As a website owner, the thought that cyber attacks have the potential to ruin your business is simply terrifying. Just like empires of old used to build walled cities and maintain strong defenses to protect themselves from external threats, today’s entrepreneurs must strategically fortify their online presence to keep their websites, servers, and networks secure from the external attacks that are launched every day by cybercriminals.
In this article, we will explore many of the essentials of external website security, including:
- What is External Website Security?
- Why is External Website Security Important?
- Most Common Types of External Website Security Threats
- External Website Security Best Practices for Small Businesses
What is External Website Security?
External website security consists of all the measures needed to secure a website from all the cyber threats that come from outside an organization’s internal intranet. These could be phishing attacks or SQL Injection, but there are many other kinds of external cyber hacking techniques as well.
Once again, it helps to think of your website and your online presence as though it is an empire and you are the emperor or ruler… the protector of that empire. Likewise, cyber criminals are the barbarians trying to destroy your empire by launching attacks from outside your kingdom’s borders.
Your website’s external protection system prevents cyber attacks from happening, limits or eliminates the amount of damage cyber attacks can do, and ultimately keeps your websites and database safe from hacking, data breaches, viruses, and other major problems.
Here’s a quick guide for identifying and helping with a hacked website repair.
Why is External Website Security Important?
Taking into consideration that a cyber attack takes place every 39 seconds and that there are nearly 1 million new malware threats launched every day the potential risk to your business is substantial. As such, having a strong external and also a strong internal web security system is of vital importance to any company, and its importance should not be ignored or underestimated.
If cyber attackers manage to hack your website and steal your clients’ sensitive information, like usernames, passwords, or credit card information, the results can be disastrous. Your company may end up in violation of federal compliance or regulatory guidelines. Clients or vendors may take you to court with the expectation you will pay financial damages. You could face hefty fines. You could lose clients and revenue. And that’s all without considering what it may cost you to repair what damage the cyber attack has done from a technology point of view.
A clear example just how far reaching cyber attacks can go towards damaging a business is the unfortunate case of Equifax, which ended up facing at least 23 class-action lawsuits because of data breaches, with thousands upon thousands of plaintiffs filing for billions of dollars in damages.
To understand more about why cyber criminals keep continuously targeting businesses with external website attacks on websites, databases, networks, you can view this article dedicated to the importance of website security. Most often, the motivations behind such attacks come from the desire to commit identity theft, and hackers either steal information to sell to other criminals, or they keep it and use it for themselves to commit fraudulent purchases or other financial crimes. Here’s a list of signs and symptoms of a hacked website and how to repair.
Most Common Types of External Website Security Threats
Know Your Enemy!
These three small words contain so much useful wisdom. Unfortunately, many business owners focus too much of their attention on better sales strategies, new PR campaigns, or flash advertising, and forget all about the cunning hackers that are sneaking around unseen in cyberspace, just waiting to exploit any and every weakness they can find with a company’s web assets.
But, by knowing which methods cyber attackers prefer or tend to use most, your company can implement some smart defenses against basic and frequent attacks.
1. Malware Attack Campaigns
Malware is a technical name to describe any malicious program or file that is designed to cause a data breach or any kind of damage to a website, computer server, client, or computer network.
Users most often get infected with malware when they click on dangerous links or download email attachments sent via a cyber attack campaign. The links and attachments may look innocent at first, but once inside, the malware installs itself within the systems and can block access to important components of the network (ransomware); install other malicious and harmful software; render the system inoperable; steal data, and otherwise harm the business.
2. Phishing Attack Campaigns
Phishing is a fraudulent attack cyber criminals employ by organizing and sending email campaigns that claim to be from reputable companies, but are actually designed to lure users into revealing or supplying sensitive information like usernames, passwords, credit card information that can then be used for criminals to commit identity theft.
Examples of Phishing Campaigns
- Coronavirus spam email campaign that started in January 2020;
- Threat Group-4127 (Fancy Bear) used a phishing campaign that targeted email accounts linked to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
3. Man-in-the-Middle Attack Campaigns
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM attacks) is a term used in computer security to describe when cyber attackers secretly position themselves within a two-party communication/transaction.
The cyber attacker positions itself like a gatekeeper between two correspondents by creating independent connections with each of the victims and then relaying messages between them. All along the while, however, the attacker is the one who is controlling the conversation – only providing the information they want each party to know – creating the illusion for the victims that they are communicating directly one to each other over private and secure connections.
From this hidden position, the attacker may ask questions or direct the conversation towards sensitive information such as “do you remember the log-in for the bank account?” and because the user on the other side trusts who they perceive to be the other recipient, they provide it to the hacker that is lying in wait.
Two Common Ways of MitM Attacks
- On unsecured public Wi-Fi
- Malware installation on a device, an attacker can install software to process all of the victim’s information.
Examples of Man-in-the-Middle Attack Campaigns
- Lenovo installed MITM (SSL Hijacking) adware called Superfish on their Windows PC in 2014
- Equifax withdrew its mobile phone apps following concern about MITM vulnerabilities, in 2017
4. Denial-of-Service Attack Campaigns
Denial-of-services attack (Dos attacks) is a term used in computer security to describe a cyber attack that causes an individual machine or full network to flood with so much traffic it ends up useless (or effectively frozen).
This overflow of incoming traffic comes from many different sources, which amplifies its impact and also makes it nearly impossible to stop once it’s begun, since blocking a single source makes virtually no difference.
Cyber attackers often use this kind of technique to try and force businesses to give them money in exchange for stopping the attack. Sometimes, they also are used by unethical companies who wish to destroy their competitors’ networks. Other times, the attacks can be the result of a protest, revenge from a disgruntled consumer, or other entity wishing to do the business harm.
Examples of Denial-of-Service Attack Campaigns
5. SQL Injection Campaigns
Structured Query Language (SQL) injection is one of the most commonly used web hacking techniques. Cyber hackers inject/insert malicious code on to web pages that are using SQL and then force computer servers to reveal information they normally would not.
With this technique, hackers can get access to all the user names and passwords in a database at once, simply because someone left this external website security back door open and unlocked.
Examples of SQL Injection Attack Campaigns
- 420,000 websites in august 2014
- TalkTalk’s servers, exploiting a vulnerability in a legacy web portal in October 2015.
6. Zero-Day Attack Campaigns
A zero-day attack in regards to web security is a cybercrime that hits after a network vulnerability is announced but before a patch or solution is implemented.
This cyber-attack can begin after a user discovers that there is a security risk in a program, the user can report it to the software company, which will then develop a security patch to fix the flaw.
The problem appears when the user goes online and tries to warn others about the discovered flaw. Hackers are always up to date in regards to any opportunity that could potentially bring them money, and this one is no exception. When cyber criminals find out that a website or a network has a particular flaw, they are quick to exploit it. This guide on hacked website repair might come in handy.
Examples of Zero-Day Attack Campaigns
External Website Security Best Practices for Small Businesses
Clearly, the threat posed by cyber criminals is real – and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. So, what can a well-meaning business do to protect themselves and their web assets from external security threats?
1. Get a Vulnerability Scanner
Vulnerability scanners work by utilizing “bad guy” thinking to identify weaknesses in your system. These scanners analyze your website for any “back doors” or any opportunities that could potentially lead to a cyber attack.
A good best practice to adopt is to use vulnerability scanners every day to check your website, servers, and networks.
2. Keep Sensitive Pages Off Google
A very widespread mistake many website owners commit by accident is making admin pages available for public viewing. By forgetting to adjust the settings on individual pages – particularly those dealing with back end functions, cyber predators have a quick route into a system or website, and can then exploit it for their various illegal purposes.
3. Get Malware and Virus Protection for Your Site
An overall best practice is to prevent issues ahead of time rather than fixing the damage after it has been done. Malware or any kind of malicious software can cause your business to lose money and reputation, and no one wants that. So, while protective measures aren’t free, the cost of prevention is almost always far less than damage control afterward.
Anti-malware and antivirus protection software scans your site for dangerous things that could exist. Once identified, most software then provides tools to help you remove unwanted dangers and return your website, system, or network to “healthy” functionality.
4. Perform Backups Frequently
All hard drives and all servers have a life span and eventually, their life span comes to an end at some point in time. So, it is wise to make frequent backups of your data. Besides dramatically reducing the number of headaches associated with lost files or data, a good, up-to-date backup also provides you with an easy “reset” point should a cyber attack prove to be particularly damaging. A weekly back-up is a smart benchmark to aim for, but as frequent as reasonable is ideal. The more users and exposure your system has, the more often you should schedule backups.
5. Strong Passwords
A simple but yet very important step when protecting your website and databases from any kind of attack is having a strong password that is NOT a commonly used phrase or name.
Hackers know psychology and how the majority of people think when they set up passwords. They absolutely will use these tactics to “crack” a weak password. Another important tip is to NEVER use the same password twice or have a string of consecutive numbers in your password. Over 23 million people use the password “123456”
6. Protect Customers With SSL
SSL certificates are so important that Google and other search engines use them as a search ranking factor. If Google catches you without an SSL certificate you have a very high chance of receiving an SEO penalty from which the chances of recovery are very slim.
SSL certificates encrypt data that is sent to the server from your website. When customers shop on your website and type in their credit card information, this information is encrypted and becomes useless if it falls into the wrong hands.
Conclusion: What You Don’t Know Can Damage Your Business
One of the key reasons hackers are so successful at committing their illegal acts is that they are able to do it secretly, almost unseen, and behind all sorts of fake shields and digital disguises to make themselves unidentifiable. But, just because you can’t see a threat doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Even if your website has never been attacked in the past, there’s no guarantee for the future. In fact, if you’ve been fortunate enough this far without protections for website external security in place, then you’re probably overdue for an issue to occur. Taking a few simple precautions is, thankfully, all that is usually necessary to keep most of the cyber barbarians where they belong – on the other side of your digital empire’s security walls and defenses.
Get yourself prepared and read our quick guide on Hacked Website Repair.