Web servers are the lifeline of businesses as they host the sensitive data that they need to keep afloat. This is the very reason why securing this key asset becomes critical for organizations. At the same time, hackers may go the extra mile to look for vulnerabilities in your web server because they want to access the confidential information for exploiting the business. Securing it, is, therefore, as important as securing your business website or web application and the network around. Needless to say, the risk potential is high if your web application is secured but the webserver isn’t, or vice versa. So this is something you cannot afford to ignore at any cost.
Fortunately, securing a web server is not an impossible task even though it may sound challenging and take some work. Moreover, the industry has come a long way and IT experts have discovered several security measures to fortify servers and cut down the concerns of business owners. Everything boils down to identifying the apt measures and taking the necessary steps to implement them for your organization. Here is a web server security checklist that every business should follow to make sure that they are covered on this front.
Eliminate unnecessary services
It is to be noted that the default OS installations and configurations lack in terms of security. A typical default installation has many such network services which may not be used in a server configuration. These include print server service, remote registry services, RAS, etc. The larger the numbers of services running on an OS, the more ports are left open. Obviously, this gives malicious users more opportunities to abuse the system. Switching off all unnecessary services and disabling them makes sense. When this is done, they will not start automatically when the server is rebooted next time. Another advantage of switching off these unnecessary services is that it boosts the server performance by freeing up some hardware resources.
Keep an eye on remote access
Another effective measure to tighten up server security is by keeping a close check on remote access. Though limiting remote access is the best way to handle things, this may not be practical in the current scenario. Rather, you should focus on securing remote connections with measures like tunneling and encryption protocols. Further, restricting remote access to only a specific number of IPs and accounts is also a good idea. The additional measures you can take include the use of security tokens and single sign-on software. Apart from these measures, ensure that public computers or public networks, such as those in internet café’s, are not used to access corporate servers remotely. Prioritize the use of private networks and VPNs instead.
Manage users properly
Every web server has a root user who is authorized to execute any command. However, this makes things risky, particularly if the root goes into the wrong hands. Moreover, hackers are always on a lookout for cracking the password of the root user. Disabling the root login in SSH altogether is something that a lot of companies do. This practice fortifies the server from potential threats and puts hackers at a significant disadvantage as well. Creating a limited user account to ensure that outsiders are not able to misuse root privileges is another smart way to tighten security. With this measure, the account will not possess the same level of authority but can still perform the same administrative tasks as the root using sudo commands.
Enable permissions and privileges
While managing the root user is mandatory, you need to keep a tight check on the security team as well. Follow the access management principle that enables role-based permissions and privileges for the team. As a rule of thumb, web servers should be accessible only to the approved and authorized employees who should be allowed to do it when planned or scheduled maintenance is expected. Simply speaking, you need to lock down access with stringent privileged access management controls, while restricting access to only those team members who have the permissions to view or make changes.
Monitor login attempts consistently
Apart from managing the users and permissions effectively, monitoring the login attempts is another surefire way to manage your web server’s security. Typically, automated hacking attacks are carried out using trial and error software. They leverage random sets of alphanumeric combinations to gain unauthorized access to the system. The best way to address this concern is by using reliable intrusion prevention/detection software that constantly monitors the files stored in the server and checks suspicious activities if any. If the number of login attempts goes beyond a certain threshold, the software blocks the IP address temporarily or even indefinitely.
Install the security patches on time
The choice of the web server for your business can make all the difference to the security configurations you can expect. So going the extra mile with the right choice can protect you to a significant extent. You may go through 5 of The Best Web Servers Available to find a server that matches your expectations and choose the one that goes above and beyond to improve itself. The good thing is that they keep bringing security patches from time to time to cover up the vulnerabilities discovered. And all that you need to do is to install them on time because hacking incidents are the result of hackers taking advantage of un-patched servers and software. It is good to stay one step ahead by keeping an eye on the latest patches released and ensuring that you don’t leave any doors open for the cybercriminals waiting to exploit your data and systems.
Upgrade and update regularly
Staying on top of the latest security patches is just half the work done; you need to update the software regularly to keep your server safe from hackers.
Running outdated software is risky because its weak points are already known, which makes it a soft target for hackers. Conversely, keeping everything up-to-date ensures that the server will be able to protect itself right in the first line of defense. Using automatic updates is a smart approach as it guarantees that no updates are forgotten or missed. However, letting the system make such changes by itself entails some risks. Before you update your production environment, examining how the updates perform in a test environment is good practice. Also, update the server control panel regularly. The same needs to be done for the content management systems and plugins as well.
Pay attention to server password security
Setting stringent password requirements and rules is essential for server security. At the same time, you need to make sure that they are followed by all members as a mandate. Do not allow the use of default passwords and enforce minimum length and complexity for passwords.
Having a lockout policy, enabling two-factor authentication, and forcing session timeout for inactivity are some other measures you can implement. Also, abstain from storing them using reversible encryption. Another routine practice that you should enforce for the users is an expiration date for passwords. As a rule, a password should be changed every couple of weeks or months based on the level of security needed.
Another server protection measure that you cannot miss out on is using a firewall as it goes a long way in preventing any unauthorized access to your web server. In fact, it acts as your first line of defense against attackers who attempt to get through your cPanel. Look for a reliable firewall that is capable of protecting cPanel servers. You may even find ones that are not only effective for blocking unauthorized access but also give helpful recommendations for securing your server after they run a system scan and detect flaws.
Secure File Transfer Protocol
It is vital to ensure that file transfers are done safely because that is one easy way your server’s security may be compromised. Using File Transfer Protocol Secure (FTPS) to transfer files minimizes the risk of hackers compromising or stealing data. You can rely on it for encrypting the data files as well as the authentication information. However, you need to bear in mind that FTPS protects files only during transfer. Once they reach the server, data is not encrypted any longer. For this reason, it is better to encrypt the files before sending them for an additional layer of security.
Go the extra mile with vulnerability scanners
Implementing the best practices for securing your web servers is one part of the picture. Detecting and addressing them is a proactive approach that you must take along with following the preventive measures. Vulnerability scanners can provide a great deal of helpful insight in this context. These tools enable you to find potential risks and spot problems even before they arise. They assess applications at run time and detect risky application behavior. Further, they are useful for detecting issues in third-party components and other elements of the overall application stack. Accordingly, your security team can take the requisite actions to address the issues before the worst happens.
Apart from implementing these web server security measures, staying informed is the key. Be aware of the latest vulnerabilities and challenges you may come across and work with your security team to build solutions even before you come across them. Also, ensure that you are one step ahead with the implementation of the latest practices as well. A secure web server is something that you cannot overlook because it is a matter of survival for your business.