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The security risks of your business website

October 11, 2011

A website is an essential tool for virtually every business starting up in the UK today.

Whereas just a few years ago it was a handy way of marketing your business if you had lots of time or money, websites have quickly grown to become a dominant force in attracting new business and retaining existing customers.

The opportunity has come thanks to the growing sophistication of search engines such as Google. As they have got better at working out what people want and giving it to them, it’s created an opportunity for businesses to wait for work to come to them, rather than go out chasing it.

But having a website isn’t just a simple matter of getting something set up and playing with the content every now and then. Because your website represents your business on the internet, that makes it a potential target for hackers.

You might think it won’t happen to you – why would hackers go for you when there are huge high profile targets around?

But the sad fact is that big companies like Microsoft can employ legions of experts to ensure their website stays safe and secure. You have limited resources, and may be relying on the company that designed your website a few years ago.

Here’s a look at the main security risks facing your business from its website, and what you can do to stay protected.

Denial of Service Attack

The main danger facing your website is it being taken down with a Distributed Denial Of Service Attack, or DDOS. This is where a hacker who has illegal control of thousands of computers across the world floods your server with requests for information.

The server cannot cope and stops working, meaning your website temporarily vanishes.

This kind of attack is normally aimed at high profile targets. But an unhappy customer with friends in the wrong places might be able to aim one at your website.

Brand and Reputation Damage

Next is the risk of damage to your brand and reputation if a hacker can actually alter or replace your website.

If you think about how a website works, it’s easy to see what damage a hacker can do. When someone types in your website address, they are visiting the server where your website is hosted, and asking for a series of files (web pages) to be sent to their computer.

When you change your website, all you are doing is making changes to the files that are sent. And a hacker can do the same thing if they can find a way to break into your server.

There are numerous ways to do this, which can be as simple as guessing your password, or finding a “back door” in.

Some hackers break into websites just for the thrill of doing it. But others are malicious, and once they are in could replace your website with pornography, offensive messages, or something else. They can also make it difficult for you or your website company to fix it.

The potential damage is huge. Not only will someone visiting what they think is your website potentially be offended, but the damage to your reputation could be huge. If a hacker has had control once, some people will be reluctant to use your website in future.

And that includes giving you their credit card details. People are becoming more and more switched on to identity theft. Online sales may be growing rapidly, but people are still wary. And high profile cases such as the government losing CDs containing child benefit data on 25 million people don’t help.

If you rely on an online store for revenue and it is hacked, not only will you lose sales, but you will lose the confidence of your customers. No-one will want to give their credit card details to a website they think is unsafe.

Your Company Network

There is a third danger of your website being broken into, and that’s someone gaining access to your company network. Many businesses now integrate their systems with their websites. It makes for efficient working; but can also be a hacker’s dream.

And it’s not just hackers you should be worried about. What damage could a disgruntled employee or ex-employee do from home, if they can log in to your system when there’s no-one watching what they are doing?

This kind of set-up can also make your network vulnerable to viruses. If someone can get into your company system remotely, they may inadvertently introduce a virus into the business.

This article has been quite heavy on the risks of running a website, but don’t let that put you off! If you take sensible proactive steps to stay safe, your chances of suffering an attack are small.

The answer to all of these risks is to use experts to stay protected. Consult with your web or IT support company to ensure they are staying on top of all security risks and are taking steps to keep your web site – and reputation – safe.