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Comprehensive Website Security Checklist And Best Practices

Having a secure website is crucial for any business operating online. Website vulnerabilities can cause of attacks, data breaches, and loss of customer trust if not properly maintained.

Using website security best practices can help you to protect your site and your users. In this article I have shared comprehensive checklist outlines you should take to bolster your web security.

Use HTTPS Across Your Entire Website

Enabling HTTPS across all your website pages is one of the most fundamental security best practices. HTTPS connections encrypt all data exchanged between your website and visitors’ browsers, preventing snooping of sensitive information.

  • Obtain an SSL certificate from a trusted Certificate Authority to activate HTTPS for your domain
  • Redirect all HTTP requests to HTTPS in your server configuration
  • Update all references in your site code and assets from HTTP to HTTPS

Keep All Software and Plugins Updated

Outdated website software, CMS platforms, plugins, frameworks, and other dependencies often contain vulnerabilities that get fixed in newer versions. Keeping everything updated to the latest releases is key:

  • WordPress sites should use the latest WP version and update all plugins/themes
  • Update PHP version and any installed application libraries
  • Review and install any available security patches for your web server software
  • Subscribe to notifications/alerts about new updates from vendors
  • Carefully assess compatibility and test before deploying major version updates

Harden Server Configurations

Default server settings are often insecure. Harden configurations by:

  • Disabling unused services/features, like remote login protocols
  • Using least privilege principles to limit access/permissions
  • Enabling additional security modules like mod_security for Apache
  • Hardening the OS level of your server through kernel parameters

Practice Least Privilege With Users

Granting users more permissions than required creates unnecessary security risks:

  • Categorize users into roles like editor, author, admin, etc. based on access needs
  • Assign granular permissions to each role instead of blanket privileges
  • Be strict about elevating privileges even for internal users
  • Configure SFTP restrictions for uploading files instead of enabling FTP/SCP

Implement Strong Password Policies

Weak or reused passwords remain one of the biggest security pitfalls. Enforce strong passwords:

  • Minimum 12 character length, with special symbols and mixed case
  • Disallow common/compromised passwords – have a database to check against
  • Require periodic rotation of passwords: every 90 days is recommended
  • Enforce 2-factor authentication for all admin accounts
  • Securely hash and salt all stored passwords using bcrypt/SHA algorithms

Sanitize And Validate All Inputs

Improper handling of malicious inputs is a leading cause of web app vulnerabilities like SQLi, XSS, RFI, etc. Aggressively sanitize and validate all parameters:

  • Use positive validation – whitelist permitted characters/formats
  • Encode or escape all outputs before rendering
  • Reject rather than sanitize invalid input in contexts like code execution
  • Limit string lengths and use regex to allow only matched text
  • Check numeric inputs fall within expected ranges
  • Sanitize for the correct context – eg SQL statements should handle ‘, “, newlines differently

Activate Additional Web Application Firewalls

Web application firewalls (WAF) provide increased protection at the HTTP request level:

  • A WAF can filter common attack payloads like XSS/SQLi strings that apps may miss
  • Configure custom rules to lock down specific application endpoints
  • Enable auto-learning modes to have the WAF adapt its rules over time
  • Use virtual patching capabilities to temporarily patch vulnerabilities
  • Enable integration with web app scanning tools to auto-import new protections

Rely On Trusted Web Hosting Providers

Small misconfigurations by inexperienced hosting providers have compromised many websites. Seek providers with:

  • Established expertise in security practices and compliance standards
  • Proven track record of quick response to vulnerabilities
  • Multi-layered defenses like DDoS protection, firewalls, intrusion systems
  • High service uptime and redundancy mechanisms
  • Regular external audits and penetration testing

This allows you to focus on your application code security.

Perform Regular Backups

Having recent backups helps restore data in case of malware or other corruption. Maintain regular backups:

  • Schedule daily incremental + weekly full backups of all site data
  • Validate integrity of backups and test restoration periodically
  • Store backups securely in an encrypted format
  • Have backups replicate offsite or to separate networks

Implement An Incident Response Plan

Despite best efforts, security incidents can still occur. Minimize impact via an incident response plan that covers:

  • Documentation of all assets, data flows and personnel for faster diagnosis
  • Enumerated communication workflows and stakeholder contacts
  • Step-by-step playbook for investigating, containing and remediating incidents
  • Data recovery procedures
  • Post-mortem analysis processes to feed into prevention mechanisms

Adopt A Defensive Coding Approach

Many vulnerabilities originate from unsafe coding practices. Adopt these defensive coding best practices:

  • Carefully structure code to prevent race conditions
  • Handle errors and exceptions gracefully – do not expose stack traces by default in production
  • Log extensively for debugging based on severity and context
  • Refactor risky code like file processing into isolated components
  • Extensively comment anything that performs dangerous operations
  • Validate expectations explicitly like return codes or output formats
  • Use memory/integer safe languages over buffer-unsafe languages where possible

Perform Both Static & Dynamic Scanning

Identify vulnerabilities in custom code via:

  • Static Analysis Security Testing (SAST) tools to scan source code
  • Dynamic Analysis Security Testing (DAST) tools that test running apps
  • Combining both catches a broader range of issues
  • Scan frequently – integrate scanning into CI/CD pipelines
  • Re-scan after addressing issues to check for regressions
  • Cover all internal and public facing applications

Conduct Third Party Audits

Unbiased external audits assess risks that internal teams may overlook:

  • Periodically have white-box and black-box penetration tests done
  • Request auditors to use latest attack methodologies during tests
  • Participate in formal bug bounty programs inviting findings from ethical hackers
  • Assess and mitigate all findings following risk rating methodologies

Prioritizing closure of critical/high risks is key.

Maintain Detailed Activity Logs

Comprehensive centralized logging enables better incident investigation and compliance audits:

  • Increase verbosity of security event logging with detailed payloads
  • Have a mandated data retention period for logs – 1 year is common
  • Closely monitor logs for anomalies indicating attacks
  • Ensure logs include key attributes like source IPs, user IDs and timestamps
  • Stream logs to a hardened log analysis server secured behind firewalls

Track Your Security Posture

Continuously tracking security posture is vital to validate controls and drive improvements via metrics like:

  • Patch lag days for operating systems and applications
  • Percentage of systems with up to date configurations
  • Number of unaddressed scan findings by risk levels
  • Number of users without multi-factor authentication
  • Frequency of vulnerability scans and penetration tests

Building a comprehensive website security program takes considerable effort but pays dividends in risk reduction. This checklist summarizes steps to get you firmly on the right path. Stay vigilant and keep polishing defenses – a secure web presence fosters continued customer confidence.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Website security needs continuous analysis and improvement from individuals and teams across an organization. Use the checklist and best practices above as a starting point while soliciting help from security professionals to uncover gaps and next steps for your unique needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most common website security threats?

The most prevalent threats include distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, cross-site scripting, SQL injections, cross-site request forgery (CSRF), and viruses/malware. Phishing and social engineering also commonly target websites.

What tools help test website security?

Web vulnerability scanners like Acunetix, virus scanners like ClamAV, penetration testing services, and audit checklists help test security measures. Enabling HTTP headers for added security layers also helps.

How often should you scan/audit website security?

Ideally, automated vulnerability scans should run daily. Full audits and penetration testing should occur every quarter or biannually. Security reviews should also happen after every product/feature launch or major update.

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