated with new techniques and good practices, making it much harder for them to relax at their job. And because the job is so tedious, the professionals also charge a pretty penny for their web security services. Naturally, small businesses are reluctant to pay this much. When an organization loses money, one of the first things they do is eliminate the security personnel.
What Can Businesses Do to Secure Their Websites?
A business must never put cybersecurity on the back burner. It is essential to invest in web security for all businesses because, indirectly, it is a lucrative investment. Traffic moves towards secure websites and only websites rank highly on Google. The investment is risky for new and small businesses but worth taking.
One reason why many businesses are apprehensive about implementing cybersecurity is that they lack awareness. So, these businesses need appropriate training and education to help them understand cyber threats and their potential effect on the business.
Businesses should understand that it is okay to start small. It is not feasible or recommended to simultaneously add all the latest security plugins and monitoring software to the system. It is a beneficial investment if the business is willing to start small and evolve from there.
Ultimately, the reward for implementing proper web security methods is much higher than the loss incurred. All businesses that succeed have comprehensive web security solutions that may be exemplified.
Web Security is one of the vastest branches of technology as we know it. It is highly comprehensive and has evolved significantly since the dawn of the internet. Yes, there are still many challenges that the practice needs to overcome, especially because cyber-attacks are also very comprehensive now. Still, the pace at which it has evolved shows promise for the future. And there is no telling the heights it will reach.
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