A well-designed website, one that matches your branding and marketing strategies and that connects you to current and future customers, is an absolute necessity in today’s highly-digital world. But with so much business being done online, you also owe it to your customers to pay attention to the security of your website.
It’s important users feel safe and comfortable while they are on your site, and it’s critical you safeguard against hacks and other forms of cybercrime so that you can avoid the costly process of repairing the damage a security breach can cause, one that is far too expensive for most small businesses to be able to afford.
What’s more is that small businesses are increasingly being targeted by hackers and other cybercriminals, largely because they have weaker defenses but still possess valuable information about regular people, such as credit card and bank information, addresses, social security numbers, phone numbers, locations, and everything else we so easily hand over to the many different businesses we patron.
Fortunately, securing your website does not require a degree in computer science. There are many simple measures you can implement that can have a really powerful impact on your site’s security.
Here are five of the most effective:
1. Make and Use Strong Passwords
The simplest and perhaps most effective way to secure against a hack to your website is to set a strong password for your account, and to encourage anyone else who has access to it to do the same.
This is so important because most hackers will try to get into your site using brute force, meaning they will bombard your site with login attempts using the most common combinations of passwords they can think of.
They usually set bots on your site, hoping to hit correctly with one password. And if they succeed (something that happens more often than you think), you’re doomed.
Hackers will now have full access to your site and rights to do anything you would be able to do, which typically results in the theft of any valuable information you might be holding on your site.
To defend against this, it’s important to use passwords that are not likely to be included in the batch of passwords hackers use to gain access to your site.
This means making passwords that:
- Can’t be easily guessed – they shouldn’t be easy (e.g. 123456, your birthday, something related to the company, etc.)
- Include numbers and symbols
- Alternative capitals and lowercase letters
- More than six characters
These criteria probably sound familiar. Many places require you to make passwords that meet them, and there’s a good reason for this; they provide a powerful defense against one of the tactics most commonly used by hackers and other cybercriminals.
2. Implement HTTPS and Encryption
Another really easy way to keep your website secure is to use HTTPS. Without getting too much into the details of how this works, know that HTTPS, otherwise known as SSL (secure socket layers) is essentially a certificate which verifies the authenticity of your site.
Having this makes it much easier for a browser trying to access your site to guarantee that it’s directing the user to the right place. This helps put up a defense against malicious internet users, and it also provides visitors to your website with some proof that they will be safe browsing on your site.
HTTPs and SSL are also effective because they encrypt data sent between the site and browser, making it virtually impossible for anyone outside of your system to get a hold of that information.
Setting up HTTPS is quite easy. Here’s a resource on how to do it.
This is important not only for your website’s security, but Google has also made it clear that it will place a higher value on sites that use SSL, since Google wants to be sure it is sending users to websites that are safe and reliable.
By itself, HTTPS won’t guarantee you a spot at the top of search engine results pages, but not having it will result in a lower ranking, not to mention the loss of trust from your customers/users that comes with exposing them to unnecessary risk.
3. Update Your Software
Hackers are successful when they manage to find a hole in the software you’re using and exploit it. Ideally, software wouldn’t make it to market if it wasn’t first complete, but that’s not the reality. Plus, hackers are good. Even seemingly flawless software almost always has a weakness someone hasn’t anticipated.
Fortunately, software companies know this, and they are constantly working to identify issues and address them. However, the changes they make are useless if you don’t install the updates developers send out to users.
It’s true some updates are more cosmetic, and that it can be a bit annoying to have to constantly download and install them, but it’s really important you do this. It’s a simple way of making sure there are no weak links in your defense system.
In many cases, you can sign up for automatic updates, which ensures you never miss an important change to your software that will keep your site, and all your site’s visitors, safe and sound.
4. Install Useful Tools
Let’s face it. Most of us are not cybersecurity experts, and as small business owners, few of us have the means to be able to hire someone to come on full-time to seek out issues in site security and address them.
But, in most cases, this isn’t necessary because there are lots of different tools we can use to monitor security and implement basic solutions. These tools are especially useful for detecting issues your average user would not notice.
Here are a few tools that are going to be very useful and that you should consider installing:
- Netsparker – specifically tests for SQL injection and XSS, two of the most common threats your website faces.
- io – checks to make sure your site has all the security headers it needs.
- OneLogin – makes it easier for you to merge your many different online accounts more securely.
There are many more tools you can use, but which ones you need will depend on how deeply you are involved with your site’s development. If you’re not involved at all, then these tools are a great place to start making your site as secure as it needs to be.
5. Restrict Access
Lastly, it’s really important to keep the number of people who have access to your site as small as possible. This is because the vast majority of cyber attacks occur as a result of human error. Either someone clicks on something they shouldn’t forgets to download an update, uses a simple password, or any other combination of silly mistakes we all so easily make.
This is important not only because it reduces the amount of access points to your site, but it also makes it easier to implement and promote smart practices; it’s a lot easier to train five people on how to keep your site secure than fifty.
If you do need to grant access to lots of people, considering giving different people different rights so that not everyone has administrative access (which would increase the amount of damage they could do).
Or, another option is to use a password manager, such as LastPass, which allows you to safely share passwords with other people without having to actually tell them the password you use.
And don’t forget to monitor constantly…
Taking these measures will make your site considerably more secure, but this is not a “set it and leave it” situation. The nature of the threats your site faces change on a daily basis, and this means you need to be constantly vigilant.
Making use of the tools mentioned above, as well as any others you find, is useful, but you’ll want to stay informed about what the newest threats are and continue to monitor your site constantly. This will keep you protected from any threats while ensure a safe and secure browsing experience for your customers.
Katie Jenison is a freelance writer and blogger from a small town in North Dakota. She started her freelance writing business in 2017 after graduating from North Dakota State University with a bachelor’s degree in English Studies and has since quit her job to freelance full-time. In 2018 she launched The Quiet Type where she gives readers tips and advice on freelance writing, blogging, and creative entrepreneurship. Download her workbook, A Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Rates, here.