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How Marketers Can Handle Web Security Risks?

Updated on June 4, 2019
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Prachi has been working as a freelance writer since 2012. When not writing, she helps people with web designing and development.

Being an IT professional, I know how to perform common security checks to avoid any server problems. Breach in web security in the world of digital marketing is pretty common and doesn’t make me realize its level of impact in the first place.

It was only when few of my clients’ websites got hacked and they had to face a drastic change in traffic implications. The reason was, hackers injected it with malware and served illegal content which came out as SEO spam. As a result, it caused their websites to be penalized by Google for an attempt of cloaking.

The hacked websites can have a severe impact on the company’s reputation due to the stolen data, and it may also result in de-indexing of the website from Google.

Moreover, SEO experts must take some level of ownership to maintain website security. For many digital marketers, the website security is a remote concern and they don’t put their hands into it. On the other hand, clients also never take the concern of online security to a very deep level. This needs to change. As a marketer, it is worthwhile to stay informed about web security and advise the clients on the same.

No doubt, the subject of web security is out of comfort zone for marketers, but don’t worry, knowing about this field will have you serve better advertising techniques to your clients.

What methods should be used for Risk Assessment?

Assessment never ends. Even if you are already following a risk mitigation guidelines or just working on to create a new one, you need to persistently stay alert to know about the possible upcoming threats. You need to make sure that your system is up-to-date to tackle any new sort of vulnerabilities.

So, how to get started?

Look at the possible risks including the ones that have an impact on the whole business and the others which specifically impact the marketing activities. This will help you determine the type of risk assessment model you need to adopt.

Common Risks

When you are using Web either for business or personal purpose, there are high chances that you may face several security risks, without your acknowledgment. Here are a few of these risks that apply to each one of us, irrespective of how we use the Internet:

  • Financial Risk: As the name says it all, such risks can affect your company’s financial investments activities such as interest rates and currency exchanges.
  • Operational Risk: The tech resources used by your company needs to be updated with the latest version as soon as possible. Also, maintain their continuity to reduce leadership and staff conflicts. If not done, it can affect the overall revenue of your company.
  • Strategic Risk: Strategic decisions are uncertain and need to be revised now and then. Most importantly, lesser known areas with little available data are highly prone to strategic risks. It can be a generalized company’s mission or a specialized marketing objective.
  • Unexpected Risk: Think about natural catastrophes such as flood, earthquakes and man-made disasters such as war or cyber attack. These are few of the unexpected disasters, which are not under your control.

Offline or online, the risk is present everywhere. While offline risks such as theft, burglary or catastrophes have solutions and the level of risks can be measured closely, online risks are very dangerous. Data breach, confidentiality attack are few of the online risks that are hard to find out and the level of risk can’t be determined in the first place.

Here we are going to discuss the online risks, especially related to the marketing field:

Online risks, Marketers need to know about

To handle marketing specific risks, it is important to build a risk assessment framework. It must be agreeable by the team, senior management, and c-level officials.

Risk Assessment Framework helps you identify possible threats and their solutions. It is crucial to building a better protection system for your data and marketing campaigns. The framework must address the following essential areas:

  • Business Objectives: What goals are supported by your marketing campaign that benefits the company in the long-term?
  • KPI (Key Performance Indicators): It is used to measure the success rate of a certain marketing campaign and how likely there are going to be the chances of failures.
  • KRI (Key Risk Indicators): These metrics impact KPIs. It helps you figure out the risk involved in the marketing campaign. The risk can be in the form of data, strategy, and operations.
  • KCI (Key Control Indicators): It helps you decide the mitigation techniques by creating a control mechanism for negative KPIs as well as KRIs.

Which Risk Assessment System works better for you?

The risk assessment is based on the probability of risks and its impact. It can be analyzed through the following two models:

  • Quantitative Model: The model is built by ranking the threats on a numeric basis i.e. 1 to 10. It is good for anticipating future threats. It is faster since you do not cover the detailed aspect of any threat.
  • Qualitative Model: Before ranking the threats, this model asks you to research about the threats. Then, you can rank the threats high, medium and low. It is a highly preferred model.

How to start with the Assessment Process?

Protecting the company’s data is the foremost step to start with the risk assessment process. It is the most valuable brand asset. Here are a few key things that you must consider:

  • System Documentation: Documentation is a basic need of every process carried out in the organization, doesn’t matter how small it is or how low-priority it has. You must document everything about the hardware and software used by your company. It must include their interconnectivity, working process, and people responsible for handling these resources. It must also include policies related to software development, security, backup, and climate control.
  • Threat Identification: Identify every possible threat that may affect your company from unexpected disasters to people who may hack or harm your confidential data. It can be accidental or intentional and even can be done by your own employees.
  • Vulnerability Identification: Evaluate the weak spots in your system. Match them with possible threats. This list must be updated regularly to maintain a higher security level.
  • Control Tools: Find the ways that can block the threats or if not, can minimize its effects. The possible solutions can be anti-virus software and two-way authentication methods.
  • Threat Probability: Maintain a grading system that examines the exploitation level of a threat to a vulnerability. Mark the probability as low, medium and high.
  • Impact Analysis: This type of analysis requires deep research to determine the extent to which the threat can cause damage to your system. Grade the impact as low, medium and high. It depends on the loss of resources, damage to the company’s reputation and incidents that may lead to injury or even death.
  • Risk Analysis: It is a combination of above-mentioned areas. Determine the probability of risks, its damage and how likely it is going to occur and in what scenarios. Also, what could be the possible safety measures.
  • Results Analysis: The final step is to determine how much you have improved your risk assessment process. This documented analysis improves your policies and overall control of the company’s resources.

How to apply the Assessment Process to your Marketing Campaign?

Risk Assessment Process applies equally to online marketing campaigns as much as it applies to the working of other company operations. Now, you should know how to apply this process at each step:

  • Initial Stage: Apply the risk assessment framework from an early stage to your marketing campaign. It helps you set you an optimized budget and scope.
  • Opportunities: As you discover the most recurring threats that may hinder in most of your opportunities. Build a model that will best examine the probability of reaching your marketing goal such as increasing ROI (Return On Investment), customer engagement and so on.
  • Campaign Development: The development of marketing campaign needs to be cost-effective and must take into account the third-parties for better scheduling. You must also figure out the risks that you may need to adopt in case you’re late and what effects it can have on your future projects.
  • Campaign Launch: Have you considered the internal threats of your organization with respect to accounting? For instance, the costs involved in social media advertising. There are also chances of lack of staff due to which you may need to revise your campaign planning.
  • Campaign Success: Re-evaluate your campaign steps and check if it is feasible enough to profit your company. Do your emails hit the right inbox? Is there any broken link in your email or advertised post? Are there any typos? Can it cause public relations fiasco? Does your message clearly state your intentional goals?

What risks can be mitigated by Marketers?

Obviously, marketers are not trained to think like security professionals and vice-versa. So, here are three important methods that marketers can and should adapt to lighten the data burden that they need to carry around with themselves to benefit the security and compliance of the company internal operations.

  1. Source the useful data such as contacts, vendors including their email addresses.
  2. Remove the access credentials once the company and vendor relationship comes to a halt. This is a common mistake that most of the companies do. When their deal with vendors end, they forget to clean up the credentials, which can cause damage to data privacy and security.
  3. Clean up the unnecessary data such as ex-employees detail or customer’s private information that you don’t need any longer. Before starting with it, keep a check on the company’s current laws and regulations and evaluate if the information can be useful in the future or not. Such information may seem harmless, but if the data is leaked it may result in the confidentiality attack on the customer. This can even cause legal issues.

Besides maintaining the latest records and following a strong risk assessment framework, there are other ways too in which an attacker may breach your online security.

In how many ways, attackers breach web security?

Before finding out the ways to implement strong security measures, it is equally important to know in how many ways can attacker damage the website security. Here are a few distinct phases:

  • Reconnaissance: The attacker gains all the information possible about the website.
  • Scanning: The attacker scans the website to find weak spots i.e. the vulnerable sides.
  • Gaining Access: The attacker targets the weak spots to gain access to the website.
  • Maintaining Access: The attacker maintains secret access to the website, through which he/she can exploit the website later.
  • Covering Tracks: The attacker keeps a low-profile of their activities so that their illegal access remains undetected.

Finding the solution for each of these phases is relatively tough since attackers keep on updating their viruses to exploit the latest security measures. It is better to keep an eye on the latest information and updated features, if available, of the software you use.

The best way to handle such attacks is to protect the website at initial stage i.e. reconnaissance and scanning. Here are a few ways you can use to get rid of such attacks:

CMS and Server Versions

  • Finding out the version of the software used by your client is the first step to gain information about the website’s functioning. Softwares are updated on a regular basis to prevent any sort of vulnerability. If the website runs on the old version, it has high chances of getting attacked.
  • Finding out the software version is not at all difficult, there are many tools and plugs available that can detect the version within seconds, such as BuiltWith, WhatWeb, Wappalyzer and so on. Make sure your website runs on the latest software version.

Shared Hosting

  • In comparison to dedicated hosting, shared hosting is relatively cheaper and thus, many clients prefer to host their websites using this option. It means multiple websites are running using the same host. As a result, your web security can’t be better than the other hosted websites. If any of the sites are performing poorly, then it is quite easy for the attackers to target other sites, including yours as well.
  • In case you are wondering, what type of server your website is running on, then you can use SpyOnWeb. Type your website’s name and if it is running on a shared server, then you can see the list of other websites along with the IP address.
  • The best measure is to use dedicated hosting, especially when you are running a serious business through your website.

WordPress Vulnerabilities

  • Most of the non-technical, as well as technical professionals, run their websites using WordPress. Consequently, there is no doubt it is a hot place for attackers to steal data from millions of websites. Thus, it is important to be aware of certain security measures to secure your WordPress hosted website(s).
  • The first thing is to change your username from admin to something more customized.
  • The second thing is to change your login URL, which is, by default, always “/wp-login.php”.
  • You can also use plugins like Sucuri and WordFence to detect weak spots in your website and secure it in a much better way.

Login Folder

  • The other way your system can be targeted is through your login section. It doesn’t count only your WordPress websites, it can be any.
  • Finding the website’s login URL is pretty easy because most of the time, the backend login folder is stated blocked in the robots.txt page of the site. For instance,

User-agent: *

Disallow: /admin/weblogin.php

  • Since the robots.txt is publicly accessible, it is like yelling your login folder URL to the attackers on the loudspeaker. Even if the URL is not present in the robots.txt page, there is a Google query, “site: site name inurl: login” which can find the indexed login page.
  • The best solution is to not give your login URL in your robots.txt and make sure to use “noindex” robots meta tags on your login page so that it is not indexed by Google.

Google Queries

  • Google serves a lot of organized queries that can be availed to find detailed information about a particular website, such as PDF and office files, log files, SQL database error messages as well as configuration files and so on.
  • A website named pentest-tools.com has a complete section dedicated to Google Hacking that let you know about Google Queries. Try out every possible query with respect to your website, if you encounter any potential issues, then there are high chances that the attacker may find it too.

SSL Certificate

  • Having an https before your website sounds promising and restrict unwanted access to your website to an extent. Yet it is imperative to know that not all SSL certificates are created equal.
  • The cheapest SSL certificate can give you a green lock in the address bar, but it is not at all close to protect your website in every manner possible.
  • Low-level SSL have issues such as Heartbleed and DROWN. Thus, it is better to invest a little more and go for the higher level SSL certification, which has no vulnerabilities to date.

Nikto Scan

  • The above-mentioned techniques are the basic ones that every website owner must adhere to. On the other hand, accomplishing these measures doesn’t ensure your website is free from vulnerabilities. A well-trained attacker may find another way to attack your website.
  • To get rid of such incidents, there is one such tool named Nikto Web Scanner, which is free and can test your website(s) against innumerable issues.
  • Online websites such as pentest-tools.com and hackertarget.com can also help you find possible vulnerabilities.

Meet and Learn High-end Cyber Security Measures

  • The above steps are the basic cybersecurity measures to discover any sort of vulnerabilities in your website. Still, there are many ways that an attacker can access your website backend without your consent. So, it is better to do something much more than these steps.
  • Ask for guidance from experts, check out OWASP to know more about cyber security and keep yourself up-to-date with the latest happenings in the online world.

These are few tips that not only web experts, but also digital marketers should keep a check on, as it can also cause issues in the online advertising campaigns.

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