As much as I love the internet and all things digital, I think that we can all agree that there are negatives. The one that instantly springs to mind for me is the problems caused by people using the internet to take advantage of others. As I generally like to stay positive, I’m going to try and look for the positives in the extremely negative occurrence of security issues. Frankly it’s a stretch because the list of downsides and the potential for harm is so ridiculously long that it’s hard work, but here goes.
Five Positives To A Security Issue
Positive Number One – It’s a reminder that security is important
Having somebody breach the security on your website or computer is a reminder that security is important. Granted it’s an unwanted reminder, but finding out that you have a potentially dangerous virus on your website or on one of your devices, is a very stark reminder that security is important and that it is an area that you can never afford to ignore. It is important to be vigilant.
Positive Number Two – You Rediscover Forgotten Accounts
Your digital footprint is made up of online accounts that you often use for a very short period of time and then completely forget about. If you spend enough time on the internet from time to time you’ll probably receive emails or browser warnings instructing you to change your password on a particular platform because your existing one has been exposed in a data breach. This is when you discover that you set up an Evernote account a decade ago.
Positive Number Three – It Reminds Us To Question The Apps On Our Phones
The random phone and tablet apps that you downloaded two or three handsets ago and deleted from your phone 15 minutes later often include the forgotten step of setting up an account that you promptly forgot about and never thought to log back into and cancel.
We regularly give our data to companies in the hope that some app or other is worth the space they take up on our phones.
On a slightly separate issue, if you build apps for a living, please do yourself a favour and carefully consider which name you give it. There is nothing about the name Spydus which suggests that the Spydus Mobile app on my phone has anything to do with library books. It is actually the name of the app used by Stockport Libraries that allows me to access library catalogue services remotely. I’m going to assume that there is some method in the madness, but I have spent the last few years ignoring and promptly deleting emails from Spydus about library loan renewals and usually have to open the app on my phone to find out what on earth it is, whenever I rediscover it whilst looking for other things.
Positive Number Four – It Encourages You To Do Your Housekeeping
Prevention is better than cure and one of the best ways to keep yourself safe from security issues is to stay on top of the associated housekeeping.
- Does your antivirus constantly interrupt you whilst you’re working, to demand that you run updates?
- Do you keep telling it that you’ll run the updates later?
- Do you go about your day ignoring the fact that your antivirus is screaming at you to allow it to update it’s definition list?
- Are you one of those people who is still running a version of WordPress which is five years out of date because it might make a mess of your website?
- Is your Magento dashboard full of red critical alerts that you intend to continue ignoring?
Short version – Don’t!
Longer version – Definitely Don’t!
Yes I know that it is going to be a hassle getting your site up to date, but it is defintely going to be less painful than trying to get your site up to date after some unscrupulous third-party has exploited a known weakness.
Updates to plugins, themes and core files often include code that deals with security issues.
When a team of highly trained, well paid developers and cyber security professionals identify a potential problem that could tank your website and expose your clients data, why would you ignore them? (Seriously, why would you?)
Yes, potentially an update could cause a problem. but that’s why you (or somebody like me working on your behalf) take a back up so that you have something to roll back to, in the unlikely event that an update causes a problem with your website.
Positive Number Five – It’s Educational
Every time you have to deal with a serious problem on your website, or in my case on a client’s site, you learn something. Every problem you encounter develops your knowledge on how to either resolve the problem or avoid it in the future.
I’m a big fan of life long learning although wherever possible I’d much rather do what I can to keep my online life safe and leave the tricky stuff to the security professionals.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Although I’ve tried quite hard to spin this positively, the only real positive about having a security issue is that it’s a huge reminder to maintain a constant focus on security and keep on top of the digital housekeeping tasks that are so easy to put off, forget or ignore.
There are no positives to having a security issue with your website, computer or online accounts, so please don’t wait until you’ve had a problem to start taking online security seriously. The effects can be devastating, especially if you are running a small business.
When I first started building websites for clients I used to offer them the option of maintaining their own websites. As much as I love my clients, sometimes I have to do what’s best for them and in almost all cases that is managed hosting. That means that I do a lot of work behind the scenes to protect websites from the dark side of the internet and I have back up from the excellent hosting companies I work with.
I can teach people how to keep their websites up to date. I can show them what to do with spam comments and I can gently nudge them to do these things regularly. Unfortunately when I tried doing things that way, it soon became apparent that despite their enthusiastic agreement, what usually happened was that they didn’t do it. Cyber security wasn’t their core business and as small business owners, most people just didn’t make the time to do it. The end result in almost all cases was that the necessary tasks didn’t get done and my clients exposed themselves and their businesses to unnecessary risks. Luckily for them, both myself and the hosting companies responsible for sharing their content with the internet, were doing a lot of work behind the scenes to protect them. I now include managed hosting as standard. In the long term it is easier (and cheaper) than dealing with dangerous adhoc security issues.
In the same way that there is no way to keep your home 100% safe from a skilled and determined cat burglar, there is also no way to keep the most determined hackers off your website, it is however relatively easy to keep our online selves safe from the majority of threats that most individuals and small businesses are likely to face, in the same way that locking your car doors vastly reduces the chances of having your car stolen or vandalised.
I protect my clients from the potential security issues bombarding their websites on a daily basis, including malware and other malicious code. I keep them safe from thousands of bogus login attempts and keep hundreds of links to pharmaceutical and adult content sites off their websites.
Top 5 Tips To Keep Your Website Safe
For those of you responsible for looking after your own websites, here are five of my top recommendations for keeping your site safe. It is definitely not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point.
- Keep your computer antivirus software up to date. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most expensive, top of the line version, but it does need to be kept up to date.
- Keep your website up to date, particularly those built on popular platforms such as WordPress. This includes core files, themes and plugins.
- Use a strong username for Dashboards and Admin panels. The word Admin is not a good idea as it is often the default username used for new websites and means that you have already given away 50% of the information somebody needs to bogusly log into your website.
- Don’t click links in emails, texts, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp messages, especially if they claim to be about an urgent issue. Any problem that can be easily resolved by quickly clicking a link should be viewed as suspicious.
- Use strong unique passwords for online accounts, especially those that use an email address as a username.
The internet is a wonderful place, but it can also be dangerous. If you are running a small business, your website is a key part of your organisation and was probably a big investment, which means that it is vital to do everything you can to keep it safe. If you’d like a no obligation chat about how I can help you keep your website safe or if would like a free mini security audit, please get in touch.