Security First: Setting Up Your Web Server

Due to sensitive data, web servers are among the most targeted elements of an organization's network.
Ari Harrison
September 3, 2020

To mitigate the risk of losing data, ensure that your web server is as safe as possible. If your server's protection is breached, it could result in everything from spam advertising injections on the company's website to user data being intercepted and stolen from form submissions.


A secure web server. What is that?


In general, a stable web server can fall into one of two groups. Most notably, it is a public web server supporting security protocols such as SSL, meaning that confidential data transmitted to and from the site is protected for user protection. It may also be a web server used in a local network only by staff members, secured from external threats.

To maintain your web servers' protection and keep potential threats at bay, it is crucial to stay up to date with the ever-changing security environment.


What security threats does a web server face?


Due to sensitive data, web servers are among the most targeted elements of an organization's network. It is critical that, as well as protecting web applications and your wider network, you take comprehensive action to protect your web servers.

There is a range of main threats to web servers necessary to be aware of, avoid, and minimize these risks. Below, I have outlined a few different types of threats:

Denial of Service

  • Distributed DDoS attack occurs when bandwidth and resources of the target system are invaded by many devices, usually one or more web servers. DDoS attacks also result from the flooding of the targeted device across many compromise systems (e.g., a botnet). These are technical attacks that cybercriminals may use to inundate your servers with traffic, making your website or network unusable they become unresponsive, making your website or system useless.

Injections to SQL

  • SQL injections can be used to target websites and web apps by submitting Structured Query Language requests via web forms to build, read, update, change or delete data stored on your servers, such as financial information.

Unpatched software tools

  • Software upgrades and security fixes are intended to correct bugs in older versions of the program. However, once a new patch is released, potential hackers will reverse-engineer attacks based on updates, leaving unpatched versions in a vulnerable position. That's why I suggest using a reliable patch management service to make sure you're still up-to-date.

XSS  

  • Cross-site scripting attack. A technique similar to SQL injection-code is injected into server-side scripts to collect confidential data or execute malicious client-side scripts.

However, one of the most prevalent risks to server security is human error or lack of care. Whether it's poorly written code, easy-to-use passwords, or inability to install and upgrade firewalls and other protection tools, the human element in cybersecurity is usually the weakest connection.

You should also note the physical safety of computers operating as web servers: whatever security software you use, physical access to your servers can be compromised if not properly handled.


What kinds of web servers are available for you?


Some of the most common web server software options include Apache, LiteSpeed, IIS, Nginx, and Lighttpd. You may also use 'internet servers' or internet web hosting services to operate multiple servers from a single device.

Different web servers can address various user needs, but they are usually compatible with major operating systems such as Linux, Windows, and MacOS.


The application server of Apache


Apache is open-source and is generally accepted as the most popular web server in the world with a market share of 37,4 percent (June 2020). It supports Ubuntu, Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, Windows, and other application systems and, due to its modular design, can be easily configured. Apache is very reliable compared to other web servers.


Web Server of Nginx


Nginx is also an open-source solution known for its high performance, reliability, and low resource consumption. Nginx can be used as a reverse proxy, mail proxy, HTTP cache, or load balancing compatible with most major operating systems.


Lighttpd


The main advantage of Lighttpd is its limited Processor load and speed optimization. Lighttpd is built to manage several concurrent links and supports functions such as output compression, FastCGI, Auth, SCGI, and URL encoding, etc. with an event-driven architecture close to that of Nginx.


Virtual Web Server


If you need to handle several web domains, it can be more useful to do so from one computer to virtual web servers, rather than providing a dedicated, separate server for each one. Virtual servers, or automated web hosting, maybe cost-effective and usually have no on-site impact efficiency. However, if so many virtual servers are installed on the same computer, web pages can be distributed more slowly.


The difference between network security and server protection


Server security is only one aspect of a more comprehensive, systemic plan for network security. While server protection relates primarily to steps taken to protect the web servers and the data they handle, network security often involves items like firewalls and antivirus software to secure other network areas.

Employee laptops, tablets, and other internet-connected devices are all aspects of the network that need to be protected against attacks. Phishing emails, fake websites, and malicious applications are just a few of the threats, so it is essential to use robust endpoint protection and web server security. This includes perimeter defense, such as firewalls and software that prevents possible risks from accessing your undetected network.


How to maintain a secure web server


You can take a few easy steps to set up a safe new web server or enhance the security of your current web servers.


Removing redundant resources

  • Default operating systems and configurations do not have robust protections. Generally speaking, many network services are included in the default installation that will not be used, from remote registry services to print server services and other functions.
  • The more services you run on your server operating system, the more ports are left available – meaning more access to the network that could be exploited by a malicious hacker. As well as helping with stability, eliminating unnecessary services can also improve the efficiency of your server.

Establish separate project environments

  • Developing and testing are sometimes performed on production servers, which is why you may often come across websites or online pages that contain information such as / new / or / test / in the URL. Web applications in their early stages of development may also have security vulnerabilities that can be abused using freely available online tools.
  • You will help reduce the possibility of infringement by keeping the creation and testing of servers separate from the public internet and not linking them to essential data and databases.

Set your permissions and privileges

  • The permissions for network service and file allowance play a key role in your defense. If the network service program corrupts the web server, the wrong user uses the tasks when the network service account runs. This makes it possible to prevent data loss or misuse by explicitly setting minimum privileges for users to access web app files and databases in the back-end.

Keep your patches up to date

  • As stated earlier in this article, failure to keep software up to date with the latest patches can allow cybercriminals to re-engineer pathways to your network.

Track the server log

  • As part of your routine security checking, store and track your server logs in segregation and check them regularly. Unusual log file entries provide details about attempted and successful attacks and should be reviewed if and when they occur.

Installing a firewall

  • Firewalls based on software are easy to set up, manage, and protect your web servers.

Automate backup

  • Having daily server backups means that you can quickly recover and restore data if your security protections are compromised. Automation may increase productivity, but the IT worker should search for problems that could have disrupted the operation.

Security applications for servers


Your cybersecurity company is just as strong as its weakest link. In addition to ongoing training for system administrators and IT practitioners to ensure their information is up to date with the current threats, all entry points in the network must be protected and secured with competent endpoint security.