5 Things Web Security

Written by Nicholas Nesbitt & Illustrated by Alicia van Zyl

Nicholas Nesbitt is a Johannesburg based creative specialising in illustration, digital design and sound design.

Alicia van Zyl is a graphic designer, illustrator and typographer. Yes, in alphabetical order, because she’s also a little OCD. To her, concept is King and deadline his Queen.

This month I tackle the often technical, kind of boring and very confusing world of web security. If you own a small business, have a social media page or just store things on the cloud, it’s important that you educate and protect yourself, so you can avoid being a victim on the web.

You might ask yourself: why would someone hack into ‘your’ website or make ‘your’ iCloud nudie-content public?

The answer is not simple and there are numerous reasons… they might want to use your website or social media account to do malicious things like spam people, or add a virus to your machine, to spread ransomware or steal your credit card details.

Here are 5 things you should be doing to be more safe online.

1. Secure passwords

The most common way a hacker infiltrates your site is through a weak password. Hackers will use brute force attacks to try guess your username and password.

This is a piece of cake for the cyber villains, as we unknowingly give away lots of our personal data online. Hackers know this and the more random the password, the safer it is. If you suck at coming up with passwords, password manager apps are a great way to generate unique passwords that are more difficult to hack.

If you find that your website has been hacked swiftly contact the support team for your social media account or for a website inform your hosting company and let them know immediately. An account or domain that gets hacked can be blacklisted and you really don’t want that.

The faster you react the better.

2. Making regular backups

If your site gets hacked it can be totally destroyed. More often than not, the only way to repair your site and get rid of the malevolent code is to do a complete reboot of the server.

In order to re-upload the site it is important to have a backup of your site or content that you have uploaded to social media. I would recommend getting your hosting company to create regular backups on the server side to make sure you have something to roll back to.

The designer of the site is not liable if a hacker manages to infiltrate your website. You will need to pay to get the site up and running again but, by having a regular backup this makes the task much easier.

3. Update software regularly

Websites and other CMS (Content Management Systems) often use themes/templates and plugins to help create a site much faster. Think of it like little software packages that you can modularly add to your site to improve its functionality. Although this can be beneficial to getting the job done more efficiently, it can also be one of the ways a creepy hack monster will access your site. Hackers will take advantage of outdated code to find weaknesses in your security armour.

If you happen to be an admin of the site then you need to keep updating the themes and plugins you are using. Regular checkups on your site are really important. Work out a regular maintenance fee with your web designer for this process and try keep up to date with it.

This is a similar process to going to the doctor or dentist but hopefully a little less awkward.

4. Buy reputable online products

Now that we know what themes and plugins are, there are lots of free themes and plugins online that you might choose from. Free options, like free drinks might sound tempting but actually they often lead to regrets.

Hackers will find sneaky ways to break into free themes/plugins and use this as an access point to your site. Often you might think you have located a hack only to find it reappears again a few weeks later. Hackers use these free themes and plugins to create something called a “backdoor” to invade your website.

Try buy premier options if you can, it might feel more expensive initially but in the long run it could save you from redoing your entire site because of a hack.

5. Be vigilant, be aware and invest in your web security

The last option is to purchase some sort of security software for your site. This can be an expensive option but often it’s the last line of defence for would be hackers.

You can also add two-factor verification to your social media accounts to make it more secure. The benefit of two-factor verification is that you will get a text message anytime someone tries to log into your account. This comes standard with most social media accounts and I would recommend using it.

Remember whatever you put online can be hacked, so it’s important to be aware of what you upload to the cloud. Before you upload anything you need to be sure of it. That content is there forever and harder to get rid of than a tattoo.

The web is a scary space but being proactive and aware is the best way to keep yourself safe.

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