To minimize the risk of your business losing data to hacks and breaches, it’s essential to ensure that your web server is configured as securely as possible. If your server’s security is compromised, it can lead to anything from injecting spam ads on a company’s website, to intercepting and stealing user data during form submissions.
What is a Secure Web Server?
A secure web server will generally fall into one of two categories. Most often it is a server on the public web that supports security protocols such as SSL, which means that sensitive data transmitted to and from the server is encrypted for the user’s protection. . Alternatively, it could mean a web server used only by a team of employees within a local network, secure against external threats.
To maintain the security of your web servers and keep potential threats at bay, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing security landscape.
What security risks can a web server face?
Web servers are one of the most targeted parts of an organization’s network, due to the sensitive data they typically host. Therefore, it is important that in addition to securing web applications and your wider network, you take thorough steps to secure the web servers themselves.
There are several key threats to web servers that are important to be aware of in order to prevent and mitigate these risks. These include, but are not limited to:
- DoS and DDoS attacks
Denial of service attacks and Distributed denial of service attacks are techniques that cybercriminals will use to flood your servers with traffic until they become unresponsive, rendering your website or network unusable.
- SQL Injections
SQL Injections can be used to attack websites and web applications, by sending structured query language requests through web forms to create, read, update, modify, or delete data stored on your servers, such as financial information .
- Unpatched software
Software updates and security patches are designed to fix vulnerabilities in older versions of this software. However, once a new patch is released, potential hackers can reverse engineer attacks based on the changes, leaving unpatched versions in a vulnerable position. This is why we recommend using a trusted patch management service to make sure you are always up to date.
- Cross-site scripting
Cross-site scripting, also known as XSS, is a technique similar to SQL injection – code is injected into server-side scripts to collect sensitive data or to execute malicious client-side scripts.
However, one of the most common threats to server security is human error or negligence. Whether it’s poorly written code, easy-to-guess passwords, or failure to install and update firewalls and other security software, the human element of cybersecurity is usually the weakest link.
You should also consider the physical security of the computers that act as your web servers: whatever security software you use could be compromised if physical access to your servers is not properly controlled.
What types of web servers are available?
Some of the more popular options for web server software include Apache, LiteSpeed, IIS, Nginx, and Lighttpd. It is also possible to use “virtual servers”, or virtual web hosting services, to run multiple servers from a single computer.
Different types of web servers will meet different user needs, but all are generally compatible with major operating systems such as Linux, Windows, and macOS.
Apache is open-source and, with a 37.4% market share (June 2020), is generally considered the most popular web server in the world. It supports Linux, Unix, Windows, Mac OS X, Ubuntu and other operating systems, and can be easily customized thanks to its modular structure.
Apache is very stable compared to other web servers.
Nginx Web Server
Nginx is another open source solution, known for its high performance, stability, low resource usage, and highly scalable event-driven architecture. Compatible with most major operating systems, Nginx can also be used as a reverse proxy, mail proxy, HTTP cache, and load balancer.
One of the main advantages of Lighttpd is its low CPU load and speed optimization. With an event-driven architecture similar to Nginx, Lighttpd is designed to handle large numbers of parallel connections and can support features like output compression, FastCGI, Auth, SCGI, and URL rewriting, among others.
Virtual web servers
If you need to manage multiple web domains, it may be more efficient to do so from a single machine through virtual web servers, rather than having a dedicated, separate server for each. Virtual servers, or virtual web hosting, can be cost effective and usually don’t impact site performance. However, if too many virtual servers are hosted on the same computer, it can slow down the delivery of web pages.
What is the difference between network security and server security?
Server Security is just one part of an overall, broader network security strategy. While server security specifically refers to the measures taken to protect your web servers and the data they process, network security also includes things like firewalls and anti-virus software to protect other parts of the network.
Employee laptops, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices are all elements of your network that need to be protected against threats. Phishing emails, fraudulent websites and malicious apps are just some of the risks, which is why it is important to use comprehensive endpoint protection in addition to web server security. This encompasses perimeter security, such as firewalls, as well as software that prevents potential threats from entering your network undetected.
How to secure your web server
AT set up a new secure web serveror improve the security of your company’s existing web servers, there are several simple steps you can take.
- Remove unnecessary services
Operating systems and default configurations lack comprehensive security. Generally speaking, many network services included in a default installation will not be used, from remote registry services to print server service and other features.
The more services you have running on your server’s operating system, the more ports remain open, which means more network doors that a malicious hacker could exploit. In addition to helping with security, removing unnecessary services can also improve your server’s performance.
- Create separate environments for development, testing, and production
Development and testing is often done on production servers, which is why you may occasionally come across websites or online pages that have details like /new/ or /test/ in the URL. Web applications that are in their early stages of development often have security vulnerabilities and can be exploited using freely available online tools.
You can help minimize the risk of a breach by keeping development and testing on servers isolated from the public internet, and not connecting them to important data and databases.
- Set permissions and privileges
Network service permissions and file permissions play a crucial role in your security. If your web server is compromised by network service software, the malicious actor can use the account that the network service is running to perform tasks. For this reason, simply setting minimum privileges for users to access web application files and back-end databases can help prevent data loss or manipulation.
- Keep patches up to date
As mentioned earlier in this article, failure to keep software up to date with the latest patches can allow cybercriminals to reverse engineer your network access routes.
- Separate and monitor server logs
As part of your regular security tests, store your server logs separately, and monitor and check them frequently. Unusual log file entries reveal information about attempted and successful attacks and should be investigated as they occur.
- Install a firewall
Software firewalls are easy to configure and manage and will protect your web servers against unauthorized communications and intrusions.
- Automate backups
Doing regular server backups ensures that if your security defenses are compromised, you can recover and restore data quickly. Automation can improve efficiency, but an IT employee should check for issues that may have interrupted the process.
server security software
Your company’s cybersecurity is only as strong as its weakest link. Along with regular training of system administrators and IT professionals to ensure knowledge is up to date with the latest threats, all entry points to your network should be protected and secured with professional endpoint protection.
Find out how Avast Business Endpoint Protection can help defend your business against malware, data breaches and advanced attacks.