Hacking is something we tend to associate with big corporations, banks and large sums of money. But cybercrime isn’t just targeted at enterprise-level corporations. It’s a problem for businesses, and people, of all statuses.
According to a report by IBM, organizations with fewer than 500 employees reported the average impact of a data breach increased to $3.31 million in 2023. That’s an increase of over 13% compared to what it was in 2022.
That number may look scary, but it isn’t like websites are completely helpless against cyberattacks. On the contrary, there are a variety of best practices and tools you can use to defend your site and prevent your data from being stolen or held hostage.
First, we’ll take a look at the most common types of cybercrime currently out there, so you know what you’re up against. Then, we’ll go over the steps you can take to protect your site from hackers and improve its overall security.
While it may seem like all cyberattacks are the same, there are actually several different types you should be aware of if you want to protect your website from hackers.
Let’s take a closer look at the six most common:
The term malware includes malicious software and viruses that are installed either by the user, like when you click on a link from a suspicious email, or through a security breach in your host’s network. It’s even possible for uploaded files from your website visitors to include malware on them.
Malware is harmful because it can obtain your login credentials, sign your account up for premium services without your consent and even lock your device. It’s an ever-changing problem as well, with BlackBerry estimating that a new type of malware was deployed every 60 seconds from December 2022 to February 2023.
Phishing is the most common type of attack nowadays. In fact, 41% of cyberattacks in 2022 were phishing schemes. With these attacks, a hacker attempts to steal information from a user by sending important-looking emails or other communications. If you click on any of the links, you may end up installing malware or ransomware accidentally.
These schemes are referred to as phishing attacks because the hacker is trying to “fish” for information. If they gain access to your account, they could download important customer data like bank details or login information.
A Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack happens when your registered users can’t access their accounts, whether it’s an email, bank or web server attack, because of hacking attempts. Sometimes, one computer might cause the attack, but other times, a Distributed Denial-of-Service, or DDoS attack, with multiple machines, happens.
While these attacks can take different forms, their goals are all the same: to disrupt your service. More alarming still, their frequency is rising fast. In 2022, the global number of DDoS attacks grew by 150% compared to the year before.
A SQL injection is when a hacker is able to insert harmful code into your website, giving them access to sensitive information like usernames and passwords. This could happen when you have a form users can use to input their own information. If you don’t place limits on what users can enter, someone could add their code and gain access to your database.
The Open Worldwide Application Security Project (OWASP) reports that injection-type attacks were the third most common in 2021, the latest year for which data was available. They found occurrences of these attacks on over 274,000 applications.
Technically, ransomware is a type of malware, but this variety of attack has been gaining traction recently and should be mentioned separately. The software used in ransomware attacks encrypts your data, often rendering it useless until you pay a ransom to the hacker to free your information.
As you can imagine, losing access to your business’s website could cause a lot of damage, both to your finances and reputation. According to a survey by Capterra, two out of every five small businesses paid between $50,000 and $5,000,000 in response to a ransom demand in 2022.
Cross-site scripting is another injection-type attack, so protecting your forms, verifying user information and consistently checking your code are your best bets for protecting your website.
Protecting your website from hackers serves many purposes. It reduces the potential for costly downtime and operational disruption, saving you money in the long run, and it increases your customers’ trust in your website and overall business.
While improving your general security should always be a priority as a website owner, you’ll see many additional benefits, including:
- Less operational disruption: According to a survey by Deloitte, operational disruption as a result of a cyberattack was the number one consequence businesses reported. By keeping your website secure against attacks, you’ll experience fewer disruptions, increase efficiency and reduce time lost reestablishing processes.
- Reduce downtime: Unanticipated downtime can have serious consequences for your business’s bottom line. Imagine if your site went down for several hours during your busiest time of year. How many sales would you lose? By investing in proper security protocols and tools, you’ll lessen the likelihood of downtime occurring because of a cyberattack.
- Save money: While the benefits of paying for security plugins might not always be readily apparent, it’s important to consider the alternative. IBM found that the global average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million in 2023. That monthly plugin fee seems like a small price to pay in comparison.
- Build trust with customers: When you protect your website with an SSL certificate, plugins and security software, you reassure visitors that you’re keeping their data safe, something most customers need help with. ESET found that while more customers were shopping online now than before the pandemic, only 29% reported feeling very safe while doing so.
Now that we’ve covered why you should protect your website from hackers, it’s time to go over how you can go about doing so.
We’ve broken this section down into three main categories: hosting, WordPress and website-specific best practices. This will help you find the info you’re looking for faster, as some of the steps you’ll want to take may be more applicable to one of these areas than the others.
Finding a secure web host should be at the top of your list of things to do to protect your website from hackers. If you don’t work with a safe, reputable hosting company, you could end up with a website that’s vulnerable to attack.
First off, you’ll want to choose a web host that bundles an SSL certificate into its plans. An SSL certificate will encrypt your visitors’ connections, so if they’re sharing any sensitive data, it won’t be accessible to hackers.
Bluehost includes a free SSL certificate for the first year when you sign up for one of our shared hosting packages.
Next, you should look for a web host that provides a content delivery network (CDN) with its hosting plans. CDNs are distributed, so they are better able to handle the high levels of fake traffic a DDoS attack creates. CDNs also tend to use a web application firewall (WAF), which helps by both monitoring and filtering traffic.
Lastly, you’ll want to choose a hosting provider that offers secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) instead of relying on file transfer protocol (FTP). This backend option encrypts any data transferred on the server side, making it harder for hackers to access your files.
In addition to these three security features, a secure web hosting provider should also offer things like 2-factor verification and malware detection and removal services.
WordPress is the most popular open-source content management system (CMS), in part due to its ease of use and customizability. But its popularity comes at a cost. Hackers are more likely to try to attack a CMS that’s used on a majority of websites than one that isn’t.
Luckily, there are just as many ways to keep your WordPress website safe from security vulnerabilities as there are hackers trying to exploit them.
The first thing you should do is implement strong passwords on all your WordPress accounts. Doing so makes it much less likely that a hacker will be able to brute force their way into your website. And while we’re on the subject of logins, you should differentiate your usernames too.
Also, consider reducing the number of people who have admin-level access to your WordPress account. You can always grant non-essential users editor, author or contributor-level access. Doing so limits the files they can interact with, lowering the chances of someone accidentally adding something malicious to your site.
You should also check your WordPress installation frequently to see if a new security patch update is available. You’ll find security updates offered from both WordPress and the plugins you run on your website.
You can even set up your WordPress to automatically update your website. On your dashboard, find the Bluehost icon in the top left corner. Head over to Settings, and you’ll find a section on automatic updates. Toggle the buttons to update your WordPress, plugins and themes automatically.
And yes, you should definitely have security plugins installed too. Here are some of the most popular ones:
- Sucuri: This free security plugin has hundreds of 5-star reviews and will help you monitor your website and scan for malware.
- Limit Login Attempts Reloaded: This plugin allows you to limit how many times a user can try logging in to your website. You can also adjust the duration of wait times in between attempts.
- Wordfence: This popular security app comes with a 24/7 security response team, malware scanning, IP address blocklist and firewall.
One final thing you should consider is the hosting provider you trust to maintain your WordPress site. While there are hundreds of hosting companies out there, only a handful are recommended by WordPress, including Bluehost.
Finally, we come to site-level security issues. This is when you have some malicious code built right into your individual website. Website backdoors, or hidden entry points that are often unguarded, pose a serious risk to your site’s security.
In fact, a 2021 report by Sucuri found that over 60% of websites contained at least one backdoor. To find and remove these, you want to look for outdated scripting, as this can be a security issue. Some signs of outdated scripting include old plugins and broken links.
In addition, many websites use PHP, which is particularly vulnerable to SQL injections. To help defend your site from these attacks, make sure to update your PHP version frequently and use an SSL certificate to protect your website. It’s also a good idea to follow best practices like logging all errors and using URL encoding.
You should also be careful of who you allow to work on your website and what code they’re installing, as an unscrupulous developer could install malicious code without your knowledge.
It’s also a good idea to perform regular backups on your website. This will keep a clean version ready in the event that your main site is compromised.
Depending on the type of website you run, you might need to take specific steps to protect your data. We’ve broken this section down into two parts to help you find the security information that’s most applicable to your site.
If you allow users to upload data, try to limit the kind of information they can upload. Also, place restrictions on the file upload types to only the files needed, like JPEGs or PDFs, and cap the max file size too.
Another security measure you should take is only using essential plugins on your blog. While trying out new plugins can be fun, too many can not only slow down your website but also pose a security risk. You should always delete any plugins you’re no longer using or ones that no longer receive support.
You need to be even more careful about guarding against hackers when you have customer information to protect.
If you accept payments on your website, make sure to follow best practices like providing a secure gateway for credit card payments and complying with all sensitive data regulations, like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). You might also want to invest in a firewall to defend your store from more advanced attacks. Bluehost has partnered with SiteLock to protect our clients. SiteLock offers web application firewall (WAF) protection and scans your website for malware.
Website security checklist
While learning how to protect your website from hackers is a broad topic, it’s not one you need to let overwhelm you. To help you get started, here’s a handy checklist to work through to reduce your risk:
- Update your plugins: Out-of-date plugins are an easy way for hackers to get a backdoor into your website. Enable auto-updates on all your plugins to keep them secure.
- Change your password: Simple, but it’s important to change your password periodically. Limit the number of login attempts you’re allowed, especially if you have multiple users logging on too.
- Get rid of suspicious files and folders: If you don’t remember installing something, chances are you should consider removing it. You can always back up your website before deleting something if you’re concerned it might be important.
- Sign-up for two-factor authentication: This option is provided by most hosting companies now and is a good way to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.
- Scan your website for malware: Malware scanning is a simple step you can sign up for with a service like SiteLock. You’ll know after a quick check whether your website has been compromised. Ideally, you’ll want to run a thorough scan at least once a month.
- Uninstall unused script: If you’ve been running your website for a while, you might have old plugins, themes or scripts you no longer use. Uninstall anything you’re no longer running to reduce the chance of a hacker breaching your site through outdated code.
Final thoughts: How to protect your website from hackers
While a data breach or other attack sounds scary, there are steps you can take to protect your website from security risks. By following the best practices outlined above, like uninstalling unused plugins and regularly running malware scans, you can reduce your risk of falling victim to cybercrime.
Learning how to protect your website from hackers is important, and one of the best things you can do is to choose a trustworthy web host.
At Bluehost, we take your security seriously. That’s why each of our WordPress hosting plans comes with a free CDN, a free SSL certificate for the first year and 24/7 access to our team of experts.
Get in touch today to learn more about how Bluehost can help defend your website against hackers.
How to protect your site from hackers: FAQ
Hackers go after websites for a million different reasons. Sometimes, they’re looking for sensitive data. If you have an eCommerce website, they might think you’ve got credit card info or other personal information from your customers.
It’s also increasingly common to hold a website hostage, threatening not to release the site back to the original owners until after a ransom has been paid.
How your website gets hacked depends a lot on the type of attack you were hit with. If you’re the victim of a SQL injection or XSS attack, it was probably due to user input. These attacks are usually preventable if enough checks are put in place.
If you experienced a more targeted attack like DoS, then your best line of offense is to sign up with a secure web hosting company.
Get into the habit of checking your WordPress site for updates regularly. Check for plugin updates once or twice a month and set up auto-updates if you haven’t already.
Before you do any big updates, you should make a backup of your website. This way, if there are any glitches, you can restore the previous version of your site to avoid any downtime.
Some of the best ways to protect your website from hackers are the simplest. You can keep your site safe from most standard attacks with secure passwords, limiting unnecessary files and an SSL certificate.
You should also scan your website for malware with a tool like SiteLock to make sure malicious software hasn’t been installed without you noticing.