For most online shoppers today, the internet has become the go-to destination for everything from clothes to groceries.
But while online retail has become commonplace, it remains an intricate technology operation that is vulnerable to attack. Cybercriminals often target e-commerce websites because they know how much sensitive information, including credit card numbers, flow through them on a daily basis.
If you’re running an e-commerce store, it's pivotal to make security a top priority in all technology decisions. This article dives into seven specific best practices that you should follow in order to ensure that your customers and their data are kept safe.
1. Use an SSL Certificate
Before you start selling goods or services over the internet, you have to make sure your website is operating over a secure sockets layer (SSL) connection. When an SSL certificate is present, you'll see a padlock symbol next to the URL at the top of your web browser.
SSL encrypts all data transmissions between a user's browser and the website's back-end servers, which provides protection from hackers because even if they manage to infiltrate your local network and intercept web traffic, they still won’t be able to decode and steal the information.
All e-commerce websites should install a valid SSL certificate and keep it up to date before they start storing customer information. These certificates are available through free or paid packages from certificate authorities. Using SSL can also help boost your rankings on search engines like Google because search engines prioritize sites that follow best practices in encryption.
2. Enforce Password Restrictions
In order to operate a successful e-commerce business, you need to make it easy for customers to create and maintain their online account and shopping cart. The standard way to handle account management is to authenticate logins using a username or email address and a password.
As a site owner, you are responsible for ensuring that customers use strong passwords in order to keep their data safe. These should be as complex as possible, with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. In addition, your website should prompt users to change their password on a regular basis to make it even harder for hackers to infiltrate their account.
3. Store Data as Tokens
Modern websites require a back-end database that provides the information users see when they visit the site. For example, if your e-commerce site sells shoes, then the database will store information like the name and price of each pair, its available sizes and colors, and the current inventory in stock.
It may therefore seem logical to do the same exact thing with customer information. You want to allow users to store their shipping addresses and credit card numbers in their online account, but doing so presents a risk. If you keep that sensitive data as plain text in the database, then any hacker who infiltrates your back-end systems will be able to read and steal it.
Instead, use an integrated payment provider that tokenizes cardholder data. Tokenization removes the raw data and replaces it entirely with a token (ex: EO5L-X03K-S2LX-79BQ). That final piece of data is what's kept in the database, which protects cardholder data against intruders and breaches.
4. Invest in Security Scanners
The most dangerous forms of cyberattacks are the ones that hide in the background of your systems and make themselves hard to detect. For an e-commerce business, a virus or piece of malware can bring about significant losses to your profits and reputation. For that reason, you need to take steps to actively scan your back-end systems for threats.
No matter what operating system you use, you should have a virus scanner set up to run on a constant basis. It will watch for downloads of suspicious pieces of software that could be malicious in nature. You should also consider a strong firewall system, capable of monitoring all incoming traffic and identifying threats before any hackers launch a full-scale attack.
5. Watch for Software Updates
Software development is a continuous process. Part of the reason why is the need to react to security threats. Software updates are typically delivered on a weekly, monthly, or as-needed basis and include patches to fix vulnerabilities and other known bugs.
For e-commerce businesses, you should always run checks for new software updates on an automated system. They must cover all back-end servers, their operating systems and any platforms or plugins that you use. The best practice is to configure the system to install updates automatically so that they come into effect as soon as possible.
6. Choose a Secure Host
In order to compete in the online marketplace, e-commerce websites need to leverage the power of the cloud. Hosting your website through third-party e-commerce platforms like Shopify or Wix not only defends your site from common cyberattacks, but also saves you money on operating costs at the same time.
However, it's important to remember that not all cloud hosts are equal. If you go with the cheapest provider available, it's likely that your site will suffer from poor performance and unreliability. Online entrepreneurs should rely on community-run or user-generated content sites, such as G2 Crowd or Capterra, both of which aggregate web hosting reviews. A reliable hosting provider is the foundation of every internet-based business, so choose wisely.
7. Manage Backups Carefully
E-commerce companies always need to be prepared for a technology-based disaster because even just a few minutes of website downtime can mean a significant loss in revenue. A large part of any good disaster recovery plan is a robust backup schedule for all back-end servers.
The best practice is to store a minimum of three copies of core databases and file repositories, with at least one copy kept off-site or in a different data center. However, that does introduce a new level of security risk. When managing your backup data, always make sure you’re storing it in a secure facility.
What has your experience been with your e-commerce store so far? Tell us more below!
About the Author
Dan Fries is a freelance writer and full-stack Rust developer. He looks for convergences in technology trends, with specific interest in cyber security and micromobility. Dan enjoys snowboarding and is based in Hong Kong with his pet beagle, Teddy.