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Securing Your Website Code: Preventing Hacks and Attacks

Introduction

While functionality and design capture attention, writing secure code is equally vital for deflecting digital threats. By following coding best practices around sanitization, access controls, encryption, dependency management and rigorous testing, developers minimize vulnerabilities that hackers exploit. Proactively engineering robust defenses and monitoring for suspicious activities helps organizations protect their infrastructure, data and visitors. This guide examines key principles, techniques and mindsets for creating hack-resistant websites.

Most Common Website Attacks

Understand the threats developers need to safeguard against:

  • SQL Injection Injecting malicious SQL into forms to access databases.
  • Cross-Site Scripting Injecting client-side scripts into pages to hijack sessions.
  • Denial of Service
    Overwhelming site resources to make it unreachable.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Intercepting communication between visitors and servers.
  • Phishing Scams Deceiving users into surrendering login credentials.
  • Password Attacks Guessing weak passwords through brute force or dictionary attacks.
  • Malware Infections
    Downloading viruses, worms, trojans or other malicious code.

Awareness of entry points informs proactive prevention.

OWASP Top 10 Vulnerabilities

This definitive list highlights the most critical web application security risks:

  1. Injection Attacks
  2. Broken Authentication
  3. Sensitive Data Exposure
  4. XML External Entity Attacks
  5. Broken Access Controls
  6. Security Misconfigurations
  7. XSS Cross-Site Scripting
  8. Insecure Deserialization
  9. Known Vulnerabilities in Components
  10. Insufficient Logging and Monitoring

Addressing the full OWASP Top 10 makes any site significantly more secure.

Key Principles for Secure Coding

Core philosophies for engineering robust defenses:

  • Never Trust User Input Sanitize and validate everything.
  • Implement Least Privilege Only allow necessary access and rights.
  • Strive for Simplicity Complexity breeds unseen vulnerabilities.
  • Adopt a Security Mindset
    Question all assumptions and practices.
  • Fail Securely
    Gracefully handle unexpected conditions.
  • Continually Evolve Defenses
    Apply latest guidance as threats advance.
  • Defense in Depth
    Multiple layers of protection.

A vigilant coding posture stops threats before they arise.

Secure Data Handling Best Practices

Carefully manage sensitive information:

  • Minimize Collection Only gather essential user data.
  • Allow Data Deletion Provide ways to purge user data completely.
  • Strong Encryption Use approved algorithms like AES-256 to encrypt stored and in-transit data.
  • Salted Password Hashing Add random data to password hashes to prevent decrypting if breached.
  • Limit Data Access
    Restrict system/employee data visibility through permissions.
  • Data Validation Double-check formats and expected bounds.

What you don’t collect and retain can’t be stolen or misused.

Access Control Strategies

Prevent unauthorized visibility and actions:

  • Authentication Require usernames and passwords for system access. Enforce complex requirements.
  • Role-Based Permissions Control who can view, edit, delete, publish etc.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication Require additional proof of identity beyond just passwords through biometrics, tokens etc.
  • Directory Services Integration
    Centralize user credential management using ActiveDirectory, LDAP etc.
  • Session Management Use encrypted ids, expiration, idle timeouts to tighten session security.

Balance usability and rigorous access policies appropriate for your data sensitivity.

Combating XSS and Injection Flaws

Detect and neutralize malicious inputs trying to exploit vulnerabilities:

Detect Suspicious Inputs

  • Script tags, attributes, protocols
  • Executable code snippets
  • Malformed file types

Validate and Sanitize

  • Define strict allowable formats and data types
  • Strip disallowed code and characters

Encode Outputs

  • JS encode to prevent inserted HTML/scripts from executing

Limit Lengths

  • Constrain input lengths
  • Truncate/reject long entries

Use Parametrized Queries

  • Pass data separate from SQL statement structure

Follow trusting no inputs by scrubbing and validating everything.

Secure Development Practices

Processes helping instill security-focused coding:

  • Developer Security Training OWASP guidance, secure coding practices.
  • Code Reviews
    Peer examination spots logical issues unit tests miss.
  • Static Code Analysis Linting tools like RATS, PMD flag vulnerabilities.
  • Dynamic Analysis Fuzzer tools manipulate inputs to catch exceptions.
  • Penetration Testing Ethical hacker attempts to bypass defenses.
  • Bug Bounties Reward researchers for finding flaws.
  • Monitoring Intrusion detection, anomaly alerts.
  • Incident Response Plans Protocols for quickly neutralizing live threats.

Make secure coding a shared cross-functional responsibility.

Web Application Firewalls

Hardware filters blocking attacks:

  • OWASP Rulesets Auto-generated rules aligning to Top 10 risks.
  • IP Reputation Filtering Block requests from suspicious ranges.
  • Web Scraping Protection Identify and stop illicit data harvesting bots.
  • Rate Limiting Prevent DDoS attempts by throttling traffic.
  • Virtual Patching Block known attack signatures while patching.
  • AI Threat Detection Machine learning reveals patterns indicative of attacks.

On-premise or cloud firewalls fortify defenses.

Dependency Management

Know security risks in imported third-party code:

  • Inventory Dependencies Catalog all libraries, SDKs and packages used.
  • Check for Vulnerabilities
    Query databases like NPM or OSS to detect issues.
  • Assess Activity Level Avoid stale abandoned projects.
  • Lock in Trusted Versions Don’t auto-upgrade to latest which may be vulnerable.
  • Validate Necessity Only import essential functionality.
  • Monitor Announcements Stay current on notifications of new threats.

Third-party code broadens attack surfaces – manage meticulously.

Configuring Secure Hosting

Harden servers against intrusion:

  • Update Software Apply latest security patches expeditiously.
  • Secure Protocols Activate HTTPS, disable old TLS, SSL, early HTTP versions.
  • Server Access Control Firewall off admin ports, tighten SSH settings.
  • Error Logging
    Log unauthorized access attempts.
  • DDoS Mitigation Enable scrubbing services if supported.
  • Integrate Security Services WAFs, CDNs, ACLs to defend externally.
  • Monitoring Activity logs, intrusion detection systems.

Robust infrastructure prevents breaches at the network level.

User Security Education

Prep visitors to help keep themselves secure:

  • Warn on Suspicious Communications
    Train them to identify phishing attempts.
  • Explain Random Updates Reduce confusion when applying patches or forced password changes.
  • Announce Exposure Incidents Be proactive if user account information gets leaked through breaches.
  • Provide Reporting Mechanisms Let users easily report concerning content or behavior.
  • Promote Strong Passwords
    Guide proper password hygiene.
  • Teach Identifying Secure Connections Like HTTPS presence validating legitimacy.

Informed visitors assist identifying threats.

Conclusion

While code quality holds allure, writing secure code may be a developer’s most important responsibility. Follow security best practices from initial design through deployment, not as an afterthought. Foster organizational cultures recognizing security contributions. Emphasize secure coding early in training. Leverage tools, techniques and frameworks designed for defense. Make security enhancement continuous. With vigilance, creating hack-resistant websites is achievable.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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