When I first started my business, my priority was to have an attractive and functional website. I wanted prospective customers to find me.
I wasn’t really concerned about having an action plan for WordPress security. I mean, why would hackers even be interested in me, right? Wrong.
One day, I was surprised to find out that my website had been hacked. The hackers took advantage of a time when WordPress was vulnerable.
Fortunately, I was able to recover my data and my business went on as usual. Nevertheless, that experience taught me something very important — website security is a must!
What Happens When a Website Is Not Secure?
Secured websites encrypt sensitive data using encryption keys. This makes them highly secure and unlikely to be intercepted by unauthorized users. And if your website is not secure, you can suffer from negative SEO.
Search engine optimization, or
If your website is not secure, you can lose the trust of visitors as well. They will no longer visit your website for fear of getting exploited by hackers. Nobody wants to see warning signs on their screen, after all.
If your website is hacked, it can overwhelm the hosting server and cause the website to be closed. If your website is defaced and hacked, prospective customers will be turned off. Your brand will be tarnished and you may incur huge losses.
If the attack was really bad, like the one that happened to the IRS in 2015, your business may take a long time to recover.
When the IRS was hacked, people’s personal data, including their income, address, and social security numbers, was exposed.
Things got worse when the data was further used by hackers to gain access to the victims’ transcripts. This resulted in more exposed data and increased risk for identity fraud.
In order to protect your customers’ data, you need to have a secure website so that people will feel confident about trusting you with their credit card or bank information.
Why Would Hackers Be Interested in Your Website?
If you’re like most people, you may think that securing your small business website is not necessary. You may think that hackers will not be interested in you because you’re not rich or famous; you’re just an average person trying to make a living.
However, there are plenty of reasons why hackers would be interested in your website. For starters, they can use your website as a middleman for distributing malicious software.
Hackers typically use programs or bots to search for vulnerable websites. If they find out that your website is not completely secure, they will immediately hack it.
In fact, a study done at the University of Maryland found that a hacker attack occurs every thirty-nine seconds and that 43% of these attacks target small businesses. So, you should really be concerned about your website security.
According to reports, 64% of companies have suffered from web-based attacks while 62% have experienced social engineering and phishing. Botnets and malicious codes have affected 59% of companies, and 51% have also had denial of service attacks.
The consequences of data breaches can be severe. Juniper Research says that cybercrime will result in more than $2 trillion in losses by 2019. Experts also predict that businesses will lose more than $150 million in 2020 because of data breaches.
How to Keep Your Website Secured
Now that you know the implications of having a vulnerable website, you should take action right away. Here is a cybersecurity checklist that you can use as a guide:
1. Update your WordPress version and plugins regularly
Some people disable their core updates for fear of their plugins being broken. This kind of thinking is unhelpful. It is actually better to have a plugin broken than to have your website hacked.
You need to update your core software so that your website will not be vulnerable to security issues. Likewise, you need to update your third-party plugins, because they are especially prone to vulnerabilities.
Remove unused or inactive plugins. The more plugins you have, the greater your risks. To play it safe, you should only leave plugins that you actually use.
Also, refrain from testing plugins on a live site. It’s best to create a copy of your site instead to test your plugins.
2. Update your themes regularly
Make sure that you also update your themes to avoid encountering security issues. However, you should not make changes directly to your theme.
Instead, you can use a child theme. This will let you get the security updates and fixes that you need without breaking any changes. You should also remove any unused themes.
3. Install plugins, scripts, and themes only from official sources
Do not be tempted to use untrusted sites to get free plugins or themes. Most pirated themes are laced with malware. Hackers use them to gain full control of unsuspecting victims’ websites.
4. Choose a secure web host for your small business
Go for a WordPress hosting service that consistently monitors vulnerabilities, and also one that applies rules on firewalls to prevent hacking attacks on websites.
5. Use the most recent PHP version for your website
Sadly, a lot of WordPress users use old and unsupported versions. Version 5.4, for example, is no longer supported and yet is still used by many website owners.
If you want to benefit from better performance, you should get the latest PHP version for your site. Supported versions discover security fixes and ensure that your website will not be exploited.
6. Change your admin username
In the past, the administrator login had a default username of “admin.” This caused a lot of problems since hackers no longer needed to guess the username.
You now have the option to change your administrator username, and you should exercise this option to prevent any hacking incidents. Choose a complex username so that hackers will not be able to guess it easily.
7. Be mindful of your passwords
Passwords protect data from being accessed by unauthorized users. However, the irresponsible use of passwords can actually put the security of your website at risk.
You should know that there are lots of lists of breached passwords on the internet. Hackers use these lists and combine them with words from the dictionary to generate new lists of passwords. Then, they use these new passwords to hack vulnerable websites.
When it comes to creating passwords, you have to be creative. Refrain from using just one password for all your accounts. Every one of your passwords should be unique.
You can use a password manager to help you keep track of your passwords without having to memorize or write them all down. A password manager will store your passwords in an encrypted form and can also generate random passwords for you.
Use long passwords. As often as possible, use passwords that have at least 12 characters. Keep in mind that longer passwords take more time to crack, even if hackers use software programs.
In addition, you should use random passwords with made-up words, which are not as easily cracked by software programs.
8. Use multiple servers
Many people make the mistake of using just one server for all of their websites. In their minds, they are saving money by using an unlimited web hosting plan.
However, putting all of your websites in just one location creates a huge attack surface. Cross-site contamination happens often. This is when a website is negatively affected by other sites on the same server because of poor account configuration or server isolation.
For example, if you have five websites on a particular server that also has ten plugins vulnerable to hacking, your own plugins will be vulnerable, too. Once an exploit has been made, the infection can quickly spread to the other websites on the same server.
This can result in huge losses for everyone. The infected websites can keep infecting other websites, causing an infinite loop. Even after you have successfully performed a cleanup, you will have a hard time resetting your passwords one by one.
9. Have sensible user access
If your website has multiple logins or users, you must require permission for every user to access it. If there has to be an escalated permission, you can grant it momentarily before reducing it again when the job is done. This concept is referred to as Least Privileged.
For example, another blogger wishes to create a guest post for your website. If you say yes to the offer, make sure that the guest blogger does not have full administrator privileges. Otherwise, he or she might change your settings, make your website vulnerable, or even hack your website.
You have to be mindful of monitoring and accountability. Make sure that you have clearly defined access rules and user roles to minimize errors on your website.
10. Have backups
Always prepare yourself for the worst and have backups for your website. This way, you can easily recover data in the event of a major security incident.
Ensure that your backups are off-site. They should be protected from hardware failure and hackers. Do not store them in the server of your website.
Your backups should also be automatic. Choose a backup solution that you can schedule to meet your needs. Furthermore, your backups should have reliable recovery so that your recovered files will be in the condition they were before they were hacked.
According to statistics, 91% of small business owners plan to improve their website security. This is great news. Having a secure website keeps your business data and customers’ information protected.
Even though it is not possible to completely eradicate hacking, it is still possible to minimize the risks of incidents. If you follow the pointers given above, you can significantly reduce your website’s risk of being attacked.
According to Newton Lee, author of Counterterrorism and Cybersecurity: Total Information Awareness, “As the world is increasingly interconnected, everyone shares the responsibility of securing cyberspace.”
It’s true. The more technologically advanced society becomes, the greater the risks it faces. It should be everyone’s responsibility to secure cyberspace and make communication, sharing of information, and other online interconnections safe.
How about you? What do you think of cybersecurity and businesses? Tell us in the comment section below.
Cupped hands presenting inbox icon