In today’s digital age, websites serve as virtual storefronts for small businesses. Cybercriminals constantly evolve tactics, seeking vulnerabilities to exploit and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. It’s not like you can spot this shady character walking into your store and try to stop them from stealing your merchandise. These threats to your sensitive information are omnipresent and invisible – arguably the worst types of threats out there!
But fear not; AlchemyThree wants to help you outsmart the cybercriminals who may come after you and your small business. You’ve seen Home Alone, right? We’re going to help you “Macaulay Culkin” your way out of any cyber-attacks. We have created a two-part series on website security for small businesses to protect you and your sensitive information. In this first part, we will go over the nitty gritty of the most common threats to your website.
Phishing attacks are one of the most prevalent threats to website security. Cybercriminals create deceptive emails, messages, or websites that mimic legitimate entities to trick users into sharing sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card details, or personal data. Small businesses are often targeted as they may have less security measures.
For example, imagine receiving an email that appears to be from your bank. The email informs you that there has been suspicious activity on your account and urges you to take immediate action to secure your account. The email includes a link that supposedly leads to your bank’s website, asking you to log in to verify your account details.
However, the email is actually a phishing attempt. The link takes you to a fake website almost identical to your bank’s official website. When you enter your login credentials on this fake site, the cybercriminals behind the phishing attack capture your username and password. The attackers can now access your real bank account and potentially carry out unauthorized transactions or steal sensitive information.
Malware refers to malicious software (malicious + software = malware) designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to computer systems. Small business websites can become infected with malware through various means including malicious file downloads, compromised plugins or themes, or vulnerable software.
For example, let’s say you try to download a new plug-in for your website. After installing the software on your computer, the malware attached to the plug-in quietly starts running in the background without your knowledge.
The malware can perform various harmful actions such as stealing your personal information, logging your keystrokes, or even taking control of your computer. It might also spread to other files or devices connected to your computer, further spawning the infection.
As a result of the malware infection, you may experience slower computer performance, frequent crashes, or unauthorized access to your sensitive data.
Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attacks
DDoS attacks are especially hazardous for businesses entirely run online. In a DDoS attack, multiple compromised computers flood your website’s server with overwhelming traffic, far beyond its capacity to handle. This flood of traffic exhausts the server’s resources, causing it to slow down or crash altogether.
The attackers behind the DDoS attack use various techniques to amplify the impact, such as utilizing thousands of infected computers or employing techniques to make the attack traffic appear legitimate.
As a result, your website experiences prolonged downtime leading to financial losses, damage to your reputation, and frustrated customers who cannot access your services.
SQL injection is a cyber-attack where attackers exploit a website’s code vulnerabilities to manipulate requests from the database, or database queries. By inputting malicious code into a website’s search or input fields, they can trick the website into executing unintended database queries.
Imagine you have a website with a search bar where users can enter keywords to find products. In a typical search, a user might enter the keyword “shoes” in the search bar. The website’s code would perform a search query in the database to find matching products.
However, in an SQL injection attack, an attacker can enter a malicious command connected to keywords and other codes that deletes the entire “products” table from the database. By executing this attack, the attacker can perform harmful commands, delete data, or even gain unauthorized access to sensitive information.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Let’s pretend your website has a comment section. In a typical scenario, a user might leave a comment like “Great website!” in the comment section, and it would be displayed as plain text. However, in an XSS attack, an attacker can input malicious code instead of a regular comment. Then, the injected code gets activated by the victim’s web browser when they view the comments section. Once the arbitrary code is executed on the victim’s browser; it can steal their sensitive information, hijack their sessions, or perform other malicious actions.
Brute-force attacks involve systematic and repetitive attempts to guess usernames and passwords to gain unauthorized access to a website. It’s not very creative, but it can be effective. Small businesses with weak or easily guessed login credentials are susceptible to such attacks.
For example, the attacker might start by trying common usernames like “admin”, “user”, or “test” with common passwords like “password”, “123456”, or “qwerty.” They continue this process, attempting numerous combinations until they successfully guess the correct username and password.
Once the attacker gains access to your account, they can perform various malicious actions; such as stealing your personal information, sending spam emails from your account, or even taking control of other accounts associated with your email address.
Social engineering involves manipulating individuals through psychological tactics to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. Small businesses may be targeted by social engineering techniques such as impersonation, pretexting, or baiting. This section is where the classic “email from the son of the prince of Saudi Arabia” scam would fall.
Let’s revisit the bank scenario from the phishing attack section. Instead of an email, you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be an employee of your bank. They inform you that there has been suspicious activity on your business’s account and request your personal information to verify your identity and resolve the issue.
Believing the call is legitimate, you provide the caller with your full name, address, date of birth, social security number, and bank account details. However, the caller is not actually from your bank but a social engineer—a skilled manipulator who uses psychological tactics to deceive and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information.
In this example, the social engineer leverages trust, urgency, and the perception of authority to trick you into revealing confidential details. They may later use this information for identity theft, unauthorized transactions, or other malicious activities.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
CSRF attacks trick authenticated users into unknowingly executing malicious actions on a website. By exploiting trust between a user and a website, cybercriminals can perform unauthorized actions on behalf of the user, leading to data breaches or unauthorized transactions.
Since we’re on a roll, let’s do one last bank-related example. You frequently log in to perform transactions and manage your business’s finances. You receive an email with a seemingly harmless link to a funny video. You click the link, and you are taken to a website that appears legitimate.
Unbeknownst to you, the website contains hidden code that sends a request to your online banking website in the background. The request could be to transfer funds from your account to the attacker’s account, change your password, or perform any other action the attacker desires.
The request is executed using your existing session credentials since you are already logged in to your online banking account in another browser tab. Now, the attacker can carry out financial fraud, gain unauthorized access to your account, or manipulate your account settings without your knowledge or consent.
The threats we have covered so far are all tactics cybercriminals use to gain access to your information, but internal vulnerabilities make it so they don’t have to resort to those tactics; they can just go in and take the information without a problem! Some internal vulnerabilities include:
- Weak passwords or inadequate access controls
- Failure to regularly update the website’s software (including the CMS, plugins, and themes)
- Allowing users to upload files to a website without proper security measures
- Poor backup and recovery mechanisms
- Insufficient security awareness among employees
Website security is critical to protecting your small business’s online presence. By understanding the potential threats and implementing robust security measures, you can minimize the risk of falling victim to cyberattacks. In the next part of this series, we will dive deeper into effective security practices to fortify your website against emerging threats. Basically, we’re going to boobytrap the house that is your website. Stay tuned!