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Website Security 101: How to Secure Your Website

Website security is complicated, but we’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know about securing your website, common threats, and ways to defend against cyber attacks.

Website security is complicated, but we're here to help. Here's what you need to know about securing your website, common threats, and ways to defend against cyber attacks.

Protecting a website from malicious hackers requires protecting every way a bad actor can harm your website. Depending on the size and scope of your website, this might include cloud security, web application security, virtual private network (VPN) protection, locking down your web provider account, or having a disaster recovery plan.

Even companies with dedicated teams of cybersecurity professionals report attacks frequently. For small and medium-sized companies, the threat is just as significant.

However, smaller companies also have fewer recovery resources. Diligent protection of a website is essential, but it is just as important to have a plan in place in case a cyber attack is successful. This will limit the damage and allow your business to continue operations.

Bring your brand to life with your own secure website. Design from scratch, connect a domain, analyze traffic, and optimize for SEO.

What is website security?

Before we dive into how to secure a website, we must first get a basic understanding of what website security is. In the simplest terms, website security is the protection website owners put in place to prevent their websites from malicious attacks.

While the internet enables us to market our businesses, communicate with our customers, and sell our products with ease, unfortunately, it can also be a dangerous place. The US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warns that cybersecurity attacks are increasing in number and severity.

With over 2,200 cyber attacks happening each day, to prevent the unauthorized use of our websites and to safeguard our sensitive data, product launch information, and more, we must take action.

We must be prepared for a variety of security risks and take the steps we need in order to reinforce our security measures.

Why should you have a secure website?

For lack of a better word, cyber attacks can ruin lives. One major security incident can completely do away with your way of life and cut off your income stream. For small and medium-sized businesses, 95% of cybersecurity incidents cost between $826 and $653,587.

As your hacked website is down, held for ransom, or stolen, not only are you losing money, but your brand’s reputation and credibility can also be greatly damaged. A website with security vulnerabilities can be defaced to display information that destroys consumer trust. It can even be used to conduct watering hole attacks.

What security website should I monitor?

If you have a business in the US, pay close attention to the CISA website. In addition to identifying the latest security issues and exploits, the website also provides an in-depth technical overview and mitigation suggestions for each case.

With how devastating cyber attacks can be, sign up for CISA alerts so you can have a greater chance of protecting both your business and your customers. Take a look at the agency’s best practices for businesses, so you can better fortify your site’s security for the future as well.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s also a good idea to enable security alerts for every software application you use on your website. This includes anything from content management systems and WordPress plugins to tools for your ecommerce store. Although it can seem like a hassle in the moment, taking every extra precaution to keep your site secure will pay off in the long run.

Common website security threats

Data breach

A data breach happens when someone exposes confidential information. Data breaches can happen by accident, but cyber thieves also target websites and web applications to steal data that they can sell on the black market or use to break deeper into the company's network. Financial and medical data are common targets, but hackers can also sell student data, private correspondence and photos, and customer contact information.

Data breaches are costly, and not just in terms of lost income. Customers can sue if their private data is stolen and they can show that your company was negligent. National governments are becoming more aggressive in protecting their citizens' data, so large fines and legal sanctions are also a possibility. Data breaches can also destroy a business's reputation and the public's perception of its trustworthiness.

Denial of Service (DoS) and loss of website availability

A Denial of Service (DoS) attack is an attempt to crash a website by overloading its servers. A similar attack is a distributed denial of service (DDoS). In a distributed attack, the traffic is coming from multiple resources. This makes it more difficult to stop. You can block one source from flooding your web server, but it is much more difficult to keep hundreds, especially if the list is constantly changing.


Ransomware is a malicious code that blocks access to your website until you pay a ransom. Ransomware is becoming more frequent for small businesses and government municipalities. A criminal encrypts your computer files and user data, then offers to sell you a decryption key in return for cash (often Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency). This is a highly profitable crime because it costs less to pay the ransom than to regain access to business files any other way.

It has become so profitable that CISA and cybersecurity watchdogs warn that dark web users are offering Ransomware as a Service (RaaS). RaaS is a subscription-based business model where a criminal firm develops ransomware tools, then sells the tools to affiliates. When the affiliate uses the ransomware successfully, they pay a percentage of the ransom to the criminal firm. This removes the need for technical skills and opens up ransomware to anyone willing to pay the affiliate fee.

Cross-site scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting (XSS) happens when a malicious actor injects executable scripts into a website's code. When this is successful, the hacker is able to gain access to and control the website to impersonate people who have legitimate access to its website code.

SQL and code injections

SQL injections (SQLi) use SQL code to manipulate the databases connected to a website. SQL stands for scripted query language. It is used by database administrators to control the data in a database. An SQL injection bypasses the webpage to access the database directly. Once hackers access the database, they can destroy the sensitive information or copy it to sell on the dark web.

Stolen passwords

Most websites are secured by passwords. Passwords can be broken by software programs that try different combinations until they find one that works. Or in many cases, web developers use the default passwords that come with their web administrator account. If a hacker has the username and password to a website, they can do any amount of mischief or malicious activity, from defacing the webpage to making the files irrecoverable.

Steps you can take to secure your website

Be proactive when it comes to website security. You don’t have to sit still idly as bad actors wreak havoc on all your sites.

Whether you are installing frequent security patches, keeping on top of updating outdated software, or enabling automatic backups for your data, there are many painless ways to thwart hacking attempts.

How to secure a website can be complicated, but consider implementing the below measures to minimize your website’s security risk.

Keep software and security patches up-to-date

Keep all your software up to date. Most website attacks originate through the Content Management System (CMS). Popular examples of CMS are WordPress, Joomla, and Magento.

Turn on the alerts so that you know when Microsoft, WordPress, or any software vendor releases a patch or security enhancement. These are often released in response to a newly discovered weakness, so time is a priority.


Mailchimp's website builder includes an option to add encryption through SSL certificates that protect monetary transactions. HTTPS, or hypertext transfer protocol secure, is an encryption tool that protects data that needs to be secured, like financial or medical records.

Require complex passwords and frequent changes

Having a strong password that is changed often is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect your website. In general, a secure password will have more than just letters. Include a mix of different cases, numbers, and symbols with no relation to your personal information.

When the option is available, in addition to strong passwords, remember to use multi-factor authentication as well. If it annoys you, it annoys hackers and bots trying to hack into your website even more.

Restrict administrative privileges

The fewer people who have administrative access, the easier it is to keep track of everyone. When someone leaves your company – especially if terminated – double check their user permission or disable their account immediately.

Not everyone working on your website needs admin privileges. Grant privileges according to what the person needs to do. If someone needs temporary access for a special project, you can add the new rights needed, then.

Change default settings

Default settings are often the same for everyone who buys a software application or hardware product. This means that anyone else using the same apps you do may know your login credentials. So change them as soon as you install a new product.

Backup your files

A secure website is backed up. Backing up your files gives you a way to quickly recover from any type of cybersecurity attack. Mailchimp's website builder offers the option to automatically backup your files when you set up your website. This is strongly recommended because it is too easy to forget.

It is important to keep backup files in a secure location separate from your website files. This is because if a hacker gets into your web account, they also have access to your backups. Saving your files offline gives you an alternative to paying a ransom because you can restore the encrypted files yourself instead of paying the criminals.

Use a web application firewall (WAF)

If you’re wondering how to secure a website against cross-site scripting and SQL injection, look no further than web application firewalls.

Essentially, a web application firewall acts as a shield between your web applications and the rest of the internet. It monitors all HTTP traffic that wish to pass through to your web app, blocking any that attempt to exploit its vulnerabilities.

For ecommerce websites that handle cardholder data in particular, implementing a WAF can help you meet certain compliance requirements.

Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Enabling multi-factor authentication can add an extra layer of protection to your data. In addition to your password, you’ll now need another form of verification, such as a one-time password, QR code, or push notification on one of your mobile devices, to access your applications and accounts.

Even if a hacker successfully attains one of your credentials, they will likely be dissuaded by the MFA process. Put an emphasis on data encryption to take your website security to the next level.

As a website owner, especially if you have a small business, it is crucial to make your data as unappealing and inaccessible as possible. Even the simplest security tools and security enhancements can make a huge difference when it comes to creating a secure site.

Regularly monitor logs and conduct security audits

Sometimes, keeping your website up-to-date is not enough, you’ll also need to continuously upgrade your security strategy to stay ahead of phishing attacks and more.

Monitor your logs and conduct security audits to find the gaps present within your IT infrastructure. For example, take a look at your website server settings, core files, and user access privileges. How can you make your website safer for your business and more efficient for your site visitors?

Do you need to install security plugins or anti-malware software? Or do you have SSL certification that needs to be renewed? Use an automated security audit tool or invest in a professional safety check to get a clear idea of your site's health.

Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

While a content delivery network is typically used to improve website performance, the right CDN can also secure a website by offering DDoS protection.

Built to handle a large amount of traffic, a CDN can redistribute the sudden increase in traffic that comes with a DDoS attack. This way, your origin web server stays up and doesn't get overwhelmed.

Limit sensitive information collected and stored

Many businesses need to collect and store personal information in their databases in order to operate.

Information like names, addresses, social security numbers, credit card details, phone numbers, and passwords can be necessary for payroll, order fulfillment, social media management, and other key business functions. How do we make sure to keep this sensitive data safe?

Start with organizing your databases, get a good idea of all the information you have and dispose of what you no longer need.

Going forward, only store information that is absolutely necessary and make everything backed up and encrypted. Remember to have a privacy policy in place to cover all the bases as well.

Educate and train employees on best practices

Whether your business uses a WordPress website or a static HTML website, having a secure website takes more than just the right security plugins and security services.

Regardless of their position in your organization, your employees also need to have a good understanding of website security and data handling. From classes on GDPR compliance to password workshops, make it a priority to invest in cybersecurity training for your employees.

Prepare a recovery plan before anything happens

Cybersecurity attacks can still happen no matter how diligent or careful you are to maintain security on your websites. Prepare a recovery plan just in case. Drill your team occasionally to make sure the plan is current and everyone knows what needs to be done.

Maintaining security for websites is a constant process. New vulnerabilities appear every day. If a breach happens, get your website back online. Once your business is up and running again, look at what happened and take steps to keep it from happening again.

Bring your brand to life with your own website. Design from scratch, connect a domain, analyze traffic, and optimize for SEO. Try Mailchimp's free website builder and bring your vision to life in less than an hour.

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