Basic Security Features of Your New Site You Need to Know

Security on the web has been a huge topic of conversation for the past several months, if not years, though our last election cycle has seemed to really spotlight it for the general population. More people than ever have been exposed to a conversation that business owners and IT professionals have been engaged in for years which is trying to find the best ways to protect sensitive data from malicious attackers. The security of your customers and visitors is also of the highest importance. So, what do you need to know to get your new site up to speed as far as standard security protocols?

 

There are a few settings and features to be aware of as you explore the backend environment of your new VPS in an effort to bolster your security. This is a good point to throw in some caveats when we talk about the security of any website. There are no guarantees. Hacking attempts continually get more sophisticated and things can happen despite one’s due diligence. What the following is meant to do is to inform you of some best practices that will help keep your site more secure, but is it in no way a definitive guarantee that nothing will happen to your site if you do “X” things. Taking preventative steps is better than taking no action, of course, so use this information to your advantage.

 

Once you’ve logged into the hosting environment of your VPS, here are some things to keep an eye out for.

 

CSF/LFD

 

The good news about a lot of the terms and acronyms that are going to be coming your way is that they refer to things that are (or should be) already installed on your server. If they’re not, you can contact customer service to get it remedied. So, you won’t have to worry too much about making sure all of these things are in place yourself. Let’s start with CSF and LFD.

 

ConfigServer Security & Firewall (CSF) with Login Failure Daemon (LFD) is a security application that can be accessed through cPanel, which will already be established for you when you log in. CSF/LFD does a few things. It is a Stateful Packet Inspection (SFI) firewall and login and intrusion detector. CSF/LFD sends notifications in the event that something with some importance is potentially happening. That’s to say, getting an alert doesn’t mean you’re in the midst of an attack. But, something worth your attention is occurring.

 

LFD has a variety of useful features built into it that we’ll touch on briefly here. You can read more about these features and examples of the kinds of notifications you’ll receive at our wiki.

 

LFD will automatically perform IP blocks based on reasons that can be configured by the user. By default, you receive notifications each time an IP is blocked. Whether or not you want to disable this is up to you. Depending on your traffic and your filters, you might be getting alerted to things constantly, which would be a distraction. Make sure you’re confident in your configurations before doing this.

 

LFD “keeps an eye out” for things like too many failed login attempts within a short period of time, too many connection attempts being made from a single IP address, certain email issues as they pertain to volume, and successful login attempts through a variety of methods including cPanel or SSH.

 

SSL

 

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is maybe a bit more familiar to people because of its general acceptance as a must have for many sites, especially e-commerce sites where you’re handling sensitive customer information.

 

To explain the technology in brief, having an SSL certificate is important because it signifies you’ve put certain protections in place to ensure the safety of your customers’ information. SSL encrypts the path between the server and the client. When customers type in their credit card information to make a purchase on your site, for example, that information is transmitted securely thanks to encryption instead of the plain text it is transmitted as without SSL. Because one method of stealing information is intercepting it as it is transmitted, SSL is more or less a must have these days.

 

You’ll have to install your SSL through cPanel. To do this, you’ll need to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) in cPanel which you can do by following our guide. The signing authority you purchase your SSL from will need that CSR to complete your certificate. You can then install the signed SSL certificate through cPanel. You can typically tell if a site has an SSL right from the address bar in your browser. There may be a lock next to the URL to indicate security, or you can look for https:// to precede the site’s address. The key detail there is the S as the unsecured http:// delineates no SSL. If you’re unsure that your SSL has been installed, there are sites online where you can type in your domain name and it’ll tell you.

 

User Decisions

 

Moving along from server issues to issues that are more user based, it’s important to be smart with your content management system (if you’re using one) as well. Popular CMSes like WordPress often find themselves targets of malicious actors because of how widely used they are. It’s important to do your due diligence and ensure that you are regularly updating your CMS’ core software as updates are released. The nature of open source software is such that updates come out frequently because the user base is always inspecting the code. Vulnerabilities can also come from that same public knowledge of the code. It’s important to be on top of those updates because they almost always include security and bug fixes. This need for vigilant updates also applies to plugins, extensions, and whatever other additional modules that your CMS allows you to install to expand functionality.

 

Additionally, if you have multiple users with access to your site, be sure to restrict access to the bare minimum so that they can perform their job. The fewer people that have full administrator access, the better. Passwords should also be complex, a random assortment of characters greater than ten, and not a duplicate of any other password you use for any other service. Password breaches are still one of the most common methods of unauthorized entry to a site. Most of the time it’s because the user was either phished or the password was something relatively easy to guess.

 

Finally, backups are critical. Your host may perform backups for you, but you should still manually save things yourself on a local drive whenever possible just to be doubly sure you always have your information in the event of something going wrong. As a best practice, one backup of something is never enough.

 

Conclusion

 

At KnownHost, we value customer satisfaction. That’s why we want to set you up for success. Whether it’s needing faster hosting solutions than you’re already using, you have questions about security, or you’re looking to establish a web hosting reseller business, we’re available to help. Contact our team today and we’ll get you setup with the hosting that you need.

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The Beginner’s Guide to cPanel and WHM

You’ve been set up with your new hosting environment and you’re ready to get to work. Whether you’re launching your own site or you’re looking to re-sell hosting solutions as part of your portfolio of services, understanding your options for accessing and controlling your site via the backend is key to properly maintaining your web properties. Knowing your way around the server environment is critical to running your site as well as providing the proper access to your customers if you are indeed re-selling hosting services.

 

Your VPS or dedicated server can have many purposes. Not only is it a place to keep your site. It can also be a “property” that you divide up between your clients. Depending on the needs of your individual clients, you could easily host multiple resource light sites on one VPS. A dedicated server gives you even more horsepower that you can divvy up accordingly. But in order to effectively do that, you need to know your way around the backend.

 

Let’s take a look at the tools of the trade you’ll be relying on to access your websites from the server side. The main two interfaces are cPanel and WHM, which you will see are very closely related.

 

cPanel

 

When it comes to both the end-user and the administrator, it’s important to be familiar with cPanel because that is where a person can easily access the backend of their site. Instead of hacking away via the command line, cPanel is a relatively easy to understand control panel graphical interface that allows the user to manage both their website and their hosting account. While there are many variants on control panel software, cPanel is the most well known and widely used. It’s used for such functions as managing your website assets and files, creating databases, and establishing email accounts along with any auto-responders you want to have built into your site. Some security features are baked into cPanel as well, including password-protected directories, IP address denials, and SSL/TLS.

 

That’s cPanel in a nutshell. Now, let’s look at an overview of WHM.

 

WHM

 

WHM (Web Host Manager) grants administrative access to the backend of cPanel. Yes, one can go even “deeper” than cPanel with their server access. In fact, your account’s WHM is like the manager of all the cPanel administrators that fall under its umbrella. This is of particular interest to resellers, though anyone with a hosting account should be familiar with the functionality of WHM.

 

First off, if you’re a reseller, you’ll be glad to know you can customize the appearance of your WHM environment to reflect your branding. This is important for marketing purposes so it doesn’t look like you’re using a generic vendor template. You can also automate various management tasks that would otherwise be time consuming.

 

The ability to create and manage user accounts let’s you offer your clients cPanel access for their particular sites while allowing you to still have high level access over every individual site with a cPanel being run off your VPS or dedicated server. This essentially turns the server you’re paying for every month into an apartment complex, and the cPanel access you grant your clients are the keys to their respective units.

 

In summary, cPanel and WHM are parts of the same software. The first is the user interface and the latter is the administrator interface.

 

Basics of cPanel

 

If you are new to cPanel or you want to provide your clients with some beginner’s tips and tricks, the following is for you. Here are some things you want to take care of right out of the box:

 

Establish a strong password

 

This might be a basic tip for life in general these days, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind when setting up your server. Out of the box, you are given a username and password delivered via email. These credentials not only give you access to the cPanel interface, but also MySQL databases, FTP, emails, and SSH access. Therefore, if your email account gets compromised, that initial credentials email can be the key to hackers getting unlimited access to your server environment. It’s crucial to change your password right away so as to not be using the default credentials provided for you.

 

You want to be strategic with your password as well. Change it with fair regularity, avoid common words (ideally, words at all), don’t use number sequences like your birthday, use passwords longer than 8 characters, and don’t use autologin features that most modern web browsers come with where they save your passwords for you.

 

Understand security options

 

Though the overall security of your VPS or dedicated server is ultimately something that falls under your hosting company, there are things in cPanel you can do to bolster your security. And, frankly, there are things you as a user need and are responsible to do yourself to make sure your installation is secure.

 

The first thing you’ll want to do is enable some sort of spam mail filter (SpamAssassin is good for this). Enable the option to “discard with error to sender (at SMTP time)” and don’t use the forward to other address option unless it’s necessary. Also be sure enable hotlink protection to prevent the illegitimate use of your bandwidth.

 

Get familiar with the server environment

 

This is a simple thing to do, but an important one. When first exploring cPanel, make note of your server’s information. This is located on the sidebar of the main page. There are a variety of situations where you’ll need to be familiar with this information. Knowing things like your server’s operating system, applications, kernel version, hosting information, and IP address is critical. You’ll also want to get familiar with cPanel Service Status so you can know things like how much hard disk space you’ve used up, your memory usage, and the CPU in use. This is an initial place to go to if you’re experiencing  service issues and you’re looking for a possible cause.

 

The Advantages of Managed Hosting

 

When you use KnownHost for your hosting needs, you’re getting cPanel and WHM access with your plan. But, it’s understandable that you don’t want to worry too much about the actual server environment when you have the customer facing aspect of your sites to worry about. That’s why a managed VPS makes the most sense for the typical business user. You have cPanel access for when you need it, but concerns like backups and migrations shouldn’t be on your mind. That’s where we come in. KnownHost also offers complementary DDOS attack protection which will help with security concerns.

 

With managed hosting, you also don’t have to worry about downtime because we monitor your site 24/7 for irregularities and service interruptions. You’re already concerned with fulfilling customer orders. Why worry about having to combat things like DDOS attacks as well? You don’t want to have to troubleshoot why your site might be having disruptions. Leave that to the pros.

 

At KnownHost, we do the heavy lifting for you and we’re here to help. If you’re looking for a reliable place to host your site or flexible packages you can resell to your clients, we’d love to chat.

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