Security for websites – how to make your website secure
Written by: Trond Olav Ånesen

The importance of maintaining security online is nothing new. Many people tend to only think about security when visiting a website, but as an owner of a website, no matter what the type of website it, you need to think about security. Informational websites, blogs, online newspaper, web shop or any other.

Security is important for you as an owner of the website, and for those visiting and using the website. In this article we will take a closer look at how to maintain basic security and what needs to be done if an incident occurs.

Security on your website involves:

  • It should be safe for everyone to visit the website
  • The website should not be infected with malicious code that may infect visitors
  • The website should not forward visitors to any websites with malicious code
  • Information exchanged between visitors and website/server should not be accessible to anyone unauthorized

The topic is comprehensive and one article cannot cover it all, but we will focus on the most important; It should be safe to visit your website!

security for websites

Make sure the website is not/cannot be infected

When a website is available online it poses a potential target for hackers. A hacker is not necessarily a man in a black hood in a dark basement. In most cases a hacker is an automated “Bot” (robot). These “bots” are constantly scanning known and unknown websites for vulnerabilities to exploit. Vulnerabilities exist in the code running, directly or in add-ons such as plugins.

A classic example is a website created in WordPress, with a theme and a few plugins installed. Since WordPress is quite popular it is also popular to search for vulnerabilities in this type of installation. If a hacker can successfully infect 1 website, they can potentially do the same to thousands of websites.

The motive behind infecting a website may include; a hacker might want to spread their message, send spam from your account, collect sensitive information from visitors, forward visitors to other insidious websites, use the resources of the account for other attacks and so on. All of the mentioned is of course something you want to avoid. In general, it is rarely you directly,  they are targeting.

Checklist to avoid having your website infected

  • Everything must be updated, always
    Since WordPress (and other similar systems) is popular, when vulnerabilities are found, improvements are made and updates released. It is important to update when new ones are released. As soon as a vulnerability is detected and known, it is only a matter of time before the websites not updated will be attacked. The same goes for anything installed on the system. As we mentioned in our example, we have a theme and plugins running. These can also contain vulnerabilities and developers release updates correcting this. It’s therefore important to keep both theme and plugins updated as well as the installation itself.
  • Anything not being used on the hosting should be removed
    Any theme or plugins not being used should be deleted/removed. Even if you deactivate a plugin or a theme everything is not actually gone. Files are often left and can potentially be abused. This means; only what is necessary to keep the website running optimal should be openly accessible. Anything else must be deleted or moved to an unreachable area.
  • Use captcha for forms
    Forms; contact forms, order forms and similar must be secure so they cannot be completed automatically. The “bots” we mentioned before can also be used to abuse forms, when available and send spam from website/account. This will affect the visitors in two ways:
    1. Resources for the hosting can be used for this, preventing visitors from loading the website.
    2. Causing abuse of such a magnitude that the account will be suspended to avoid further issues. Suspension means the website will be offline and not available for visitors. All forms where visitors can fill in information, should have an extra check. Captcha is the most common (and recommended) check for this.

security for websites

  • Password must be secure
    A secure password is long and composed by numbers, small and uppercase letters and other characters. Long password can also be sentences or phrases with random numbers/letters more easy to remember. Password is used on our client portal, hosting, email and the website/installation. The password used the most is also the most vulnerable. You should change password at least a few times each year. You should never use the same password several places.
  • Implement extra security wherever its possible
    For many CMS (WordPress/Joomla/Drupal) special plugins are developed focus solely on security. Check what needs you have and install what you think is best for your website and needs. There are several decent free options, but if you have a larger website with heavy traffic it can be worth paying for the extra security. Sucuri (sucuri.net) provides a free plugin as well as a paid version and is known for value for money.

security for websites

  • Make sure to always have a backup of your content
    You should always make sure to have a backup of your content. All of our clients have access to the best solution in the market for backup. At PRO ISP you have access directly to your backup via the control panel (cPanel). Backup is performed once each day of all the content and is kept for 30 days. In addition to the backup solution with PRO ISP we recommend always having an external backup. Once each month or once each quarter, depending on how critical it is and how many changes you are willing to lose.

Website has been infected, what to do?

What if the damage has already been done? What if your account has been suspended by PRO ISP? This can happen to anyone and most people experience it as unfair.
All hosting companies operate the same way when it comes to hosting; several hosting share resources on the same server. To illustrate, imagine the server as a hotel and the clients account as hotel rooms in the hotel.

When a hosting company detects resources being abused, this must be stopped to avoid it affecting the other clients in the same hotel. Imagine a hotel room with so many visitors that no other guest can get in or out of their room. The room creating the problem will have to be closed to avoid this. Its not always an account will be shut down, but if signs of hacking/abuse is noticed we can notify directly.

The most important in such cases is; follow the instructions given and ask for tips/advice/guidance if you are unsure.

If we detect hacking/abuse, and either give notice or suspend the account, we always give instructions on what needs to be done.
In most cases the hacking is so recent you can use a backup included in the hosting. The procedure is easy:

  • Delete content on hosting related to the website.
  • Restore content from a date before hacking/abuse occurred (if you are unsure, use the oldest backup available)
  • Review all the mentioned measures above to prevent further hacking/abuse. Update everything, secure all forms, change all passwords and implement extra security

If you do what is recommended and follow this you are as secure as possible. Both you as the owner of the website, the visitors, and we who serve the website form our servers will be happy.

Secure information between visitors and server (SSL certificate)

Security certificate is becoming more and more relevant to discuss, and highly useful when it comes to security for websites. We have previously had articles about “SSL certificate- How to chose the right one” and how larger suppliers are planning to force more and better use of this to maintain security online (“Google warns: Secure your website”). Now it is about to get a little technical but we will need to explain some technical stuff:

SSL* is an encryption protocol, or a set of rules telling a server/client (website and visitors) how encryption of the data will be executed. The encryption is the process of making something unreadable or incomprehensible to others.

* In reality TLS is used, but SSL and SSL certificates are used in everyday speech so therefore also in this article.

The end goal for SSL is to make sure the visitor, and the server/website, will be able to read the data sent between these two parties. It is therefore essential when personal and sensitive data is exchanged, such as phone number, username, password, e-mail addresses, credit card information and similar; because we do NOT want this information seen by others.
security for websites
In order to enable this encryption we use “keys”. When the visitor and a server/website have the same kind of “key”, only they can read, and encrypt the information. An SSL certificate is a certificate confirming the ownership of the “keys”, and that they are authentic and valid. How thorough this confirmation is, depends on the certificate, read more about it in “SSL certificate – How to choose the right one”. In short terms the certificate confirms it has been issued by a valid issuer, for the website visited, and its validation for this. As a visitor, you can see this by the green padlock in the address field and that the browser reports the website as secure.

As mentioned in “Google warns: Secure your website” encryption of information is highly relevant since it will be a demand soon. You can of course avoid using SSL certificates, but visitors of the website will be receiving a warning when entering your website. This warning can compare to shouting at your customers: “I do not care about security”. If you have not made the transition from http to https the time is definitely now!

Du you have any questions?

In the beginning of the article we mentioned security is a quite large topic and cannot be covered in one single article. Still, follow the advises given, and be more aware of security you will have come a long way already.

Did you read the article and is left with many questions? Do you want some guidance? Please, do not hesitate to contact us.

Epost: support@proisp.eu
Facebook: https://facebook.com/proisp.eu/

SSL certificate – how to choose the right one?
Written by: Jon Eivind Malde

The demand for SSL certificates have been increasing rapidly the last couple of years. The reason for this is most likely because security have become more important as there are continuously new cases of hacking and cyber-attacks. Google and the web browser community have also contributed to the increasing demand. Not having an SSL certificate will cause a warning to appear for the user in the web browser. Here at PRO ISP we receive daily inquiries regarding SSL and the most common questions are:

 

What is an SSL certificate?

SSL certificates are used to create a secure connection so that the information being sent cannot be monitored or altered by anyone. In other words, it ensures safe communication. On a website with SSL certificate, the URL will contain an S so it will say https:// instead of just http://.ssl certificate secure not

SSL certificates are not only used for web servers, but for any type of service where secure communication is required (email, FTP for example). However, it’s mostly on websites that you will notice the use of SSL due to the visible indicators to increase end user trust and confidence in the browser. We will elaborate more about this later.

SSL certificates also have another function. The certificates are issued by certificate authorities (CAs). These issuers have a set of rules to follow for when a certificate can be issued – in the same way as there are rules for issuing passports or driver’s license.

There are currently 3 levels of validation for SSL certificates and each level have higher requirements than the previous level. The requirements verify control and ownership of the domain. Each level is meant to provide increased trust for the client that you are who you say you are. As each level require more information to be verified the price is usually higher for each level.

The levels are:
1. Domain validation (DV)
2. Organization validation (OV)
3. Extended validation (EV)

1. Domain validation (DV)

The easiest certificate to get issued is domain validated certificate. This certificate only verifies that you control the domain, which can be done via email, DNS and file. This part is done automatically for all our clients who order certificates for web hosting at PRO ISP. All our web hosting includes a free Basic SSL certificate which is a domain validated certificate. This only takes a few second to issue.

This is how a DV certificate will look in a web browser:

ssl certificate google
The difference between a free Basic SSL certificate and a paid DV certificate:

  • Site seal is not included for the free certificate, but is included in all the other certificates. You can however add a site seal to your free Basic SSL, which is cheaper than purchasing a SSL certificate. If you are wondering how a site seal looks on a website, look on the bottom at proisp.eu. Clicking the site seal will provide more information about the website and what is verified. Site seal is used to show visitors the owner of the website has secured the website and show what has been verified by a third party. This increases the chances for the first-time visitors to more quickly establish enough trust to the website so they may contact you or make a purchase. The site seal included with certificates typically contain more information the higher level they are, as well as being more expensive. The site seal for proisp.eu is one of the ones with most verified information as well as issued from the worlds most recognized brand when it comes to security online.

ssl certificate norton site seal

  • Paid certificates have a warranty covered by the issuer if the certificates have been issued to someone performing fraud and issuer should have known about. Visitors of the website is covered by this warranty. The warranty is another way to ensure the visitor to have trust in the website.
  • About 5% of our clients are denied Basic SSL by the certificate issuer due to information on the domain, domain name or contact information seeming suspicious. In these cases, a manual review is required by the issuer and you will need to purchase a SSL certificate instead.

2. Organization validation (OV)

Organization validated certificates must in addition to domain validation also validate the information regarding the organization/company. Private parties can therefore not purchase these. Required documentation is that the organization:

  • Exists
  • Own/operate the domain
  • Operates from the correct address
  • Can be contacted through public available contact information

In a web browser the URL will look the same for OV as DV certificate, but the visitor can check which organization and address the certificate has been issued to, as shown below.

ssl certificate details

The site seal for OV certificates contains more information (company name), the warranties are higher and there are some available extra functions such as malware and PCI scanning. As there is more to verify for OV it usually takes the issuer around 1-2 days from order to the certificate is issued. This is also reflected on the price.

3. Extended validation (EV)

EV SSL certificate requires the highest level of validation before being issued. Basically, most of the same information as OV certificates but the difference is there are fewer approved sources as well as the validation process is more thorough and more documentation is required. Compared to OV certificate there is overall more to validate on each check point. The most visible difference is seen in the web browser. This is how our URL is seen in the web browser:

 

 

You can clearly see who is the owner of the website as the company name is shown next to the URL.

Since there is more to validate for the certificate issuer it usually takes 2-7 days to issue EV SSL certificates. These certificates are normally the most expensive.

What do I need SSL certificate for?

  • Safe communication
    In today’s society with increased focus on protection of privacy and security, secure communication is essential to maintain both.
  • Higher ranking in search engines
    Search engines have added SSL as a part of their algorithm ranking and it is estimated websites with SSL have about 5% better results than websites without.
  • Faster loading websites
    Web browsers have chosen to support the new HTTP/2 protocol when using SSL/TLS only. HTTP/2 can reduce the loading time with 20-30%. All our web hosting supports HTTP/2, but only when you have an SSL certificate your website will use HTTP/2 instead of the older HTTP/1.1 protocol.
  • Avoid warnings in the web browser
    Web browsers shows a warning that the website is not secure when inserting data into a form and the website is not using SSL. In the future a warning will be shown for all websites not using SSL.
  • Increase conversions
    A conversion is a visitor performing a desired action on your website. This could be a purchase, registration or anything else. All paid SSL certificates contain many benefits to increase conversions, such as site seal, warranty, malware scan and increased visibility in search engines. These benefits will help increase the trust for your website while showing your customers you are serious about security.
  • Company name visible in web browser
    EV SSL certificate clearly shows the owner of the website and that it has been validated from a secure third party. A message to show you have been through the most thorough check and give you the highest level of trust with your customers.

Which SSL certificate should I choose?

Which SSL certificate is the right one for you will depend on what kind of website you have and how it is used. Some have several domains and websites with different needs and therefore may need many different certificates.

Generally, we recommend you consider who your visitors are and what you want them to do. These questions should be answered:

  • To what extent does users notice if the website is secure?
  • How much will it mean for the visitors to see the website is secure?
  • Will indicators showing that the website is secure, or to show who you say you are, increase trust for your website and its visitors?
  • Will increased trust to your website increase the likelihood of visitors doing as you want them to?

If the visitors will not notice it the website is secure, and it will not increase the likelihood of visitors doing as you want them to, you do not need more than our free SSL certificate or Start SSL (RapidSSL). Even though it may not matter much, it would not be negative to add a site seal included in the certificate on your website.

Some of the recommendations below are for wildcard (plus) and multi-domain certificates. These are explained in further details in “SSL certificates that cover more than one address”.

SSL recommendations for:

Simple personal website

Typically, simple blogs with personal information or simple websites with few pages. To avoid warnings in the future that the website is not secure it is a minimum requirement to use SSL. Since there is no need for increased trust there is no need to pay for a certificate unless the free Basic SSL could not be issued.

Recommendation:

Simple website for a company

A small website with information about the company and a contact form could have different need for SSL. Depending on what type of clients (IT and security related versus non IT related such as carpenters for example) we have different recommendations.

Recommendations for not IT related clients:

Recommendations for IT, security, web shop or similar related clients:

Larger website for a company

A larger website with information about the company and a blog, web shop or more.

Recommendations:

Several websites for a company on several domains

Here the same recommendations as mentioned above applies. You should consider each website separately as mentioned above.

It’s it usually best to order a certificate for each website, but if you have a good overview of the domains it may be best to consider Premium SSL multi-domain. If you do not need to increase trust we recommend Comodo Positive multi-domain SSL.

If you want a certificate for alias domains on the same web hosting you will need to use a multi-domain certificate for these. This also applies to other sub domains and domains pointing to the same folder on the web server. Read more about SSL certificates that covers more than one address.

SSL certificate not to be used for website

SSL certificate not to be used for websites are often used for email services. They are also used for other services such as FTP, APIs/apps and other services that require SSL. They have in common that they only need the security SSL provides. It is therefore no need for a higher-level certificate than DV certificate.

Since you can only use basic SSL with our web hosting, you will in most cases need a DV certificate (such as Start SSL) which covers one domain.

  • If you have several sub domains on the same domain you wish to use for such services, we recommend you use Start SSL Plus.
  • If you are securing several addresses for several domains, we recommend Comodo Positive multi-domain SSL.5

 

Contact us for further questions

Hopefully this information will help you find the right SSL certificate for your need. If you are still unsure which one to choose, it is more important that you are using SSL – then which one it is.

Do not hesitate to send us feedback or questions. Should you have any questions please contact us.