ecommerce website security

How to Optimize Your E-Commerce Website Security

With online shopping becoming increasingly popular, e-commerce websites have exploded in growth over the past decade. However, with this growth comes increased threats to website security that business owners must address. We are trying to provide e-commerce business owners with tips and best practices for optimizing the security of their online stores.

Choose a Secure E-Commerce Platform

The foundation of a secure e-commerce website starts with choosing a robust and secure e-commerce platform. Popular platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce offer top-of-the-line security features out of the box. When comparing platforms, look for the following security features:

  • SSL certificate – An SSL certificate encrypts data transferred between your site and customers. This prevents hackers from stealing sensitive customer information.
  • Automatic security updates – The platform should provide frequent, automatic updates to installed security plugins/apps. This ensures you have the latest security patches.
  • Malware scanning – A malware scanner helps detect malware or viruses in uploaded files or content. This prevents your site from distributing malware to customers.
  • Web application firewall – A WAF monitors and filters incoming web traffic to block common cyber attacks like XSS, SQLi, etc.
  • Role-based access – Advanced platforms offer role-based access levels to limit employee permissions as needed.
  • PCI compliance – If accepting credit cards, ensure the platform is Level 1 PCI compliant to handle payments securely.
  • Two-factor authentication – Adding two-factor authentication provides an extra layer of protection when employees log into the admin panel.
  • HTTPS access only – Requiring the admin dashboard to be accessible over HTTPS prevents unauthorized access.

Install Security Plugins

In addition to built-in platform features, installing key security plugins provides additional hardening of your website:

  • Wordfence (WordPress) – A comprehensive security plugin that provides a firewall, malware scanning, blocking of known attackers, and more.
  • Sucuri (WordPress) – Features include malware detection, security monitoring, DDoS protection, and cleanup if your site is compromised.
  • Shopify Fraud Filter – Fraud analysis that reviews orders and screens for fraudulent patterns to prevent chargebacks and abuse.
  • Norton Shopping Guarantee (Shopify, BigCommerce) – Provides $10,000 identity theft protection and a money-back guarantee for customers.

Keep Plugins Updated

One of the most important ongoing security tasks is keeping all plugins, themes, and the e-commerce platform itself updated to the latest version. Cybercriminals are constantly finding new vulnerabilities in outdated software. Applying the latest security patches through auto-updates closes these loopholes in your site’s protection.

At a minimum, enable auto-updates for the core e-commerce platform software itself. For other plugins/themes, either enable auto-updates or make a schedule (e.g. every 2 weeks) to manually review and install available updates.

Secure Admin Accounts

Your admin user accounts have the keys to the kingdom when it comes to your e-commerce site. A compromised admin account lets an attacker modify products, steal customer data, inject malware, and cause other types of havoc.

Implement these steps to properly secure administrator accounts:

  • Strong passwords – Use randomly generated passwords containing upper/lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Password manager – Store passwords in a secure password manager vs. writing them down where they can be accessed.
  • Two-factor authentication – Add an extra layer of security by requiring a random code from an authenticator app to sign in.
  • Limit administrator accounts – Only provide admin access to employees who truly need it to perform their jobs.
  • Access auditing – Review admin login audits weekly to detect unauthorized access attempts.

Secure Web Hosting

An often overlooked aspect of e-commerce security is choosing a secure and reliable web hosting provider. Even if your e-commerce platform is secure, a vulnerable web host can expose your site to weaknesses.

Here are the criteria to look for in a secure web host:

  • uptimes & redundancies to prevent downtime
  • regular OS & software updates
  • SSL certificates to allow HTTPS connections
  • firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention
  • DDoS mitigation to prevent denial of service attacks
  • vulnerability scanning & patching
  • strong password policies
  • Two-factor authentication access

Additionally, ensure your hosting provider is not overloading servers, which can impact performance and security. Avoid cheap, low-quality hosting providers.

Follow PCI Compliance Standards

If your e-commerce site accepts credit cards, you must adhere to Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance standards. This involves implementing required security controls and passing PCI scans periodically.

Key PCI requirements include:

  • Encrypting cardholder data during storage and transfer
  • Restricting access to cardholder information
  • Using regularly updated antivirus software
  • Developing a security policy
  • Limiting physical access to cardholder data
  • Tracking access using unique IDs
  • Testing security systems and processes

Utilizing a PCI-compliant e-commerce platform simplifies adhering to many of these requirements. Work with your payment processor to understand exactly what’s expected of your site based on transaction volume.

Monitor for Suspicious Activity

Being proactive with monitoring website activity for anomalies can detect attacks early on before they escalate. Here are the types of monitoring to implement:

  • Server log analysis – Review server logs frequently for errors, traffic spikes, and unknown IPs.
  • File change alerts – Get notified when core files or directories are modified.
  • Traffic monitoring – Track website traffic patterns over time and get alerts on anomalies.
  • Intrusion detection – Network IDS/IPS systems identify and block malicious traffic.
  • Website scans – Frequently scan your site for malware or hacking vulnerabilities.
  • Email alerts – Configure security alerts for admin login, server errors, and file changes.

Preparing detailed incident response procedures allows you to react quickly in the event a security issue is detected.

Conduct Security Audits

On top of your internal monitoring efforts, it’s wise to hire third-party security professionals to audit your e-commerce site and security measures regularly.

They will thoroughly inspect your systems and code for vulnerabilities that may have been overlooked internally. Frequent audits (e.g. 1-2 times per year) provide an outside perspective of your security posture.

Prioritize Customer Data Protection

At the heart of e-commerce security is protecting your customer data from theft or misuse. This involves both securing customer data in transit and at rest.

To secure customer data in transit:

  • Require HTTPS connections using SSL certificates on both the main site and admin dashboard. This encrypts all traffic to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks where data is intercepted.
  • Disable insecure protocols like FTP, telnet, etc. that transmit data as plain text.
  • Implement HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to enforce HTTPS-only connections.

To secure stored customer data:

  • Avoid storing sensitive customer data unless absolutely necessary for business operations. The less private data retained, the less risk.
  • Encrypt sensitive fields like passwords and credit cards at rest using platform encryption capabilities.
  • Mask or truncate credit card numbers when displaying receipts or in admin views. Never store full card numbers if possible.
  • Ensure proper permissions are set around who can view customer data internally.
  • Prevent unauthorized access by implementing brute force protection and mandatory two-factor authentication for admin accounts.

Testing Security Protections

It’s one thing to have security solutions in place, but another to confirm they work effectively when tested. Some methods of testing security protections include:

  • Penetration testing – Hiring ethical hackers to try to breach your site’s security protections and uncover flaws.
  • Bug bounty programs – Crowdsourcing penetration testing by allowing independent researchers to test your defenses. Implement their recommended fixes.
  • Simulated attacks – Your IT team can simulate DDoS attacks, password cracking attempts, and more to validate your prevention and response capabilities.

Use testing results to optimize configurations and strengthen defenses. Periodically repeat tests over time as the threat landscape evolves. A site that was secure a year ago may have newfound vulnerabilities today.

Protect Against Insider Threats

While much attention goes to external hackers, insider threats are another significant e-commerce security risk. This includes malicious or careless employees, contractors, or service providers.

Steps to reduce insider threats:

  • Background check employees before hiring, especially for sensitive roles.
  • Implement the principle of least privilege by only granting employees the system access required for their particular role and nothing more.
  • Require strong unique passwords, multifactor authentication, and prompt de-provisioning of accounts for employee terminations.
  • Develop and communicate security policies detailing employee security responsibilities.
  • Train employees on security best practices like safe web browsing, identifying social engineering attacks, and proper data handling.

Have Data Backup & Recovery Plans

Despite your best efforts at security, a breach may still occur at some point. When this happens, having backups of your site, store data, and databases in place enables recovery quickly with minimal disruption or permanent loss of data.

  • Maintain regularly updated backups stored both locally and in a geographically separate location in case of disaster.
  • The test restores backups periodically to verify their integrity.
  • Have documented procedures for responding to an attack if original systems need to be taken offline and backups restored.
  • Consider taking periodic system snapshots or images that can quickly restore systems to a known good state if compromised.
  • Utilize web application firewalls and DDoS mitigation services that can isolate live production systems from attack traffic while cloned systems are brought online.

With proper backup systems, you can aim to achieve a recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) sufficient for your business needs if disaster strikes.

Develop a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan

Despite best efforts, your site may still get hacked or compromised at some point. Having an incident response plan in place ensures your team is ready to take action if this occurs.

Include these elements in your incident response plan:

  • Documented procedures for containing an attack and preserving evidence like system logs, files, etc.
  • Cybersecurity incident reporting protocols and contact information – both internal IT/executive team members as well as external resources like your web host, internet/DDoS provider, etc.
  • Public relations strategy for communicating with customers if compromised.
  • Post-incident analysis plans – gather lessons learned to enhance defenses against similar attacks recurring.
  • Simulated incident response exercises to validate the effectiveness of the plan.

Stay Informed on Emerging Threat Trends

The techniques hackers and cybercriminals use are constantly evolving. There is no such thing as being 100% secure forevermore. You must remain vigilant and keep your site’s defenses up-to-date as new attack vectors emerge.

Ways to stay up-to-speed on emerging e-commerce cyberthreats:

  • Read security advisories and blogs from trusted industry sources on a regular basis.
  • Attend webinars and security conferences like Black Hat to hear the latest research.
  • Develop contacts with cybersecurity professionals who can brief your team on threats targeting the e-commerce sector.
  • Monitor dark web sites and forums for chatter about new exploits or malware kits.
  • Leverage threat intelligence services that proactively gather and analyze data on emerging actors, campaigns, vulnerabilities, leaks, etc.

Keeping pace with the latest techniques malicious actors leverage makes you better prepared to implement countermeasures proactively before your site becomes a target.

E-Commerce Security Best Practices Recap

Optimizing the security of your online store requires diligence across many fronts, including:

  • Choosing a secure e-commerce platform and web host
  • Keeping software updated with the latest security patches
  • Securing admin accounts properly with MFA and limiting access
  • Adhering to PCI compliance for payment security
  • Monitoring site traffic and activity for anomalies
  • Conducting frequent security audits and testing
  • Protecting customer data end-to-end
  • Guarding against insider threats
  • Maintaining backups and incident response plans
  • Staying informed on emerging cybersecurity threats and trends.

By making e-commerce security a priority now and implementing defenses proactively, you can help minimize the chances your business becomes the next victim.

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