Website Security Audit: Checklist, Tools and Guide

Bruno Mircevski

Written by Web Hosting Expert

March 31, 2022
Website Security Audit: Checklist, Tools and Guide

Website security audit refers to assessing the web system you use, including the core, extensions, themes, and other features and infrastructure for weaknesses and loopholes that hackers can use to gain access to your data.

A website security audit is critical for anyone who wants to keep their data and content safe.

What is Website Security Audit?

What is website security audit?

Why Is Website Security Audit Important?

Doing website security audits can help prevent cyberattacks from happening because it enables you to review your security policies and strengthen them, which can help you avoid a data breach altogether.

It's recommended that all businesses conduct a security audit at least once a year so that your customers' data is safe and they don't lose faith in you and switch to a competitor. However, if you handle sensitive data like credit card info and you have a large website, you should do audits more frequently.

How to Test Your Website Security?

There are four ways in which you can test your website security:

  • Vulnerability scanners – this is the most basic way to scan your website. Vulnerability scanners are tools that people use to check their websites for weaknesses. In 2021, over 18 000 production code vulnerabilities were reported. So, scanning for vulnerabilities can save you a lot of headaches, especially because they're so frequent and can lead to data breaches. There are many online vulnerability scanners to choose from. The best ones are Astra's Health Check, Nikto, Mozilla Observatory, Netsparker, etc.
  • Automated website security audits – these types of security audits are the latest to enter the security audit scene and are the easiest to use. All you need to do is get an automated security tool and enter your website URL in it. The automated security tools are fast and will highlight your vulnerabilities. However, it's important to know that these tools do not show all potential vulnerabilities, which can be extremely dangerous because it will make you think that your site is safe. So, even though this is the easiest and newest way to test your website's security, it's not the most reliable one
  • Manual website security audits – this is another way of testing your website's vulnerabilities that goes a step further compared to the automated audits. A Manual security audit combines automation with human intelligence to analyze weaknesses and risks. This security audit is quite thorough and scans the entirety of the website. However, in order to do it, you will need to have expert VAPT knowledge to identify the false positives. So, if you're a beginner, this method may not be the best one for you
  • Professional website security audits – if you do not have expert knowledge or do not have the time to do a manual security audit on your own, you can get a professional to do it for you. Professional security audits are the most effective ones out of the four mentioned. A professional security audit uses a combination of automatic and manual resources to examine your website's security policies. A professional security audit is unlikely to miss a vulnerability because it is a complicated process done by industry experts who check and analyze everything

Common Website Security Threats

  • DDoS – these attacks include using numerous devices connected online to overwhelm the website with fake traffic, making it unavailable to real users. They're mostly done to put a company out of business for some time. In the first half of 2021, over 5 million DDoS attacks were reported
  • Malware – this is an umbrella term that includes various types of attacks, including viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, etc. This is the most common security threat, with 495 million ransomware attacks by September 2021. Through malware, hackers can delete your data, steal and sell customer information, deploy malware to your customers, etc.
  • Cross-site scripting – a.k.a XSS, is used to send data that users supply to a web browser with no authentication beforehand. Hackers use these loopholes to divert users away from the site or deface it, resulting in a loss of revenue for the site owner.
  • SQL Injections – hackers use SQL injection flaws to send malicious data disguised as a command or query to trick your site into giving the hacker access to your customer data or something else that it shouldn't do.
  • Brute force – the goal of a brute force attack on a website is to crack the victim's username, password, or PIN. Hackers use a trial and error approach, testing various password and username combinations until they find the one that works and get access to the user's account. Hackers do this by running a script, code, computer program, or bot.
  • Phishing - attackers target users using email, SMS messages, or social media messaging platforms. They impersonate a trusted sender to deceive users into providing critical information such as account numbers, credit card details, and login credentials. Globally, around 75% of businesses have been targeted by phishing attacks
  • Zero-day attacks – this type of attack occurs as soon as a new vulnerability is found and before a patch is released. Zero-day attacks are impossible to predict. However, you can buy a WAF, which will patch your website almost as soon as a zero-day attack is disclosed. Out of all cyberattacks that happened in the first quarter of 2021, 74% of them were zero-day attacks

Common Password Security Threats

Password Security Threats

Website Security Audit Checklist

Here is a checklist of things you should do to ensure your website and data is secure:

  • Update your software

  • Use unique and strong passwords and change them on a six-month or a yearly basis

  • Do backups frequently

  • Install an SSL Certificate

  • Limit access to users

  • Delete user accounts you don't use

  • Run security scans often

Website Security Audit Tools

  • Sucuri- one of the most widely used free malware and security scanners for websites. It checks for malware, blocklisting status, inserted SPAM, and defacements with a simple test.

  • Qualys – it scans your website for SSL/TLS misconfiguration and vulnerabilities

  • HostedScan Security – it provides automated vulnerability scanning online

  • Quttera – scans your website for malware and vulnerability exploits, like malicious files, PhishTank, Safe Browsing, etc.

  • SiteGuarding– scans your domain for malware, blocklisting, injected spam, defacement, etc., and is compatible with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, etc.

Website Security Audit Step by Step

Perform the following list of things and follow the checklist provided above to perform a full security audit:

  • Change the CMS settings for user settings, comment settings, general information visibility

  • Set file permissions that are most suitable for you

  • Update your software continuously – many vulnerabilities can be exploited in outdated software, and new software patches can help fix these vulnerabilities

  • Use unique and strong passwords and change them often – using password managers like LastPass can ensure that your password is secure. Also, another good thing to do is change passwords every six months to a year

  • Do backups frequently - make a habit of backing up your website so that you can rapidly recover if something goes wrong, such as broken pages following a failed redesign or a hacked website

  • Install an SSL CertificateSSL certificates are used to keep data transfers safe and provide an extra layer of security

  • Limit access to users each user poses a vulnerability to your website; hence tighter access limits are preferable

  • Delete user accounts you don't use – create logins for new users that you can rescind when you don't need them anymore

  • Run security scans often – scans help to look for and fix vulnerabilities by scanning and removing infected files

The Cost of Website Security Audit

A website security audit can be quite costly, ranging from $1500 to $20000, depending on the type of audit, tools used, etc.

Of course, other factors influence the price of the security audit. However, seeing as businesses can lose significant amounts of both money and business due to cyberattacks, the price paid for website security audits seems almost minimal.

To put things into perspective, the average cost of a data breach in 2021 was around $4 million. So, you can see that performing security audits is definitely the more price-effective choice.

How to Reduce the Cost of a Website Security Audit

Website security audit costs can be reduced by implementing a daily security routine. This routine should include doing security checkups and processes that can help prevent or minimize future issues like downtime, data leaks, cyberattacks, etc.

So, instead of waiting for something to happen and only doing website security audits a couple of times per year and paying a large sum of money, a daily routine of doing simple and usually free or affordable security check ups will mitigate your costs and lessen the price of the full-scale audit in the future.

Website Security on a Daily Basis

Another thing you should have is automated backups that backup your site and data daily. You can either do this on your own or have a third-party service do it for you. Using WAFs is also highly beneficial because it intercepts and reviews all data and removes all malicious code automatically.

So, if there is a service that will automatically do backups, malware scans, monitoring, etc., for you, you should consider purchasing it for your site. If you can't afford it, make sure you can do some of these things on your own, as often as you can.

Final Remarks

Website security audits are vital for a number of reasons, including keeping your site and data safe, ensuring your customers can securely do business with you, preventing the loss of millions of dollars due to hacks, etc.

So, if you work with data and want to make sure your customers don't lose their trust in you, you should definitely do security audits as often as you can. Don't wait for something to happen, but make sure it can't happen in the first place!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SSL security?

SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a common protocol that is used to communicate information online in a secret manner.

What security is proved by the data host?

Your host will provide firewalls, antivirus and encryption as standard.

How secure is PHP?

PHP has an excellent security reputation and the developers are constantly making updates. Plus, you’ll benefit from additional security measures for your site by opting for a managed hosting package.

Am I going to be able to host high traffic websites with self-hosting?

No, your home computer will not be able to handle a website with a lot of traffic.

Bruno Mircevski
About the Author
Bruno Mircevski

Bruno Mircevski is a web hosting services expert. He has spent years researching the niche, exploring the most diverse aspects of Shared, VPS, WordPress, Cloud Hosting, Dedicated Servers, Resellers, etc. With his extensive knowledge and experience, he can grant you meaningful insights on our blog, whether you are a beginner or a hosting pro.

View all posts by Bruno Mircevski
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