With a slew of hackings and compromised customer information, cyber attacks have quickly come to the forefront of attention in the United States and around the world. With the human race’s increasing dependency on technology, vital and private information is stored on devices that most people trust to be quite secure. Yet the public has seen time and time again how that information can easily fall into the wrong hands. What does this mean for web hosting companies? Can web hosts become a target of a cyber attack? What can you do to protect your company and your customers from the results of such vicious attacks?
Nobody Is Immune
The first thing that you need to realize is that nobody is immune. In short, yes, web hosting companies could become the target of a cyber attack. There are plenty of actions you can take to limit the odds that an attack will happen, but nobody is immune. If you use technology that allows access to your device from another source—any source—then you do have at least a small chance of suffering the effects of a cyber attack.
Too Close to Home
You’ve already seen plenty of cyber attacks happen recently. The Target scandal over the holiday shopping season of 2013 was particularly terrifying for many shoppers. More recently, Home Depot may have suffered a similar breach. At the top of the news today is the hacking of racy celebrity photos which were leaked to the public. If it can happen to large corporations and celebrities who value their privacy, why can’t it happen to a web hosting company?
How Does It Happen?
The big question that pops into the minds of many web host companies is, “How does this even happen?” You take steps to make sure your site is secure from hackers, so how does stuff slip through? Even when you’re monitoring your servers on a regular basis, some attacks can happen that do not register on your servers and only attacks your customers. It happens when hackers and cyber criminals find a way to get into someone’s computer or even a part of your server. Once the hacker gets the needed information, they may go on their way or try to spread things like malware to infect as many people as possible. If they are able to get into your servers, they may even use that as a means of distribution.
The Cost of Cyber Crime
Why do cyber criminals do this? Some may do it just for fun in order to create a little bit of chaos and maybe even garner some anonymous attention. In some rings, however, cyber attacks pay—literally. According to McAffee, global cyber activity is estimated to cost anywhere from $300 billion to $1 trillion. To put that in perspective, on a global scale, piracy costs $1-16 billion and drug trafficking $600 billion. Some hackers sell the information they glean through such an attack, which makes it a lucrative business for some criminals.
Types of Cyber Attacks
There are many different ways that hackers get into servers and databases. As a web hosting company, the attacks that usually concern you are malicious banner ads and attacks involving HTML code.
Malicious banner ads can be tricky because you might be working with a company that you think is trustworthy, but uses malicious coding in order to steal people’s information. If a visitor to your site clicks on the malicious banner, it can take them to another web site that infects the visitor’s computer with malware or steals their information.
Malicious HTML coding can be uploaded to your website if it happens to get hacked. This can happen in particular if you allow users of your website to upload content. Some hackers will even mix in their malicious files with yours. Once a user downloads a malicious package, it spells trouble for your hosting company.
Other types of attacks include flushing a network or software with malware via a botnet, quickly moving data from computer to computer to hide the source of malware or a phishing scam, and increasing traffic to a network to the point that it becomes unavailable to users. Each of these things can directly impact your customer base and keep people from using your site, which could result in financial loss.
Guarding Against Cyber Attacks
It’s best to be as proactive against cyber attacks as you can. Luckily, there are steps you can take to make it difficult for the attacks to happen in the first place.
For banner ads, you can protect yourself by thoroughly researching advertisers and following up with references to make sure they are trustworthy. You should also learn about identifying malicious values in banner coding so you can recognize bad ads when you see them.
To protect against malicious HTML coding, you’ll want to scan your programs for malicious coding regularly. It’s best to do this by downloading it to a virtual machine, which should help to keep your personal machine from infection. Whenever you allow users to upload files to your site, use only SSH or SFTP programs so that the transmission of data is hopefully kept in indecipherable coding.
You will also want to put in place protections for your users by providing plenty of advice for protecting a web site. Users should hopefully have a combination of DDoS protection, virus-scanning software, and firewalls in place on their personal computers.
Lastly, you will want to perform regular scans on your server and files to catch malicious attacks as soon as possible. If a user complains about something that seems like a hacking or cyber attack, look into it immediately to hopefully isolate and remove the problem before it worsens.
Are You Ready?
Cybercrime happens. According to Forbes, 30,000 web sites per day appear to distribute malicious code to users. The question for web hosting companies to ask is not, “Will this happen to me?” The question really is, “What can I do to prevent it?” Research ways of identifying hackers and malicious coding on your servers and even in your advertisements. If your hosting company does get attacked, the next steps you take are crucial to your continued survival as a business and to your users. If cyber attacks have been an afterthought until now, it’s a great time to implement prevention strategies and solutions.
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