Website Security 101: Top Tips for Small Businesses

No matter the size of your business, your website could become the target of hackers. When this happens, it can cause damage to both your finances and the reputation of your company.

In fact, if a business hasn’t followed basic security protocols, and user or customer details become compromised, organisations could end up in court with fines in the hundreds of thousands.

For your business to grow safely, your website must be secure and functional for users and customers.

In this article, I will discuss the basics of website security, and how you can protect your business, its data, and that of your customers and users.

What is website security?

In the simplest of terms, website security is a group of protection procedures you must take to ensure your website is secure. However, it is not a simple job that you only do once; the measures must be tested, analysed, and improved upon to give you and your users an effective level of protection.

By providing an advanced level of website security, you can avoid sensitive data getting into the wrong hands. Additionally, website security protects your site from other threats, such as spam and malware.

It is also crucial that your business has website security to protect sensitive data that customers and users input to your site.

What are cyber-attacks?

A cyber-attack is when criminals, also known as cybercriminals, attack computers or networks. There can be numerous reasons for someone attacking n a website, from attempting to steal data and hacking sensitive information, to disabling computers.

Any business or website is at risk of a cyber security attack. Although you may think that only big websites are going to be the victim of a hack, small websites are an easy option for cybercriminals.

Often, businesses are oblivious to the fact their website security has been compromised. If your website security is breached, your SEO performance can also be disrupted, as hackers may use your site to generate spam or redirect users to unsafe websites.

When your SEO has been hit, it can affect your rankings, and you could even receive a manual penalty from Google.

Below are some ways a cyber-attack can harm your SEO.

SEO Spam

Often, legitimate sites are turned into link farms and visitors are encouraged to clicking malware links.

However, some websites become the victim of  SQL injections, which consist of malicious code that can allow cybercriminals to tamper with data, create fake identities, and cause repudiation issues.

Your site could become a link farmHackers can fill your site with insecure links and redirect your users to different websites.

Usually, when a user is redirected from an insecure link, they end up on a web address that contains false and duplicate content. However, it can also be much more serious as your user could become the victim of “phishing” where they click a spammy link that leads to them revealing sensitive information.

You can be at risk of being blacklisted

If your site is hacked, this is a serious problem in Google’s eyes. Not only will it affect your position in the SERPs, but it can put you at risk of manual actions from Google.

If you are flagged or blacklisted for spam or malware, it will decrease your site’s entire visibility until it is cleaned and analysed, which can take a considerable amount of time. However, if your site is not flagged by Google or other third parties when it contains malware, you are at a greater risk.

For example, a person clicks on links from your site, or enters personal data but is victim to malware and phishing, you are entirely responsible. This could lead to huge legal implications and tarnish the reputation of your business.

How can I ensure my website is protected?

As I have emphasised, protecting your website is crucial for you and any users that access your site. Here is a list of tips to ensure you can effectively protect your website.

Have a secure web host

It is best to use a hosting provider that uses a web application firewall (WAF). By using a provider that has WAF, you enable active network monitoring, which acts as a barrier to cybercriminals trying to access your site.

A reliable hosting provider should constantly check web servers for malware and other threats. If the provider finds that malware has gone onto your website, they should advise or assist you with removing it.

Run your website on HTTPS

It is standard practice to run websites on the HTTPS protocol. A website that uses HTTPS shows potential users and customers that they can trust the site.

Not only does HTTPS show your customers your website protects the integrity of data, but it is also a small ranking signal for Google. Although it is small now, there are rumours of Google strengthening it in the future.

By switching to HTTPS, you help stop hackers from exploiting sensitive information, such as login details and other information being transferred to and from your website.

For your website to effectively run on HTTPS, you must have a valid SSL certificate. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and encrypts the connection from a web server to a browser. Not only can it help protect your login details, but it can also protect any sensitive data on your site.

If you’re looking to switch to HTTPS, Cloudflare allows any internet property to become HTTPS-enabled with the click of a button and provides SSL protection free of charge.

Have a strong website design

Make sure your website is designed in a way that can prevent hackers from altering it. For example, when choosing plugins, research and ensure they are of good quality and from a reliable company.

You must also constantly check your plugins for any changes or updates.

Ensure you have updated software

Each time your software needs updating, it will come with updated security improvements. Often, software is updated to fix bugs or other elements that hackers use to compromise your website.

By updating and removing old software, you help prevent hackers from finding loopholes to attack your site.

Focus on your passwords

It is crucial to use strong passwords for administrator access. Make your password strong by using a mix of characters, choosing nothing shorter than 15 characters and not using memorable keyboard paths.

Alongside a strong password, ensure to limit where you store it. Try to use a password manager where possible. Many password management applications offer two-factor authentication, which further protects passwords from prying eyes.

Most importantly, do not reuse passwords. Often, cybercriminals use passwords from a database to gain access to sites. So, if you use the same password, you increase your website’s security risk. By using several passwords, you are less likely to be a victim of password cracking.

Think about site access levels

If your site has multiple admins, you are more likely to become the victim of a cyberattack. If a hacker can gain access to just one admin account, they have control over your site and can cause a huge amount of damage.

Ensure to limit the number of accounts that have access to admin privileges and only give people the amount of control they require.

Install DNS Security

DNS Security Extensions, also known as DNSSEC, is a security protocol. DNSSEC protects people from a cyberattack by “digitally signing data” to ensure its validity.

DNS security specifically helps to stop DDoS attacks. Also known as a distributed denial-of-service, a DDoS attack is a when cybercriminals attempt to disrupt the normal flow of traffic on a specific server, service or network by overwhelming them with a huge amount of internet traffic.

Back up all your data

Although you can put 100% into protecting your website, there is always a small chance that you could be hacked.

By not backing up your data, you are at risk of losing all previous work, losing revenue and spending a lot of money on recovery.

Companies such as BigCommerce are responsible for the software, infrastructure and disaster recovery of their entire platform. However, you are still responsible for password security, admin permissions and data backups of you store.

As hackers progress, they will find new ways to attack websites and steal data, so it is crucial you back up your data as a safety net.

Running a website backup simply means making a copy of all your website data. The more data you include in your back up, the more likely you are to recover from any kind of hack.

Final thoughts

Cybercriminals can wreak havoc on reputations and finances, and in the worst case scenario, hacks can lead to the complete disintegration of an organisation.

As I’ve discussed, keeping on top of your website security is crucial to maintaining the safe workings and reputation of your business.

There are a number of publications and sites worth monitoring to keep up to date with the latest news and upgrades, including the National Cyber Security Centre, PCMag, and Hacker News.

If you have any questions on your site security, SEO, or how hacking can affect your SEO performance, please get in touch.

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