The Ultimate Website Security Audit Checklist

Is your website protected? This website security audit checklist will simplify the process of finding out.

website security audit checklist

Image Source: EmergeSoftware

Although the internet world phenomenon presents us with tremendous benefits, it also creates many unprecedented risks. Data breaches, cybercrimes, financial fraud, and other cybersecurity threats are a menace to organizations.

Businesses and individuals have lost a lot of money and sensitive information. The security of a website lies in the hands of the owners. But how can you know what component of your website should be protected, which element is vulnerable, and the security measures to take to ensure that your website is secure?

It all starts with a website security audit. 

A website security audit is a crucial step in protecting your website and all its resources from cyberattacks. It involves conducting a regular examination of your website to discover system vulnerabilities that could compromise your security. 

Here is the website security audit checklist that you should consider. 


1: Check for SSL certificate Renewal.


No website security audit can be complete without checking the SSL status of the website. If a website does not have an SSL certificate, then you are treading along a dangerous path. An SSL certificate is a critical element of your website. It ensures that all communications on your website are encrypted. 

If you run an online store, you will need to protect all the sensitive information your customers share with you. The credit card and debit card details, financial information, addresses, and much other sensitive information. An SSL certificate secures all this information. 

An SSL certificate will scramble the information to convert it into an undecipherable form. The information can only be decrypted, read and understood by the right recipient who possesses the proper decryption key. Without the certificate, hackers can easily hijack the communication and use it for malicious reasons. 

So, how do you know that your website does not have an SSL certificate? Well, that is pretty simple. A website that has an SSL certificate will have a padlock symbol next to the address bar. Additionally, it will have an HTTPS URL and not HTTP, which implies that it is not secure. 

You should purchase and install an SSL certificate once the security audit reveals that your website does not have an SSL certificate. You should only acquire your SSL certificate from trusted certificate providers. Some of the best SSL Certificate providers include RapidSSL, DigiCert, Comodo, GeoTrust SSL etc. They provide the best SSL certificates and a lot of benefits to their clients. If you wish to secure a primary domain and multiple first-level subdomains, we suggest that you invest in a wildcard SSL certificate. 

If your website does not have an SSL certificate, then you will be missing out a lot and putting your website in the jaws of hackers. HTTPS websites provide heavy traffic, help users verify website authenticity, increase rankings in the search engine results pages, encrypt the communication between the servers and the web browsers, among many other benefits.


2: Review How Your Permissions Are Defined


Some of the data breaches we know of today are all caused by internal actors. A Verizon report reveals that 34% of all data breaches that occurred in 2018 involved internal actors. How you manage your file, folder, and access permissions dictate how secure your website will be. 

Anytime you need to make content updates on your website, the web server will first have to validate the person’s access privileges trying to make the updates. If the user has the required and relevant permissions to create the updates, then he/she can make the changes. If, on the other hand, the user does not have the required permission to make the changes, then the user will not be able to do so. User permissions are, therefore, very imperative.

There are three permission settings that you should be aware of:

  • User Permissions –
    Giving everyone the permission to access and make changes to your website can create a security loophole. Employ the principle of the least privilege. Standard users can only access the website elements and information that they require to run their jobs efficiently. In your website security audit, you should ensure that only authorized users access and make changes to information.
  • Owner, Group or Public Permissions –
    In managing accesses, you should categorize users into groups. Each group should be given a different level of access. For instance, the owners can have permission to read and write, while the public should only be allowed to read the content and not make any changes.
  • Read, Write and Execute Permissions –
    These are file permissions that determine what users can do with the files. A user with execute permissions can install and uninstall a plugin or an application. Standard users should not be given this kind of permission.  


3: Check CMS Settings


During your website security audit, you should ensure that you check your Content Management System’s settings to ensure security. For instance, you should always ensure that the CMS is up to date. Usually, a notification will pop up on your screen once a new update is available. By conducting frequent CMS updates, you will be strengthening your security walls and wiping out any form of vulnerability that could lead to a cyber breach.  

You can also install additional security plugins. However, you should make sure that the plugins are up to date and legit before installing them. If you are not confident with a CMS or plugin update, you can always test it before implementing it.  Once satisfied that there is nothing wrong with the update, you can apply the update.


4: Check for the latest software updates.


Content Management Systems updates are very critical to the security of your website. During your website security audit, you should check to ensure that the website runs on the latest software. Website updates patch security loopholes, improve website performance, and bring new features that facilitate the smooth running of the website.

Hackers are always on the lookout to figure out the website loopholes they can capitalize on. Developers are also keen to identify the vulnerabilities, and they will release new software versions to address the vulnerabilities. The updates are only beneficial to those who care to install them. You might have heard of the 2017 Equifax data breach. Even though there was a new update, Equifax had failed to install it. Hackers capitalized on this and carried out one of the most devastating data breaches we know of.

You should always check for any new software releases. To do that, you can navigate to Dashboard and click on the Updates bar inside your CMS admin area. The CMS will check if any updates are available and then list them down to choose and install. 


5: Think “ACB”—Always Create Backups!


Despite all the investments you have made in your website’s security and all the security walls you have built; you are still not immune to cyber threats. The question you should seek to answer is: what happens next after a data breach hits me? 

You cannot afford to shut the doors of your business just because you have lost your data. The best thing is to retrieve the data and continue with the normal operations. But how will you retrieve the data if you do not carry out regular data backups? 

Data backups are like an insurance scheme that will keep you going long after a successful data breach. In your website security audit, you should check the efficiency of your backup system, the safety of your data backup repositories and how easy it will be to retrieve the data. You can also automate the data backup plan to avoid all the hassle involved in frequent manual data backups. 


6: Monitor traffic surges


One of the major threats facing websites today is the Distributed-Denial-of-Service attack. It is where a hacker uses multiple compromised networks to overwhelm your website and make it unavailable. A DDoS attack could compromise your website, and this is why you should keep your eyes open to try and identify a DDoS attack and stop it before it is too late. During your website security audit, you should check for any traffic surges and stop bots to prevent DDoS attacks. 


7: Check for installed extensions/plugins.


You are probably familiar with extensions. They add more advanced and useful features to your website. However, they also pose a great threat to your privacy and security. To begin with, some extensions and plugins can be malicious. This is usually the case for those extensions that originate from third-party websites. Secondly, although some extensions might be legit, they can also be dangerous. The danger arises because the extensions collect too much data about the users. 

During your website security audit, you should ensure that only relevant extensions and plugins are installed. You should also check to ensure that only extensions from official web stores are installed on your website. Lastly, pay attention to the permissions that the extension requires. If the extension requires too much of your information, then that should raise your eyebrows. 


8: Inactive or unused plugins


You should ensure that you check for any unused plugins. They pose a threat to the security of your website. All inactive and unused plugins must be deleted to ensure that no data remains on the CMS database. 


9: Secure passwords


Passwords are the first line of defense that protects your website against brute force attackers. Weak passwords will make your website vulnerable to attackers. Strong and unique passwords will strengthen your security. In your website security audit, you should ensure that you follow the best password practices. It would help if you also created policies to ensure that your users and your employees adhere to the best password practices. 

Good passwords are a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols. The passwords should also be long enough. As a general rule, the longer the password, the harder it will be for a hacker to guess. Furthermore, you should ensure that the passwords are stored safely, far away from hackers. 


10: Inactive or unsafe themes and extensions


Like inactive plugins, unused themes and extensions are also a threat to your website’s security. In your security audit, you should identify the idle and used themes and delete them. Hackers can easily take advantage of the themes and extensions to carry out a data breach. 


11: Delete abandoned user accounts


Accounts belonging to employees who have already left your organization, those who retired and those on leave should be deleted. A security audit can help you uncover some of these accounts. Some employees can easily use these accounts to steal data and for other malicious reasons. 

Final Thoughts

A website security audit can be used to uncover some of the potential risks and loopholes that could be a threat to your website. You should always ensure that you conduct a regular audit to monitor the security of your website. Once the loopholes are uncovered, you should move with speed to take corrective measures. In this article, I have explained some of the factors you should consider when conducting a website security audit.