Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

8/27/2013
01:09 AM
50%
50%

4 Steps For More Secure Small Business Websites

Cybercriminals increasingly are targeting the blogs and e-commerce sites of SMBs, but a handful of simple steps can make these sites harder to hack

Content management systems run by small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have come under increasing attack by botmasters looking to build high-bandwidth infrastructure for executing denial-of-service attacks or as drive-by download sites for malware campaigns.

In a recent case, dubbed "Fort Disco," cybercriminals used a 25,000-node botnet of infected Windows systems to scan the Internet for vulnerable sites and then attempt to guess the administrative password using a small set of common passwords. The tactic may have worked in only a small percentage of cases, but it was still effective, claiming more than 6,000 sites.

SMB networks and websites both are under attack. While criminals may focus on compromising a business' network to steal money using bank account fraud, attacks aimed at the website are typically focused on the misuse of the company's resources, says Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of CloudFlare, a Web infrastructure and security firm.

"What small businesses need to recognize is that their blog is running on a server, and even if there is no content there that is particular useful, just getting access to that server is valuable to the attacker," Prince says.

Protecting its online assets is not easy for a budget-conscious business with overworked technical professionals. For many SMBs, part of the answer may be to use a hosted Web service, not just a hosting provider. Popular website-in-the-cloud services such as WordPress, TypePad, Blogger, CopyPress, and others generally take care of many of the administrative tasks that, if left untended, can leave a company open to attack.

However, using such a one-size-fits-all service is not for everyone, says Robert Hansen, director of product management for WhiteHat Security, a Web security firm.

"The question about whether a company should use third-party providers is largely dictated by their security needs," Hansen says. "The nice things about using [such services] is they tend to take care of the obvious security stuff for you."

[Small and midsize firms are voracious users of cloud services; a few precautions can make their businesses even more secure. See Four Ways SMBs Can Improve Security Through Cloud.]

Whether a company favors a third-party service, using a hosting provider and a popular content management system, or even running its own Web service, following are four steps should make its Web security stronger:

1. Strengthen authentication
The Fort Disco campaign relied on exploiting a list of trivial passwords, including "admin," "123456," and the website's domain. Using strong passwords to protect administrative access -- or, better yet, two-factor authentication -- can minimize the risk of being compromised by attacks focused on the lowest hanging fruit, says Joseph Scott, lead of the VaultPress team at Automattic, the developer of WordPress.

"It requires a little bit more work on the part of the administrators, but there are plenty of plug-ins that allow two-factor authentication," he says.

2. Configure once, patch many times
SMBs also need to configure their on-premise or hosted Web services with an eye toward security. Many companies get their WordPress installation running and then fail to lock it down or patch it regularly, WhiteHat's Hansen says.

"On many Web servers, people just install them on default Ubuntu or default Red Hat, without thinking about removing unnecessary services or locking down the needed services," he says. "Things like SSH, for example, should not be open to the world."

Once properly configured, the website also needs to be regularly patched and updated, he says. A publicly connected Web server running a vulnerable version of a popular content management system has a short life span.

3. Don't forget DNS
The domain-name service is another weakness is a company's online presence. Not only do they need to manage and protect their own domains, but any certificates that the company relies on must be protected as well, says CloudFlare's Prince.

"A lot of smaller companies buy their domains, and then they don't think who manages it or who is running it," Prince says. "The problem is that an attacker who can compromise a registrar account can steal the identity of almost any site."

Companies should ask their registrars what extra security precautions they provide, such as two-factor authentication or extra PIN codes for security, he says.

4. Use third-party services
Finally, SMBs that can use a third-party provider should do so. Cloud providers can remove most of the administrative headaches from the customer, taking care of much of the configuration, updates, and backups, WordPress's Scott says. In addition, add-on security services -- whether Web infrastructure or vulnerability scanning -- can further help lock Web servers down.

SMBs should develop a relationship with the company, ask about security measures, and make sure that they trust the provider to do the right thing, he says.

"Find someone you trust, that you can work with, whether that is a consultant or an employee or a provider, because your online site is only going to get more important," Scott says. "Having someone you can trust is everything in building that relationship."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Eddie Mayan
50%
50%
Eddie Mayan,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/30/2013 | 10:15:00 AM
re: 4 Steps For More Secure Small Business Websites
Cloud Computing Secure more better then others.
CloudReviews.
7 Truths About BEC Scams
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  6/13/2019
DNS Firewalls Could Prevent Billions in Losses to Cybercrime
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  6/13/2019
Can Your Patching Strategy Keep Up with the Demands of Open Source?
Tim Mackey, Principal Security Strategist, CyRC, at Synopsys,  6/18/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-1874
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-20
A vulnerability in the web-based management interface of Cisco Prime Service Catalog Software could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to conduct a cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attack on an affected system. The vulnerability is due to insufficient CSRF protection mechanisms on the web-ba...
CVE-2019-1875
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-20
A vulnerability in the web-based management interface of Cisco Prime Service Catalog could allow an authenticated, remote attacker to conduct a cross-site scripting (XSS) attack against a user of the web-based interface. The vulnerability is due to insufficient validation of user-supplied input by t...
CVE-2019-1876
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-20
A vulnerability in the HTTPS proxy feature of Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) Software could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to use the Central Manager as an HTTPS proxy. The vulnerability is due to insufficient authentication of proxy connection requests. An attacker could exp...
CVE-2019-1878
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-20
A vulnerability in the Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) implementation for the Cisco TelePresence Codec (TC) and Collaboration Endpoint (CE) Software could allow an unauthenticated, adjacent attacker to inject arbitrary shell commands that are executed by the device. The vulnerability is due to insuff...
CVE-2019-1879
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-20
A vulnerability in the CLI of Cisco Integrated Management Controller (IMC) could allow an authenticated, local attacker to inject arbitrary commands that are executed with root privileges. The vulnerability is due to insufficient validation of user-supplied input at the CLI. An attacker could exploi...