Did you know that, on average, it takes a typical website owner close to 200 days to notice that their site has been hacked? (source)
This is the unfortunate reality for many businesses, as they do not prioritize or monitor website security effectively.
Whether you already have security measures in place or are just getting started, a website security audit is the first step in improving your overall security.
In this guide, we’ll talk about website security audits and how to perform them on your own website.
What Is a Website Security Audit?
A website security audit is an evaluation of a website’s current security configuration, protocols, and vulnerabilities. It is an important component of your overall website management strategy.
The depth of an audit can vary depending on your current needs. You can perform a basic website audit yourself or hire a professional security agency for a complex assessment of your website security.
For many businesses, performing even a basic audit can have a great impact on their website’s security if an audit has not been performed in a long time (or ever).
Four Ways to Test Your Website’s Security
There are four primary ways to test your website security. Each method provides a different level of depth.
We’ll start with the easiest and quickest methods of testing your website security, then get more advanced as we go along.
1. Use a Vulnerability Scanner
A quick way to get started with auditing your website security is by using a free vulnerability and malware scanning tool.
These tools will detect configuration issues with your website that could expose you to malware and increase the risk of a hack.
Keep in mind that these tools are quick and free, but they are not comprehensive. Although they may say your site is free of malware, they do not perform a full in-depth analysis of your website’s code.
2. Start Scanning Automatically With a Paid Tool
Once you’ve tested your site with a free scan, you should implement a more in-depth scan that automatically runs every day.
Automatic, paid tools will perform a deeper scan of your website and notify you instantly if your site is hacked. They also typically offer additional protections such as a firewall.
Implementing an advanced scanning tool is a huge step in improving your website security since you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that your site is clean, and you’ll be notified if anything goes wrong.
3. Perform a Manual Security Audit
Automated tools simply will not cover everything needed to keep your website protected. That’s why a manual security audit is something you should perform after implementing automated tools.
A manual security audit will evaluate your website settings, passwords, files, logs, and much more to ensure your site is properly protected.
Since this is such as important aspect of your website’s security, we provide tips for performing your own manual website security audit below.
4. Hire a Professional
If you’re serious about your website security or don’t have to resources to perform an audit yourself, hiring a professional is a great option.
Hiring an expert is the most effective way to audit your website security since they will have the knowledge to identify and understand all the security issues present on your website and what should be done to address them.
If you’re not quite ready to hire a professional, we’ve outlined instructions below for performing your own manual website security audit.
How to Perform a Manual Website Security Audit
Performing a basic website security audit yourself is possible, even if you aren’t an expert in the subject. However, you’ll need some guidance during the process.
Below, we’ve listed steps on how to perform a manual website security audit. Following these steps will help you make great improvements your website’s security.
1. Scan for Vulnerabilities
As we’ve already discussed, scanning your website for vulnerabilities and malware is the first step in auditing your website security.
You can use free tools to take a quick look at your site overall to detected surface-level issues. However, also recommend server-side scanning tools that will perform a deeper analysis of your files and databases.
2. Review Your Site Settings
Reviewing your general website settings and configuration can help improve your security.
If you’re using a content management system (CMS), run through your settings and analyze your user permissions, login page configuration, registration settings, and any other website settings. Make sure they are all set as intended.
Since every website is different, we recommend researching the settings involved with your own content management system.
3. Review and Update Your Software and Plugins
Outdated software is the leading cause of vulnerabilities that lead to a website hack.
When security issues are discovered with your software, developers will release new versions to patch the vulnerabilities. If you’re not keeping up with your software and plugin updates, you are exposing yourself to vulnerabilities that hackers are actively trying to exploit.
You should review all your website software and update it to the latest version to keep your website secure. This should be done on a regular basis.
4. Review and Change Weak Passwords
One of the most simple, but powerful, ways to improve your website security is to change your passwords.
Setting more advanced passwords is a fantastic way to keep your website protected. We recommend resetting your passwords 1-4 times per year.
If it becomes difficult to remember your complex passwords, use a secure password manager.
5. Uninstall Unused Files or Software
Over time, there are files, plugins, and software that your website may no longer need.
Not only do these files use up storage space, but they may expose your site to vulnerabilities while they are sitting unused on your website.
Analyze your file system and list of software and remove anything that is no longer in use. Take a website backup and use caution during the process so you don’t accidentally delete something that you need.
6. Review Activity Logs
Watching how registered users are interacting with your website is a great manual security measure that you can implement.
This will allow you to see user activity such as recent logins, content changes, or setting changes.
If you notice something suspicious, such as an unrecognized administrator login location, you should investigate it immediately.
7. Review Blocked Requests
Your site should be using a website firewall to block suspicious traffic and login requests.
To review to effectiveness of the firewall, check the request logs to see what is and isn’t being blocked. You’ll also get a good understanding of how big of a target your site is by reviewing the number of requests being blocked, as well as their origins.
You may find that your site is being bombarded with suspicious requests, or perhaps the activity is quite minimal.
8. Check Firewall Settings
A firewall is a crucial security measure for your website, so you’ll want to audit it to make sure it is working properly.
First, make sure your firewall is turned on. Then, review all the associated settings to ensure it is properly configured to block malicious traffic requests.
9. Keep Your Website Security Checklist Up to Date
Lastly, you’ll want to keep your website security checklist updated so it accurately reflect your security needs.
You should develop a list of processes and checks to perform on a regular basis to make sure your website’s security is up to par. Review and update this list when necessary.
Remember, it’s important to customize your checklist based on your business and CMS needs.
How an Expert Website Management Service Can Help
Managing your website security is no easy feat.
Without the expertise or time required to keep your site security up to par, you’re exposing yourself to unnecessary risks.
An expert website management service can help you keep your website protected as part of an all-encompassing website maintenance and security strategy. They can also save you time by handling website changes and other tasks that will keep your website running smoothly.