Is your web server protected? If not, you’re leaving yourself open to attack. In this post, we’ll show you how to secure your web server using some simple techniques. Follow these tips and you’ll be safe from harm.
Let’s start at the beginning – what is a web server?
The main purpose of a web server includes displaying website content (such as text, images, video, and data) via the means to store, process, and deliver webpages to their respective users. Apart from HTTP, web servers also support SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol), intended for email, file transfer, and storage.
Once you connect web server hardware to an internet source, it permits the exchange of data with the other devices related to it. The web server software controls how the user can interact with the files that have been hosted.
Host multiple websites or web applications.
Process File Transfer Protocol (FTP) requests.
Send and receive emails.
Website security is one of the most crucial aspects to focus on, ever since we find ourselves in an increasingly technologically driven era. With how far technology has advanced, anyone is a possible potential target and by the time you’ve taken the time to protect your servers, it might just be too late. It has become extremely vital to ensure that you have a security strategy to safeguard your hosted data and prevent the integrity of your server gets compromised.
Next, we need to know which risks a web server can face. Any attempt to undermine the security is regarded as a server attack. There are several key threats that are imperative to be aware of in order to prevent and mitigate the possible risks involved. Some of these threats include:
Denial-of-Service (DoS) / Distributed Denial-of-service (DDoS) are methods used by attackers in order to overwhelm your servers with traffic (i.e by causing the web to respond to a large number of requests) until the server becomes slow and eventually unresponsive, rendering your website or network unusable – service or access to the server will be denied.
Cross-Site Scripting exploits weaknesses, especially targeted toward websites with scripting flaws. Malicious/harmful code is injected into server-side scripts – giving the hacker access to sensitive data such as sessions, cookies, etc.
A User Redirection Attack, also known as DNS Hijacking is a breach within a domain server that attacks weaknesses related to the stability of the server by either attacking the infrastructure of the DNS, making it unavailable, or diverting the users to an alternative fake destination/website disguised as the legitimate website.
Your systems and web servers will be a lot more exposed to ransomware attacks and sensitive data breaches if you overlook the risks of outdated software and the vulnerabilities they present. Software patches and updates are designed to keep your software up to date and secure with enhanced features, increased compatibility, and improved functionality.
This threat relates to hackers acquiring access to the back-end of a website and making unauthorized changes to the visuals or content of the page. They can also go as far as completely removing all content, leaving you with a blank website.
The above threats only form part of the risks a web server can face – in reality, there are several more threats to web servers. The important question to ask ourselves is – how do we secure our web servers in order to prevent unauthorized individuals to obtain access to them? Below, we discuss various steps and measures that can be taken in order to beef up the security of your web servers:
In order to prevent your web servers from being vulnerable and at-risk in regard to cyber-attacks, it is crucial to ensure that your software is kept up to date with real-time backups of all your data, if possible. Local backups are great if you quickly need to restore data or a section thereof; however, it is preferable and highly advisable to have an offsite backup in order to prevent massive, detrimental data loss in the event of system compromise or failure.
It is important to make use of a VPN and Firewall on all web applications, including your web server.
VPN is an abbreviation for“Virtual Private Network” which provides you with a protected network connection while browsing a public network. It grants the end-user the ability to send and receive data across various networks (public or shared), establishing a protected connection that disguises itself to make devices look like they are directly connected to the private network itself.
A Firewall acts as an important first line of defense for your server while monitoring and scanning all network traffic (incoming and outgoing), allowing or preventing data based on a set of customizable rules. It aims to block your internal network from incoming traffic that might be of a malicious nature like malware such as viruses.
It is best practice to consider disabling the root user login in the SSH server. The root user gives full access to your server to anyone wielding it. In order to protect your server, you can create new users with alternate logins that can switch to root if necessary, for the task at hand. This option gives you full control over which individuals get access and who do not, with different users being granted privileges solely for their specific duties and nothing else. Taking extra preventative measures to avert third-party unauthorized access or mismanagement means fewer potential risks.
In order for developers to make use of the functionality needed to test and develop their projects, it is necessary for them to have special privileges in the environments they work and develop in, which they preferably shouldn’t have access to on its live counterpart – for security purposes. Development and testing environments also have certain vulnerabilities (such as back doors, source code, log files, etc.) which could lead to the exposure of sensitive data – thus, these environments should ideally be hosted on servers isolated from the internet. The deployment process should be done by an administrator, ensuring that no crucial or sensitive data is exposed after making a website live on the server.
Server log files are important data points for security and surveillance and contain all the activities of a specific server, such as the traffic on your site over a specific period of time. Ideally, it is important to ensure that all web server logs are stored in a segregated or isolated area, whilst being frequently checked and monitored. Unusual or strange log files may indicate attempted attacks or even instances where attacks turned out to be successful – if noticed, investigate the matter immediately in order to prevent further security breaches or compromises.
Weak passwords are still extremely common, despite severe warnings as to the risks involved. Complex, strong passwords act as the first step in order to reinforce and strengthening your security infrastructure. Update your passwords at least every 3 months and refrain from sharing them with anyone else. An important extra layer of security is the implementation of multi-factor authentication, further securing and protecting data resources.
It is imperative to use secure protocols such as sFTP or FTPs, SSH, and HTTPS and to stay away from insecure protocols such as FTP. Make sure to change the SSH (if making use of this option) to an alternative port, other than port 22 (which is the default) which will assist against forceful attacks when scanning for vulnerable servers across the Internet.
Hackers can easily spread malware or any form of malicious software throughout an insecure Wi-Fi connection. You run the risk and expose yourself to the possibility of infecting your device with harmful software if you allow file-sharing across a network.
It is important to be aware of the fact that the more services you have running on your server, the more ports are left open – it is vital to reduce the number of potentially vulnerable and exposed entry points. We recommend compiling a list of all open ports on your server and switching off/closing the ones which are either unnecessary or not being used.
If you need any more information regarding reliable and secure servers, please feel to contact us in order to explore how we may assist you.