Protect Your Server Environment From Potential Threats

Web security and downtime are critical issues for any business that operates online. Web servers are often targets for hacking attacks by malicious cybercriminals because of the sensitive data they generally host. Attackers can exploit neglected user accounts, or an overlooked port to surreptitiously get past your server defenses.  Sometimes common administrator mistakes like badly configured virtual directories or even a forgotten share can also lead to unauthorized access. Some of the major threats to your Web server come from denial of service, unauthorized access, profiling, random code execution, privilege misuse and viruses, worms, and Trojans. So how can your business defend against various online threats while continuing to function normally?  What must you do to ensure the security of your website, web applications, network and also the web server? After all, a secure and correctly configured web server provides a protected foundation for hosting your Web applications.

Checklist For Securing Your Web Server
You may be doing most of the system administrator tasks to upkeep the server but unknowingly skipping some essential best practices. The real challenge of securing your web server is applying the right configuration settings while keeping with your security goals. Below are rough guidelines which should be a good starting point for getting your server configuration to be more secure, while ensuring convenience in your day-to-day server operations.

1. Stay On Top Of Updates

Outdated systems and applications are one of the most persistent threats in the server environment. Most security breaches and hacks are via security holes in old versions of web applications being used in forums and blogs. You must maintain a routine system upgrade for all tools and apps your business uses, both on the server-side and client-side. Pay close attention to security advisories to ensure all security flaws are patched. In rare cases where no patch has been made public for an existing vulnerability, make sure you disable the service until a patch is made available in order to remain secure.

2. Perform Regular Audits

Examine network services running on your server and look at updates from your intrusion detection system to find out if everything internally is working fine internally, such as server configurations implemented, active services, security protocols, applications running on your server and so on. Audit and monitor website access logs, operating system logs, and database server logs for abnormal log entries or strange activities to detect a successful attack or even an attempt of one. The logs should ideally be present in an isolated area of the web server to prevent any tampering.

3. Proper Firewall Configuration And Intrusion Detection

All business networks ideally need comprehensive protection in the form of firewalls, authentication, and an intrusion monitoring system. Restricting traffic to and from your server through a firewall may be a good way of limiting access others have to your server. Firewall and properly applied security protocols are a primary requirement of ensuring a secure server environment. Since most workplaces have remote workers or employees working from home, adopting VPN solutions make it possible to effectively manage their devices while enabling secure access to corporate resources and business data.

4. Eliminate Unnecessary Services

Running default operating system configurations is not secure, especially since many pre-defined modules or network services get installed, such as remote registry services, internet information services, print server service, and more. The more unnecessary services you have running on your operating system, the greater the risk of leaving more ports open to abuse from outside connections. Manage startup scripts to switch off or disable all unnecessary services from running automatically at boot-up. This helps make your attack surface smaller and also improves server performances by freeing up hardware resources.

5. Disable Unused User Accounts

User accounts are often created during software installations on the operating system. Any such unused default user accounts created should be checked properly and permissions have to be changed as required. To find out if an account is active, you can search for files owned by that user and check their last modified date before removing a user from your system. If you do not want to delete user accounts, you should disable shell access. Every administrator with access to the web server should ideally have his or her own user account set up with the correct privileges.

6. Protect Databases

Failure to protect your database (e.g. Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle) can lead to potential loss of private sensitive information such as usernames, email addresses, etc, and it allows an attacker to add entries that may create spam or malware links on your site. You should also consider how they are accessed for routine maintenance.

7. Restrict Remote Access

Where absolutely necessary, remote access to web servers can be allowed but it should be secured properly using tunneling and encryption protocols. To ensure security of your web server, do restrict remote access to a specific number of IP’s and to specific accounts only.

8. Setup Permissions And Privileges

Anyone with malicious intent can compromise your web server security through poor file and network services permissions to carry out tasks, like executing specific harmful files. The rule of thumb is to always assign the least privileges needed for a specific network service to run, such as web server software. Also ensure that you allocate absolutely minimum privileges to the anonymous user for accessing the website, web application files, and backend data.

9. Use Security Scanners

Hackers constantly scan your server for open ports and other vulnerabilities to exploit and so should you. You should be using security scanners to automatically monitor and run advanced security checks for open ports, network services, configuration problems, and other vulnerabilities in your web server and web applications. Security scanners ensure website and server security by checking for password strength on authentication pages, cross site scripting, SQL Injections and more. It also audits shopping carts, forms, dynamic Web 2.0 content and other web applications for vulnerabilities.

Establish A Secure Server
The real challenge of managing web servers is in ensuring that they function optimally and smoothly. You can enforce the measures discussed in this article to avoid technical complexities within the hosting environment. You can continue to function normally by maintaining due diligence on server security. Know that it is an ongoing process and not something you have to do once. For business owners who want to focus on growing their business without worrying about managing their site, Lunarpages offers Managed Hosting Services with extra security features, administration and technical support.