Hosting for Non-Techies

5 Often Overlooked Server Security Concerns

Having a secure web server is extremely important. Many people think the only targets of hacking are those who have hundreds of customers using credit cards on their site or large, popular sites that have thousands of visitors. In reality, smaller sites are targets of hackers just the same as larger ones. They may even be targeted more frequently, as hackers believe they have worse security.

These hacks aren’t designed to steal credit card details or deface your front page, either. They are hidden, more insidious hacks that hijack your server, using it to send out spam mails, participate in bot nets, or otherwise create havoc on the web. Get hacked and you can quickly find your IPs blacklisted, resources being devoured, and even basic functions of your site not working.

Remaining secure is largely a function of remaining vigilant and knowing what to be concerned about. Many people believe software and tweaks can protect their servers, but in many cases, it’s a matter of your philosophy regarding your security rather than the specific details. Here are five things people may overlook when thinking about their server’s security.

Your apps, add-ons, and software<
ServInt delivers our servers hardened against thousands of in-the-wild security holes. However, this only applies to the server exactly as we provide it! Adding new apps or software can introduce new security threats that previous hardening hasn’t accounted for.

Before you install any application on your web server, you should make sure you know the following things:

  1. Is the application regularly updated to fix security holes?
  2. Are new features being added to the application which may introduce new security holes?
  3. How is the software updated? Do I need to manually patch or is it automated?

If an app is abandoned, doesn’t receive security and bug fixes, or is incredibly difficult to update, this represents a security risk to you. Search for other options that stay on top of web security and make sure you update when they do.

Files on your server
Many hacks involve uploading malicious files to your server, often in hard-to-find directories, and altering your server’s settings to run these files covertly. Making sure you know what all the files that are on your server do (or at least have a good idea what is legit and what is not) is a big step in ensuring you remain secure.

It can pay to regularly check the files on your server, especially in rarely-used directories. While this can become unwieldy for larger servers, there are programs and scripts you can find which will do this for you.

If you do find a suspicious file and do not know if it is a hack or not, be sure to get in touch with our MST immediately so they can check for you. You should also change the passwords to any accounts which have write access to your server as well.

Your site’s coding
Vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting are a result of code on your website that has a hole in it, allowing attackers to receive information, access, or other control over your server that you don’t want them to have. These sort of attacks can be very difficult to detect if you’re not familiar with the intricacies of coding.

Detailing the ways to check your site for coding flaws is beyond the scope of this article. However, there are numerous resources on the internet that can help you with it. We recommend OWASP for users who want deeper knowledge; their Source Code Analysis Tools page offers some options for automated checking.

Your personal computer’s security
Many people do not consider that the security on their home computer (or any computer they access their server from) can affect the security of their web server. If a hacker gains access to your personal computer, there are numerous methods of them gaining access to the information that will let them access your server.

Making sure you follow best practices for personal computer security will improve your server’s security by association. Make sure you have an anti-virus and malware protection installed, utilize secure passwords, and don’t have an unprotected wireless router. These precautions and others can help keep your web server safe.

User access
The more people that have access to your server, the greater the risk of a vulnerability. This isn’t to mean that one of the people you’ve given access will do something malicious, rather that they may make a basic security mistake such as having a weak password, logging in from a computer infected with malware, or otherwise violating one of the above rules.

Be mindful of who you give access to and be certain they follow best practices as well. When multiple people have access to a server, it’s the weakest link that will cause a break.

These five concerns aren’t the only things you’ll need to remain secure. There are numerous tweaks, apps, and settings out there which can improve site security. Our blog has some tips and we’re adding more all the time, while a Google search can provide many of the latest and greatest security solutions.

Photo by David Goehring.

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