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Secure Hosting Introduction
Security is an important concern when looking at a web hosting plan. But there's no single thing that makes one hosting platform more secure than any other. Rather, a number of individual factors contribute to overall web hosting security.
It's easy for a web hosting company to claim that they are "secure," because that word doesn't have a clearly-defined technical meaning. Most web hosting companies are engaging in at least a few standard security practices, but that doesn't mean they are especially secure as compared to other hosts. It's important to look at a number of different security measures that you and your hosting company might take, and other factors that might affect security.
You may have experience with firewalls in a local context, software that stops users from accessing certain types of content or specific websites. Web server firewalls are somewhat similar, but in reverse.
A firewall is a piece of software that filters request activity before it reaches the web server. Firewalls block requests based on a number of different factors. IP-address black lists are the most common type of filtering, blocking connections from known offenders.
Most web hosting companies have some kind of firewall. Often, the firewall is shared by many customers, so something that would be blocked while accessing your system would likewise be blocked from accessing another site. This is especially the case for shared hosting plans.
Some hosting companies offer "Dedicated Firewall" as a service. This allows for specific rules to be adjusted related to who is and isn't blocked from accessing your website. This is usually not needed, but if you process especially sensitive information it can be a necessity, as white lists from sites sharing the same firewall can be a potential attack vector.
DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service, is a type of attack where thousands of requests are sent to a website all at once, overloading its ability to process them and effectively shutting the site down.
DDoS attacks are usually automated and the request volume comes from a distributed network of (usually hijacked) computers. DDoS attacks have been launched by online activist groups, organized crime rings, and government agencies.
DDoS protection requires a number of different and related tactics, the core of which involve analyzing DDoS activity so that requests related to the DDos are blocked while legitimate traffic is still able to get through.
Many web hosting companies and even several CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) have some kind of DDoS protection.
There are a number of computer viruses live on the open web, and they can seriously compromise your sensitive data and your operational integrity. A secure web hosting platform must include a robust anti-virus system which is updated regularly and consistently monitored.
No matter how secure your web hosting plan, there is almost always some possibility of attack. No system is fully immune.
For this reason, especially sensitive data should be protected with live security monitoring. This means that a computer system is constantly analyzing traffic and activity, and will report to a live human if any anomalies show up. The human can then quickly deal with the problem if there is one.
HTTPS / SSL Security Certificate
If you are asking for users to enter sensitive information, or are showing sensitive information to your users, you probably need to make sure that your plan has an SSL Security Certificate, which allows it to work in HTTPS mode.
HTTPS creates a secured, encrypted communication channel between the user and the website, protecting form data like Credit Card and Social Security numbers.
VPS or Dedicated Servers
Using shared hosting opens up your site to a possible security risk, because any attack on one of the other sites on the same server could have possible repercussions for your site. Hosting companies go to a lot of trouble to make sure this does not happen, but it is still inherently safer to use a VPS (Virtual Private Server) or a Dedicated server than sharing a server with dozens or hundreds of other websites.
Email Spam Filtering
Email spam doesn't comprise a significant threat to site security, although a massive influx of email could potentially cause the same problem as a DDoS attack.
Email spam filtering is a second-layer of security, the kind of protection you use to make your experience more pleasant — it protects you more than your website.
Domain Name Privacy
Similar to email spam filtering, domain name privacy is more about protecting you than your server. However, depending no the nature of your business, this might be an important consideration.
If you need to protect your website from censorship or certain types of regulation, an offshore web hosting company may provide security against lawsuits, take-down notices, and other types of government intrusion.
Use Good Software and Keep It Updated
The most secure hosting environment in the world will not keep you safe if you use software with exploitable security bugs in it. Using well respected software, and keeping it updated as new versions are released, will help protect your site against a number of malicious attacks.