Ways to Improve Website Security and Prevent Hacks

Ways to Improve Website Security and Prevent Hacks

Category: Websites

Post Published On:

6 min read

Having your business website hacked can be an absolute nightmare, leading to downtime, stolen customer data, reputational damage and financial losses. That’s why locking down security is so critical for any organization.

In this comprehensive article we have shared multiple layers of precautions and best practices that help harden website defenses. Going beyond just the basics provides resilient protection that saves endless headaches down the road.

Choose a Trusted Managed Host

Your web host is the foundation underlying the entire website, so security here is crucial. When researching hosts, look for:

Reputable Branding – Well-known hosts like Bluehost, HostGator and WP Engine invest heavily in data centers, dedicated security teams, and advanced monitoring. Obscure brands often lack resources to compete.

WordPress Specialization – Hosts tailored specifically for WordPress typically bake-in advanced security features and deep platform knowledge compared to generalized hosts.

SSL Encryption – Any decent host today provides free SSL certificates to encrypt all web traffic end-to-end. SSL should be table stakes, not a premium addon.

Server Hardening – Top hosts actively monitor servers for known exploits and vulnerabilities, pushing security updates and patches promptly.

DDoS Mitigation – Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks can easily cripple websites by overloading servers. Choose a host with systems to mitigate these threats.

Uptime Guarantees – Any downtime opens the door to exploit opportunities. Look for a financially-backed SLA ensuring 99.9% uptime or higher.

While more expensive, paying for a reputable managed WordPress host like WP Engine or Pagely provides assurance your site is constructed on security foundations.

Limit Plugins and Stay Vigilant on Updates

Plugins provide wonderful functionality enhancements but also significantly increase vulnerabilities if not managed diligently. Limit plugins to only essentials needed.

Stay on Top of Updates – Plugin developers release constant security patches. Failing to update promptly leaves you exposed to any newly discovered exploits. Never use abandoned plugins.

Minimize Permissions – Only activate the permissions a plugin needs, don’t grant full privileges like access to files or databases. Use the principle of least privilege everywhere.

Research Trusted Options – Focus on reputable plugins with millions of installs and active development. Avoid obscure plugins more likely to contain bugs or malware.

Remove Abandoned Plugins – Don’t let stale abandoned plugins with security flaws linger. Prune plugins you’re no longer using promptly. Outdated software is ripe for exploitation.

With discipline in researching, installing only essentials, limiting permissions and updating frequently, the benefits of quality plugins can be used safely. But negligence compounds risks unnecessarily.

Use Popular Themes and Update Frequently

Themes introduce the same type of vulnerabilities as plugins – everything from security flaws to opening doors for injection attacks. Treat themes with the same level of precaution:

Download from Trusted Sources Only – The official WordPress theme directory contains vetted options. But third party sources often distribute hacked themes infected with subtle backdoors.

Favor Highly Popular Options – The most downloaded themes see the most security scrutiny from the community. Bugs and vulnerabilities get quickly flagged and patched. Obscure themes lack crowdsourced auditing.

Avoid Unneeded Features – Just like plugins, choose simple, lightweight themes that only have the functionality you actually need. Limiting bloat and unnecessary code lowers risk.

Custom Code Introduces Risk – Be very wary of themes touting lots of custom code modification options and overrides. This really expands security holes for websites.

Update Early and Often – Set a regular schedule to check and apply theme updates promptly. Don’t let your site run outdated themes no longer receiving fixes for newly found threats.

Take time to find trusted, popular themes and stay vigilant about updates.

Install Security-Focused Plugins

Specialized security plugins provide powerful protections:

Wordfence – An end-to-end security solution including a firewall, malware scans, reputation monitoring, IP blocking and more. A de facto standard.

Sucuri – Malware scanning, site integrity monitoring, file change alerts, DDoS protection, and cleanup if your site does get hacked. Excellent for detection and response.

iThemes Security – Locks down file permissions, adds layers of site hardening, enforces password policies, schedules auto scans, and helps fix common holes. Strong prevention.

VaultPress – Automated daily cloud backups stored off site plus single-click restores for quick recovery if disaster strikes. Peace of mind.

SSL Zen – Forces SSL across site for enhanced security and SEO value. Essential these days.

These plugins provide overlapping layers of protection and are well worth the minimal setup time investment.

Monitor Closely for Vulnerabilities

Be proactive about identifying any compromised areas before largescale damage occurs:

FIX: Change Passwords – Use strong randomized passwords. Change any credentials periodically and immediately if compromised. Store securely in a password manager, not text files.

DIAGNOSE: Scan Site – Use Sucuri SiteCheck or Wordfence tools to comprehensively diagnose malware, out-of-date software, or other vulnerabilities. Schedule regular scans after launch and updates.

DETECT: Review Logs – Actively review server and application logs along with security plugin logs to detect patterns of attacks, bot behavior or other system anomalies. Don’t just set and forget tools.

IMPROVE: Plug Holes – When you uncover flaws through scanning or logs, formulate plans to promptly harden security by patching, adding protection layers like IP restrictions or firewall rules, or removing vulnerabilities entirely.

Ongoing monitoring enables you to preempt disasters before they happen. Don’t wait for end users to report issues.

Optimize Additional Layers For Maximum Security

For the most locked down defenses, consider additional protections

  • CDN – Distribute security monitoring and DDoS mitigation across a content delivery network to absorb and deflect attacks.
  • IP Blacklists – Actively block access from high risk IP ranges known for malicious activity to prevent them accessing your system entirely.
  • Web Application Firewall (WAF) – Rules to deeply inspect all network traffic for suspicious patterns that could indicate bots, probes or attacks.
  • VPN – Route all admin access to your hosting provider, servers, and dashboards through an encrypted virtual private network for added obscurity.
  • Security Audit – Hire professional penetration testers to actively probe for obscure vulnerabilities not caught by scanners or monitoring.

For the maximum viable security, don’t stop at just the basics. Assess your risk tolerance and consider adding layers commensurate to your budget and needs.

Conclusion

So, Implementing robust, resilient website security requires being diligent across fundamentals like hosting, plugins, themes and monitoring. But the substantial time investment is well worth avoiding the massive headaches of cleanup after hacks and compromises.

No single solution or checklist can provide 100% bulletproof protection, but taking the right steps drastically reduces your exposure to common exploits, malware and attacks. Start with essential precautions like managed WordPress hosting, core security plugins, backups and scanning. Then add on advanced protections to match your risk profile.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are signs my site was already hacked?

Unfamiliar files, unexpected user accounts, bandwidth spikes, unknown traffic sources, strange database entries, redirection to other sites and abrupt downtime can all indicate malicious activity. Immediately scan your site if anything seems suspicious.

Should beginners manage security themselves?

Use trusted managed hosting, core security plugins, VPNs and CDNs provide excellent essential precautions for most users. But advanced security like WAF rules and mod_security require specialist expertise. Know your limits and when to call professionals.

How often should scans and updates happen?

Schedule security scans after every significant update, new plugin install or theme change. Check plugins and themes for updates on a weekly basis minimum. Updates should be applied promptly as soon as available, don’t delay.

What about my content authors and admins?

Limit admin access only to essential team members. Enforce strong password policies, principle of least privilege, two factor authentication and user behavior monitoring. The biggest security risks often come internally from compromised insider accounts.

Should I backup locally or to the cloud?

Ideally both maintain regular local backups stored outside your main site directory, but also backup offsite via cloud services in case of disaster like fires, floods or natural causes.

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