We sat down to talk with Neill Feather, President of Sitelock, about the importance of web security. Even if you don’t run a business online, you can still glean some insight from the discussion.
Here’s our conversation:
Lack of awareness of the risks and consequences, and the belief especially amongst small business owners that they’re too small to be noticed by hackers. They’re not aware that most hackers use automated tools to find vulnerable sites. Most small business owners are too busy to think about security in any depth. While they’re often aware generally of security issues, they often don’t connect those threats with their own business. So they don’t set aside the time and resources need to make sure even the most basic website security precautions are followed.
Your website is your brand, your storefront, and often your first contact with customers. If it’s not safe and secure, those critical business relationships can be compromised. The threats can come in many forms – infecting a website with malware in order to spread that malware to site visitors, stealing customer information, like names and email addresses, stealing credit card and other transaction information, adding the website to a botnet of infected sites, and even hijacking or crashing the site.
A single security breach could be a death-knell for a small business. Most states now have strict data breach laws, and many come with stiff fines, penalties, and other costs. Even if a security breach at a small business website doesn’t trigger a data breach, it can still have a huge impact on customer trust if customers find out about it.
An unprotected website is a security risk to customers, other businesses, and public/government sites. It allows for the spread and escalation of malware, attacks on other websites, and even attacks against national targets and infrastructure. In many of these attacks, hackers will try to harness the combined power of thousands of computers and sites to launch this attacks, and the attacks rarely lead directly back to the hackers.
Consumers are nervous about the security risks of the internet. For example, identity theft has been the number one consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission every year for the last thirteen years. Consumers seem to sense, because it’s common sense, that most small businesses can’t afford the best security and therefore it’s more likely their website presents a higher risk – whether it’s purchasing or just browsing.
The more a small business can do to build trust in the security of their website, the more likely customers are to visit, stay, buy, return, and recommend. That’s why security seals are important. Not only do they provide reassurance to customers that the website is secure and the business is aware of the risks, but customers are also so used to seeing these seals on websites, they tend to notice when a site has none.
No industry is immune. Hacking is not just about stealing data. Hackers want to create watering holes where they can hide malware as a way to spread the malware to any visitors to that site. They also want to enlist those compromised sites in Distributed Denial of Service (DDS) attacks on other sites. Any site can serve that function. When it comes to data theft, financial services, healthcare, and retail seem to be especially popular.
In October, 2011 the FCC re-launched the Small Biz Cyber Planner 2.0, a free online tool to help small businesses develop their own cybersecurity plan. The security team that helped develop the original planning tool included Symantec, Visa, and Neal O’Farrell, an advisor to SiteLock.
Not sure but probably picked October because the holidays are one of the busiest seasons for hackers and cybercrooks and a good time to raise awareness. SiteLock has joined other leading security and technology companies to champion this cause because awareness is a critical first step in securing business and personal assets
It’s tough to pick just one. Some easy steps are to create a security plan, even a simple one, share it with everyone involved, and stick to it. Manage your passwords carefully, especially website access. And keep all computers and mobile devices free from malware so they’re not used as a launchpad for a website attack. Of course, it would be smart to enroll in a service like the one we offer at SiteLock. It’s affordable to even the smallest business yet provides the same types of website security that even the biggest businesses enjoy.
Of course, the hosting company is a key to website security. The host provides the infrastructure upon which the site will be built. Just like building a house, you need a strong foundation in order to be safe. It also matters how you go about building the house, which is an important piece that website owners sometimes don’t fully understand. While the host provides the infrastructure, the site needs to be secure as well. In fact, websites are now a much more popular entry point than servers or networks, accounting for up to 80% according to a recent report from Verizon. We often use the analogy of an apartment complex. The host provides the security for the building, so if the front door hangs open and there is no buzzer system, that is the host’s responsibility. If you leave your apartment door open, though, it is still your responsibility. This is the same way with a web host and website owner.
Content Delivery Networks, or CDN’s help accelerate a website’s performance. Faster sites are much more pleasant to interact with for customers, so they are more likely to stay longer and come back or buy something if they can interact with the site quickly and easily. Maybe more importantly, faster sites rank higher on search engines, so more users will see the site and can get there. SiteLock offers every iPage customer access to our TrueSpeed Content Delivery Network, which has the additional benefit of providing protection for the site owner through our TrueShield web application firewall, which blocks malicious traffic to the site.
Be proactive. It is much easier to build in security right from the start than it is to clean up after a compromise. All too often, we work with website owners who did not think about security until it is too late. The resulting downtime, reputation damage, and clean-up are much more difficult and can be much more expensive than starting with security in mind. This is definitely a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on Oct 14, 2013, it has been updated for relevancy and accuracy.