The CW Corner – Best practices for mitigating website hacks
We at CharlesWorks are often asked by our web clients if their site is protected from malware and getting hacked. They also want to know if there site IS hacked, whether there be a charge to fix it.
The totally hack-proof website
The totally hack proof website has no access to it. So it’s not connected to the Internet. No one can view it. Such a website doesn’t sound like its of much use if no one can see it.
So, let’s agree that it is unrealistic to believe that a publicly accessible website can be totally hack-proof. Any website that is accessible via the public Internet is consistently subjected to attempts to break into it. Believe it or not, that’s the norm as opposed to the anomaly.
That being said, however, there ARE things you can do to mitigate website hacks. I have to stress the word mitigate here. Mitigation is defined as the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.
Site hacks are based on odds
My goal here is to simply remind you of what you most likely already know: that we can reduce the probability – the odds – of your site being hacked. We at CharlesWorks want that probability to be so low that it hopefully it doesn’t ever happen to you.
The major hacking causes
I have been operating CharlesWorks since 1998. In my experience, there appear to be two major reasons why sites get hacked:
- The access credentials/passwords have been compromised.
- The software that operates them wasn’t kept up to date.
Lets take a look at each of these below.
Compromised Access Credentials
Compromised passwords and bad actors gaining access to website login credentials is the major reason we see sites hacked. Think about this in terms of your car. You could have alarms on it. But if you make a copy of your car key and give it to someone, they can do whatever they like with the car. Whether its a drive along the beach or to rob a bank, your car is theirs to use with the key you gave them. Credentials – log in and passwords – work pretty much the same way.
CharlesWorks has many clients who want to be able to do things themselves. We are strong proponents of doing it yourself when it’s feasible and convenient. This is especially true for adding posts or page materials. It also makes sense when making other changes or modifications to your site. It is, after all, YOUR website.
However, many people fall prey to phishing schemes. Directly or indirectly, they usually end up tricked into giving out their website access credentials (as well as credentials to everything else they own). This is especially true if your email account is hacked and the hackers are able to access emails containing your website’s (and other) login credentials.
This problem is exacerbated if you have shared your website’s administrative or other access with others. Think of your emails containing various authorizations or login information as a potential weak link in a chain. If you have shared that information with others you have now created more weak links. This increases the odds of a potential compromise.
One of the best ways to mitigate these situations is to change your site’s access passwords so they are different than those possibly stored in your emails. And, to hope that anyone you may have shared your website access with has done the same.
Obviously, should site access be gained in such a manner, it would be your burden to have the site restored. I’ll expound upon this a little more at the end of this article.
Out of Date Security/Software Updates
Malware and virus protection on home computers operates a little differently than the same types of protection on servers. Website servers operate in the publicly accessible Internet. This results in many more entry points for potential issues. There are a number of very standard server protections available (which we utilize here at CharlesWorks).
After bad actors getting (or guessing) your passwords, the next major reason sites get hacked surrounds unapplied security updates and other software update issues. At CharlesWorks we mitigate such issues by running anti-malware software on our servers. Also, WordPress sites hosted on our servers are kept up to date automatically via automatic updating of the WordPress core as well as automatic updating of the the website’s plugins and themes.
There are literally thousands of individual pieces of software that must work in unison to operate most websites. These are developed by many more thousands of developers around the world. Unfortunately, no company can guarantee that a website will never get hacked. They can only mitigate security compromises and hope against the worst.
Restoring your Website
Regardless of which of the two situations above may have led to your website’s issues, your website will most likely need to be restored. That’s because after a bad actor or a hack back doors into the site will most likely have been installed for the bad actors to gain access again.
Many Internet companies claim to have automatic backups. In most of those, those backups are accessible to the user in their account. If the account is hacked, how safe do you suppose that is?
Some Internet companies delete and account upon a website being hacked. In those cases I have seen many left with no website or backup as a result.
What I believe is most important regarding this topic is the manner in which our WordPress sites are backed up every day for 30 days. Our backups are made to separate servers – external to those your the site operates on. For security reasons, the site administrators do not have access to these backups. So even with a site administrator’s compromised passwords there is no access to the backups. With these backups we can usually restore an average site in about 10-30 minutes if it needs restoring. And we can go back as far back as 30 days. We would only bill our web client for the 10-30 minutes (again – for an average website) which results in only a minor charge to restore it. Note that some websites are extremely large and require much more time to restore but these are very rare).
In my experience running CharlesWorks since 1998, we’ve built and handled more than 5,000 websites. At this point in time, I do not recall the last time a website we built and totally maintained was hacked (unfortunately I recall several instances of sites maintained by others that failed to ensure the site was updated and/or had their passwords compromised).
Sites getting hacked for out of date software happens far less frequently (if at all) when security updates are kept up to date and bad actors are kept out.
I hope this helps you understand a little more about this topic.