How to Secure a Website from Hackers?
We give a guide in this article on how to safeguard a website from being hacked and used for illegal activities.
In the endless blue sky of the internet, online protection is a big red flag. And while the terms “online security” can first bring to mind online harassment and user privacy, the harm that a lack of website security can have on a company is also relevant. Website owners who, with their reputations, slash expenditure on protection pay and ultimately suffer financial losses.
Why EVERY website owner needs to invest in security?
Some website owners have thoughts like this: On my website, there is nothing to steal. I don’t hold any data about users or payment information. I don’t need costly protection at the top-of-the-shelf.
That’s just plain naïve, though. There are a number of reasons why, even though it does not host any personal or financial data, your website may be hacked. For just about every unprotected server, here’s a list of uses hackers could have:
- In order to claim a ransom. Hackers can take them over and demand money from you to get them back, even though you don’t keep any user data on your servers.
- For use as a relay for SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol). SMTP, for example, newsletters, is a protocol used to distribute emails in bulk. Hackers can send out spam or ransomware using your servers.
- Bitcoins to mine.
- To be used as part of a botnet during DDoS attacks.
- To change the data on your website or to delete it. Reasons may differ for choosing to do so.
And that’s just surface scratching. In addition to threats posed by third parties (hackers and other criminals), for instance, there are also threats posed by potential failures on the part of staff operating the website. In fact, internal security is as critical, if not more so, as external security.
So how can I protect from hackers my website? You’re curious.
Well, there are a variety of bugs you need to prepare for and deal with.
What vulnerabilities are we talking about?
The Open Web Application Protection Project, OWASP for short, is one of the most recognized organizations in the industry that is concerned with cybersecurity. The OWASP foundation maintains its list of widespread web security problems and updates them periodically. As of the day of writing this post, the following are common security problems on their list (in no specific order) and some tips for how to minimize the danger to your website.
Injection vulnerabilities affect databases and are due to an inadequate validation of inputs. If your system allows user input but fails to correctly process the input, it makes the system vulnerable. Hackers will use this to insert their code into your system (hence the name). This injected code will result in your website executing commands that you did not plan to do, showing sensitive information, or even giving the hacker control of the website.
SQL databases are the most common form of injection vulnerability, but injection vulnerabilities are not really restricted to them. An injection can also be vulnerable to XPath requests, LDAP comments, and XML scripts.
How can a website be made safe from injection flaws? Using SQL query sanitization and parameterized queries are among two of the best practices. APIs exist that allow you to do that.
You may use an ORM (object-relational mapping) tool for your favorite programming language if you don’t want to implement these things by hand. We use ActiveRecord because it’s closely related to the ecosystem of Rails.
None of the above solutions are absolutely fool-proof, but these days it’s as close as it gets to solid defense.
Sensitive data exposure
Sensitive data is any information that can be used in one way or another to manipulate a person:
- Title Name
- The amount for Social Security
- Number of driver’s license
- Data on a credit card
- Passwords and usernames
- Date of Birth
- Data relating to health
- Maiden Name The Maiden Name
- Names of Parents
It could even contain any data that, say for your bank account, is a response to a security question. Who would have thought the name of your first pet would be considered classified details, right?
It is difficult to protect websites from sensitive exposure to data, as this exposure is hard to predict and detect. But preventive steps you can take are available. Sensitive data must never be stored as plain text when stored on a website; it must be encrypted using the latest technologies and distributed via secure channels only.
If your website facilitates any transactions or deals with confidential data in general, SSL encryption needs to be used. This is the new and best available technology for encryption. SSL encryption allows you to transfer data securely between a server and a browser or between servers. In addition, several users will be searching for HTTPS at the address of your website to see if it’s safe. When you receive an SSL license, the header is what you get.
The storing of data in the cloud is also widely recommended. Don’t believe, however, that merely storing it in the cloud would make the data secure automatically. Nonetheless, all preventive measures must be enforced and you must track and upgrade the protection on a regular basis.
Attacks using cross-site scripting (XSS)
Ruby on Rails and React have XSS security built-in. Using the Content-Security-Policy HTTP response header will be another choice for anti-XSS and anti-injection steps.
This flaw originally called “Broken authentication and session management,” deals with vulnerabilities, as evident from the name, during user authentication and session management. This involves revealing login credentials and a variety of session ID issues:
- Bad IDs for sessions
- Session IDs that appear in URLs
- Session IDs between log-ins that do not alter
- Transmission of session IDs through unsecured links
Session IDs are directly linked to the identity of a user, the same as credentials, and therefore intercepting them can lead to a user’s account being hijacked. This results in all kinds of damage, from financial and reputational to health-related, to your users.
Multi-factor authentication is needed to make your website safe from authentication attacks: for instance, it requires a constant password and a one-time password delivered to the mobile device of the user.
Google uses a two-factor authentication option: to open a web browser with your Google account, you need to enter your password first. You will need to open the Google app on your phone if it’s right and pick the number displayed in the web browser.
For broken authentication, more obvious methods of website security include:
- “Your password must be at least 8 characters long and must include at least one number, one letter in the upper case and one letter in the lower case.”
- Limit login attempts until the account is suspended (for a specific period or before the user contacts the site administrators) and notify the administrators.
- Misconfiguring security
A broad subject is security misconfiguration, as this can happen at any point and with any part of your website: a database, a network, a server, a system, storage, or just about anything else. To gain access to devise features, configuration vulnerabilities can be exploited. Such access can be partial or complete, depending upon where the vulnerability is. Misconfiguration examples:
- Default accounts/passwords have not been disabled by you.
- Unnecessary and unused features exist.
- Cloud access permissions aren’t configured safely.
- Important information including usernames, passwords, or email addresses is reflected in your error messages.
To prevent misconfiguration, the first thing to do is to uninstall all unused functions, tests, frameworks, etc. The next move is to ensure the same configuration and review its output periodically for all environments. A well-thought-out concept is a must.
Broken access control
Regulation of access is control of what can and can not be accessed by users. If it’s not adequately implemented, it ensures that users can conduct acts in unexpected ways that can impact the website. Through accessing and editing the profiles and data of other users, one way to bypass broken access control is. Another is without paying for or earning them, accessing premium features. Another is to access admin pages from a non-administrator account (or worse, without an account at all).
Manual checking is the best way to ensure that the access control on your website is operational. No automated testing tools will ensure that control of access works as intended.
The misuse of the cross-origin resource sharing (CORS) process, which can provide access to otherwise restricted APIs, can also result in broken access control. It is advised to use CORS as little as possible for this purpose.
The method of converting an object into a binary code is serialization. Deserialization, technically, is the reverse. Both are processes that are carried out on a regular basis in web development, which makes it necessary to enforce protections against attacks using them.
The good news is that deserialization is not something that can be inadvertently performed by a frequent user or your employee. In part, that’s also the bad news-deserialization attacks are often deliberate and, thus, vicious. The most serious problems, such as running remote code, accessing the website without authentication, and initiating DoS (denial of service) attacks, are also caused.
Forbidding user-generated serialized objects is the best way to protect your website from this form of attack. The next best choice if this can’t be achieved is to use cryptographic signatures for integrity checks.
Using JSON, YAML, or XML will make it harder for hackers to exploit deserialization vulnerabilities as these formats are not binary.
Insufficient logging and monitoring
This weakness seems very obvious: if you do not track your website and do not report all errors and failed attempts to log in or execute access control features, you are effectively enticing hackers to target your website. The first assault is not generally about winning in some form of battle, digital or real-life, but about seeing what you’re up against. And if you have a convenient way in there, you use it. Failure to record and track such testing will result in the device completely ignoring the attack or detecting it after it has already happened and the harm is done.
For e-commerce sites, logging is especially relevant, as they deal with the money and financial credentials of users.
Log all failed attempts correctly to make your website more secure and ensure that these logs are maintained and backed up outside of your local servers. Use automated alerting systems for such failures and, if possible, suspend accounts that generate such failures on a continuous basis. It is critical to have real-time warning systems so that you can quickly respond to a potential breach.
XML external entities (XXE)
A few times already, we’ve discussed XML (Extensible Markup Language). It’s a versatile language, making it simple and widespread to use. Data is parsed from XML documents by XML processors. It can be vulnerable to attacks if the website is XML-based and accepts XML uploads without validation.
The following series of acts is recommended to protect the reputation of your website:
- Disable DTD (definition of document type) processing.
- Limit or discourage XML uploads, or, if that can’t be done, implement positive server-side input validation for whitelisting.
- Upgrade your XLM processors and libraries periodically.
- Prevent Sensitive Data Serialization.
- Using JSON or similar simple formats whenever necessary.
- Implement WAFs (Web Application Firewalls) and Gateways for API security.
- Using elements that have known vulnerabilities
Nothing is flawless, and any component you use is required to have some vulnerability, known or unknown, in your software. Software is modified to cover such vulnerabilities or minimize any harm that could be caused by their exploitation in response to discovered and accepted vulnerabilities. Some bugs cause minor harm, but others can be harmful to the business.
It’s important to periodically check for updates and update all components used on your website to avoid website hacking due to known vulnerabilities. In component-heavy applications and websites, this can be a repetitive job. That’s why security experts suggest that unnecessary and unused libraries, functions, directories, and other components be searched for and removed periodically. And only components from official sources, of course, are included. It can be changed to hack your website. Don’t be seduced by websites that normally distribute paid software for free.
How to create a secure website: the bottom line?
If you want to build a safe website, here are the security tips to follow to put all the tech-heavy details in layman’s terms:
- Find a web host that is reliable.
- Update all applications, frameworks, and libraries used on your website on a regular basis.
- Delete from your website any unnecessary features and components.
- Set up systems on both the browser and server sides to validate input.
- Track the displayed information in error messages.
- For users, set up a password strength checker.
- Always use strong passwords and update them periodically for your servers and admin sites.
- Invest/use the HTTPS protocol in an SSL certificate.
- Configure correct logging for errors and mistakes.
- Transactions for log auditing (especially if yours is an e-commerce website).
- Carefully track the logs.
- Using cloud servers but nevertheless, protect your records.
- Sensitive data must always be encrypted using the latest technologies.
- To be able to respond to attacks in a timely manner, have the security team keep an eye on current security
- updates as well as new threats.
How much does it cost to secure a website?
This is a question to which no definitive answer exists. The security expense depends heavily on the technology stack that your site uses. Plus, there is the cost of updates, which will depend on how many pieces you need to update, how much you update them, and how much it costs to update each of them. Your developers need to independently measure these costs.
From the very beginning of growth, we strongly recommended taking safety into consideration. Leaving the safety problem until the end could (and most likely will) lead to the need to implement improvements to the center of your site, which can be much more costly than building protection from the get-go.
If you are yourself a developer, own a production company, or have an in-house development team, all these tasks can be placed before them. If you do not already have technical experts on your side, however, and you want to know how to build a safe website with an outsourcing contractor, we suggest finding a construction company that can not only build but support a website. Predicting every flaw is almost impossible, but the ability to respond in a timely manner to every breach will save your website from the worst of fates.
The developers at Mind Studios are experienced and keep up with the newest developments in the best security practices. Contact us for a free consultation if you have concerns about how to protect your website from hackers.