An insightful guide into protecting your website from hackers

Websites are compromised all the time. The majority of website security breaches are not out to pinch your data or upload pictures to deface your website, but instead attempt to use your server as a relay for email spam, or to setup a temporary web server. Other very common ways include using your server as part of a botnet or even be bought offline by ransom-ware. Hacking is regularly performed by automated scripts written to search the Internet in an attempt to exploit known website security issues in software.

It may seem obvious, but ensuring you keep all software up to date is vital in keeping your site secure. This applies to both the server operating system and any software you may be running on your website such as a CMS or forum. When website security holes are found in software, hackers are quick to attempt to abuse them.

If you are using a managed hosting solution then you don't need to worry so much about applying security updates for the operating system as the hosting company should take care of this.

If you are using third-party software on your website such as a CMS or forum, you should ensure you are quick to apply any security patches. Most vendors have a mailing list or RSS feed detailing any website security issues. WordPress, Joomla! and many other CMS's notify you of available system updates when you log in.

SQL injection attacks are when an attacker uses a web form field or URL parameter to gain access to or manipulate your database. When you use standard Transact SQL it is easy to unknowingly insert rogue code into your query that could be used to change tables, get information and delete data. You can easily prevent this by always using parameterised queries, most web languages have this feature and it is easy to implement.

Consider this query:

"SELECT * FROM table WHERE column = '" + parameter + "';"

 If an attacker changed the URL parameter to pass in ' or '1'='1 this will cause the query to look like this:

"SELECT * FROM table WHERE column = '' OR '1'='1';"

Since '1' is equal to '1' this will allow the attacker to add an additional query to the end of the SQL statement which will also be executed.

You could fix this query by explicitly param'erising it. For example, if you're using MySQLi in PHP this should become:

$stmt = $pdo->prepare('SELECT * FROM table WHERE column = :value');
$stmt->execute(array('value' => $parameter));