Online shop security: Offering your customers a secure online shopping experience

Security is a major concern for e-commerce shoppers and retailers alike. Just one security breach in your shop system or server can result in extremely high costs. Even worse, it can badly damage the reputation of your business. Protecting your own data is essential, and protecting your customers’ data is even more important. This article explains how you can secure your online shop and guarantee a safe shopping experience for your customers.

Why is website security so important for your e-commerce business?

When customers shop on your site, they entrust you with highly sensitive information every time they place an order. This includes data such as:

Contact detailsPayment informationOnline data
NameCredit card detailsLocation
AddressBank account detailsIP address
Email addressDate of birth (for example, for a credit check for payment on invoice)Cookie recognition

User data like this – as well as passwords! – are among the main targets of phishing attacks. If hackers gain access to this data, they can use it to place illegal orders or sell it on the black market. Ensure that your customers can shop safely online by putting the right website security measures in place.

Protecting your website: The basics of e-commerce security

It’s important to carefully plan out your shop’s data protection measures, starting at the design stage of setting up your website. After all, your online shop is not an isolated, free-standing platform. Every transaction and every piece of data you collect is closely interconnected with your company’s processes as a whole. As a result, there are access points that could pose a security risk: for example, if multiple departments within your company all have access to a shared customer database. This means it is important to start by designing a secure system for access restrictions and user permissions.

Here are some of the main features of any secure online shop:

  • HTTPS encryption. It is best to protect the communication channels on your website using SSL protocol. This allows sensitive customer data to be securely transferred from the user domain to your server domain.
  • Firewalls. These are designed to limit incoming and outgoing communication to the necessary protocols (for example, SSH, HTTP and HTTPS).
  • Password rules for user accounts. Set parameters like a minimum password length and the use of upper- and lowercase letters to reduce the risk of hackers breaking into the customer’s account and gaining access to their sensitive data.
  • Regular backups. If your server is hacked, you may be unable to access it. Then it’s vital that you have a full backup to restore! Be sure to regularly back up all your data (for example, by storing your backup in the cloud).

HTTPS encryption: The industry standard for secure online shopping

Today, SSL and TLS encryption are considered basic features of any secure online shop. SSL stands for ‘secure sockets layer’ and is the precursor to today’s TLS encryption, which stands for ‘transport layer security’. This network protocol protects data traffic between your customers and your shop and ensures that only your shop server has access to sensitive data. Without this kind of encryption, unauthorised third parties could hack into the data and read it at one of the many steps in the data-transfer process.

Why is SSL encryption so important for online shop operators?

Why is SSL encryption so important for online shop operators?

Online shoppers are increasingly focused on security. Before placing an order, they check to see whether your website contains security-related seals of approval, secure payment methods and data protection measures. Gain your customer’s trust by protecting your website with HTTPS encryption, and they will reward you with a higher checkout conversion rate.

Customers can easily recognise whether your shop is HTTPS-encrypted based on these three criteria:

  • The letter ‘S’ appears at the end of the standard HTTP communication protocol, so the URL of your website starts with ‘https…’
  • A lock symbol appears in the address bar in the customer’s browser
  • The address bar may be highlighted in green. 

Additionally, many organisations that issue quality seals of approval for online security now require sites to be SSL-encrypted. Trusted Shops, for example, only issues its seal to shops that use HTTPS to protect their data transfer. Google also encourages e-commerce retailers to use SSL encryption: shops without SSL protection appear lower in Google’s search rankings than those that use a secure network protocol.

How can I add HTTPS encryption to my shop?

You can obtain an SSL certificate from one of these providers:

  • VeriSign
  • GoTrust
  • GlobalSign
  • CAcert

The certification provider will first verify the identity of your company (for instance, how long has your company existed and who owns your domain). Then they will issue a certificate with clear, authenticated information that attests to the security of your shop.

Data protection for online shops

To comply with legal requirements related to data protection, you must publish your company’s privacy policy on your website. This policy must contain a detailed description of why your company collects customer data and how long it stores this data. 

The main purpose of your privacy policy is to ensure consumer protection. By handling your customers’ personal data in compliance with the law, you offer them a safer online shopping experience.

Yet, creating a privacy policy is equally important to you as a company. Your data policy serves as a clear road map of all the points where you collect customer data. This can help you recognise possible risk factors and introduce additional security measures to protect your website. You can almost always find areas for improvement, especially in vulnerable places like data entry forms.

Data protection for online shops

Common security gaps for online shops

In order for you to sell safely online, it’s important for you to understand some common vulnerabilities in website security. The security gaps listed below are some of the most common causes of data breaches.

Data entry forms

Online forms are a common target of hacker attacks on online shops. These include:

  • Account creation forms
  • Login forms
  • Contact forms
  • Newsletter signup forms

When a user fills in a form and submits it, their data is transferred to your server. Your programming code defines how the data is processed thereafter. A code that is not designed to account for certain algorithms may be susceptible to malware attacks. Malware can give hackers unauthorised access to your databases or your server.

Cyber attackers can also use your shop systems to distribute malware to your customers. One method of doing this is a ‘drive-by exploit’: hackers use automated software to scan for vulnerabilities in a user’s browser or operating system and then attempt to infiltrate those weak points with viruses and other malware. 

Fortunately, you can close security gaps caused by missing algorithms by installing regular updates. That’s why it’s crucial for you to always use the latest version of your eCommerce platform!

Outdated software

Some online retailers have a hard time finding enough time or money to keep all essential software up to date. But failing to update can create security gaps that make your system far more susceptible to cyberattacks. Outdated software puts your website particularly at risk of a denial-of-service (DoS) attack. During a DoS attack, a hacker bombards your server with a huge number of targeted requests intended to overload it. Once that happens, your shop system becomes temporarily unavailable, at least until the security gap is closed.

Open-source systems

Most e-commerce retailers use shop systems that are based on free open-source programs. These offer many advantages, but they can also pose security risks. After all, anyone who has downloaded the same version of your shop system has access to its complete source code. With a little effort, hackers who are highly familiar with the programming language you use could detect and exploit weak points.

Of course, it’s still possible to offer strong IT security if you are using an open-source system. That’s because open-source programs are backed by a large community of programmers who continually develop and update them. This often closes any security gaps before hackers have a chance to find them. Plus, open-source providers generally offer fast support to retailers when problems arise.

9 tips for boosting website security: How can you keep your online shop as secure as possible?

9 tips for boosting website security: How can you keep your online shop as secure as possible?

In addition to taking basic data protection measures, the following tips will help you offer an all-around secure shopping experience for your customers.

Tip 1: Integrate backup plugins

Many shop systems offer a backup plugin that provides additional security to your website. These include:

  • UpdraftPlus
  • BackWPup
  • BackupBuddy
  • Duplicator
  • Snapshot Pro

The plugins let you perform both manual and automatic backups and require little-to-no technical expertise. In case of an emergency, you can simply restore any lost data or even your entire shop system installation.

Tip 2: Use secure passwords yourself

Secure passwords are among the most basic aspects of IT security. Prevent unauthorised access to your databases and servers by always adhering to secure password rules for your own passwords. The following passwords are particularly important for online retailers:

  • administrator password for the shop system (shop backend)
  • login password for the web server/FTP server
  • login passwords for databases
  • login passwords for web hosting, web server and web interfaces
  • login passwords for any online marketplaces you use
  • login passwords for online banking

To ensure maximum security, always use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Avoid using actual words. Your passwords should be at least eight characters long in order to withstand ‘brute-force attacks’ (attacks in which hackers attempt to crack your password by automatically entering random combinations of characters). 

Tip 3: Limit the number of login attempts

Even if you have a secure password, brute-force attacks remain a threat. That’s why it is a good idea to limit the number of login attempts that your site allows. You can adjust this number in your shop system’s settings. After too many failed login attempts, the attacker’s IP address will be blocked and they will be unable to attempt to log in to your site again.

Tip 4: Limit write permission on the server

It’s always a good idea to set restrictions on who has permission to edit files and directories on the web server. This is known as ‘write permission’. One method for doing this is to use file transfer protocol (FTP) to set the functions that are allowed for a particular file: 

  • read-only
  • write
  • execute

Only grant write permission for files that require frequent editing. For all other files and folders, it is more secure to only put a tick beside ‘read’ and ‘execute’. The more files with write permission, the higher the risk that attackers can breach them with malware and gain access to your data.

Tip 5: Use the latest versions of virus scanners and firewalls

Viruses find innumerable ways to breach a computer without being noticed. That’s why it’s essential to install the right threat protection software to enable your customers to shop safely. This includes a reliable virus scanner as well as a firewall. Here are the differences between them:

Virus scannerFirewall
Internal security measureExternal security measure
Includes software components onlyUsually includes a hardware and a software component
Scans files on the server to detect any malwareProtects the computer’s network from unauthorised access
Detects the latest viruses and blocks them.Limits communications to specific protocols or other selected criteria, such as specific IP addresses
Usually updates automatically at regular intervalsAdditional configurations are possible (for example, preventing programs from being installed without approval from an administrator)

Tip 6: Integrate captchas

Captchas can increase web security for data entry forms, such as contact and account creation pages. They prevent bots from abusing forms and entering spam by detecting whether the form is being filled out by a human or by a machine. Most shop systems offer ready-made plugins that enable you to integrate captchas.

Tip 7: Avoid public WiFi networks

The same safety rules that apply to users also apply to IT security for online shops. As an online retailer, you can basically work from any location with an internet connection. Just remember that it’s risky to log in to your shop system or access other sensitive data when using a public WiFi hotspot. These are generally unsecured networks, which makes them more susceptible to hacker attacks. If using a public WiFi connection is your only option, it is safest to connect via a virtual private network (VPN). This will encrypt the data that transfers between your (mobile) device and the VPN server you are using.

Tip 8: Use a failover system

Protection against cyberattacks is important, but it’s equally important to protect against system shut-downs or unexpected failures caused by things like:

  • maintenance operations
  • technical server problems
  • power outages

Failover systems are a reliable method for preventing loss of access when your primary system is offline. They ensure that your online shop remains available. Anytime your primary shop environment becomes unavailable, the failover system will automatically switch to a redundant backup installation.

Tip 9: Display security seals of approval

Build trust among your shoppers by displaying security-related seals of approval. Doing so also helps to protect you against various threats, because qualified IT experts verify the security of your online shop. Quality seals and encryption certificates are issued by organisations that evaluate your shop based on:

  • payment security
  • website security
  • compliance with data protection legislation

When your shop is granted a seal of approval, you can be sure that it has met all the requirements for providing your customers with a secure shopping experience.

Online shop security: Final thoughts

Online shops are a common target for cyberattacks. For hackers, a successful attack means access to sensitive data from customers and the e-commerce company itself. Protect yourself and your customers by taking the right security precautions. One of the most important things you can do is to use SSL encryption to protect data traffic between your customers and your shop. It’s also important to regularly update your shop system and other software applications. This closes any security gaps before hackers can find them, so your customers can enjoy a secure shopping experience.

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