Understanding Hackers to Protect Your Website
When we hear the word ‘hacker’ the first thing that comes in mind is someone who attacks a computer security system with malicious or criminal intent. However, in its pure form, a hacker is more than just a cyber-criminal.
The hacking concept first appeared in computer culture in the 60s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Back then, it was a common opinion at MIT that there were two types of students, ‘tools’ and ‘hackers.’
‘Tools’ were students who religiously attended classes, hung out at the library at break time, and got straight As. ‘Hackers,’ on the other hand, were seldom present at lessons. They slept all day, and spent their evenings having fun instead of studying.
Originally, being a ‘hacker’ had nothing to do with computers. But, to be a successful hacker, you had to meet particular standards, just as ‘tools’ had to meet certain grades. So, real hackers couldn’t just sit around all night; they must engage in a pastime with devotion and talent. It could be anything from science fiction fandom to railway models. Or it could be computers. And, indeed, at a time when computers were the exceptions instead of the norm, hackers found them a most interesting to play with. Even by 1986, when computers were already becoming more mainstream, MIT students still used the word “hacker” to refer not to computer hackers but to building hackers –people who explored roofs and tunnels, knowing they’re not supposed to.
Therefore, based on its origin, a computer hacker is someone who is a computer programming expert and can get computers to do anything.
Computer hackers have specialities. For instance, someone who knows all about the best algorithm for any problem is an ‘algorithm hacker.’ A person who is an expert in designing and maintaining operating systems is a system hacker. And a person who is an expert at cracking password is a ‘password hacker.’
There are two major types of hackers, black hat hackers and white hat hackers. As you may have already guessed, black hat hackers carry out malicious or destructive computer attacks. They are the ones who make the headlines, and generally who people refer to when they use the word ‘hacker.’ White hat hackers have the same skills and use the same form of attacks as black hat hackers, but their intention is to defend, not destroy or disrupt. Their aim is to discover computer vulnerabilities so they can be fixed. White hat hackers are also known as security analysts.
Hackers can access your website by:
- Attacking your operating system – when hackers want to attack an operating system, they first scan it for vulnerabilities in its design, installation or configuration. Possible vulnerabilities they are looking for are buffer overflow, OS bugs and unpatched flaw.
- Exploiting any system misconfiguration –developers, system administrators and database administrators often have to make changes to a web application. This leads to holes in the security structure of the application, which allows hacker to break into the system.
- Exploiting the hole in an application – as the Internet is made up of ever changing application, errors and vulnerabilities are fairly common that hackers can use to gain illegal entry to web servers.
- Exploiting vulnerabilities in default codes – many web developers use off-the-shelf libraries and codes to make development quicker and inexpensive. However, if they don’t customize the default codes and configurations, hackers can exploit their vulnerabilities.
How to hack-proof your website
Once a hacker gains access to your website, he can have complete control of it. He can reconfigure it. He can steal sensitive data stored in your site. He can monitor activities and intercept information. He can divert visitors to other websites. Or he can use your site to launch attacks to other sites and networks.
Keeping your website hack-proof requires vigilance as well as active defensive exercises.
Keep software up-to-date – savvy developers constantly update their software to fix vulnerabilities. By having the latest version software, you ensure that you get the newest security updates and patches.
Clean up your back-end – remove all unnecessary or obsolete features or plugins, as they can have vulnerabilities that hackers can use to attack your site. Also change the usernames and passwords for all default accounts. As an example, on WordPress, username defaults to ‘admin’ and most hackers try this username first as it’s common knowledge that many people don’t bother changing default user names.
Restrict access levels – only allow access to administrative tools to staff who needs to carry out the job. For instance, a number of people may be allowed to make changes on the content of the site, but only one person has access to the admin directory.
Limit login attempts – hackers using brute force method will try to enter random passwords until they get the right combinations. By limiting login attempt, hackers will be locked out if they fail to login after a few attempts.
Conduct a regular penetration testing – also known as pen testing, this practice test your web application for weaknesses that attackers can exploit. A pen test can be automated using a software application, or done manually. If, as an organization, you don’t have the capability to do a pen test, you can bring in third-party companies to audit your web application.
Even if your business isn’t heavily dependent on your website, you must still consider your website security a serious issue. Hacking can and do have far reaching effect in organizations, both big and small.