December 2, 2020

5 Ways to Secure & Protect Sensitive Data on Your Server

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Server security is vital to survival in today’s world. Protecting your server from hackers armed with the newest exploits is a never-ending job, but there are a few steps you can take to catch most of the attacks coming your way.

Securing Your Server and Protecting Valuable Data

Protecting user and work data is a never-ending job. With hackers becoming more advanced and new exploits being found every day, securing sensitive information is becoming both harder, and more important, than ever.

Whether your important data lives in a database on your server, within a website’s server-side code, or in a file somewhere on your server, protecting this information is important to you as a business and as a user. Even if you are running a personal server, your data is important and failing to take steps to protect this data is asking to giving it away nowadays.

Let’s take a look at 5 ways you can protect your sensitive data and secure databases, accounts, and files all at once with these security policies.

1. Configuring Hardware and Software Firewalls

Configuring firewalls is an important step to protecting data on your server. Locking down your network and blocking unnecessary access can stop attackers from scouting for targets and weak policies on your server and goes a long way in securing your sensitive data.

By setting up hardware and software firewalls on the edge of your network, which contains your servers, workstations, and other devices in your office or organization, you can prevent and allow outside connections to enter your network (as well as prevent and allow connections to go out).

Your goal should be to configure your firewalls to be as exclusive as possible, blocking all inbound connections unless they are absolutely necessary. By only allowing inbound and outbound connections through whitelisting, you can prevent hackers from being able to reach your server and workstations at all.

By blocking pretty much everything outside of port 80 and specific ports for services you need public remote access to, you can stop attackers from targeting weak services and unintentionally open ports. You can then create whitelisting entries for specific remote addresses that need access to services like VPN, FTP, SMTP, and more.

2. Implementing Encrypted VPN for Remote Access

VPNs can be used to secure connections to important servers. Rather than connecting directly to your server through an open SSH port, you’d connect to the VPN, which would make your home PC act like it was connected to the private network your servers are on. This allows you to keep ports and services private, but still access them across the internet when you’re on the VPN.

An encrypted VPN can add an additional layer of security between your remote user and your server, helping to subdue hackers who may be trying to crack passwords or perform exploits on open, internet-accessible ports.

VPNs are a great way to secure the attack vector on open ports. You can read our guide on setting up OpenVPN to learn more.

3. Enforcing Strong Password Policies and MFA

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Creating strong password policies is an integral part of securing your server. Whether you are working with administrative logins, SQL logins, or application logins, securing these credentials with unique passwords and usernames protects your data and can subdue a number of different attacks that rely on weak and guessable passwords.

If passwords are weak, most security measures will not help protect your server. If you have an administrative account or SQL database with a simple password, hackers may be able to simply login to your server.

Passwords should be at least 12 characters and contain a mix of letters, numbers, punctuation, and capitalization. However, it is now being recommended that instead of a complicated password like Th1sIsMyP@ssw0rd!321, which is hard to remember, security professionals are now recommending long, multiple-word, phrases such as MyDogsNameIsBobAndHesGreat84, which are easier to remember and are even more secure with the additional length.

Additionally, implementing Multi-Factor Authentication, or MFA, which protects credentials by incorporating a second or third method of authentication, helps to protect valuable logins and confirm user activity with an additional text message or email.

4. Installing SSL Certificates to Protect Transmission of Data

Incorporating SSL certificates on websites and control panels can encrypt and conceal traffic between your users and your website; securing logins, payment information, and other sensitive data on your server. They are free or very reasonably priced and can be implemented quickly.

SSL certificates use private and public keys when issued by a trusted Certificate Authority, or CA. These keys protect encrypted data and packets being transferred between users and your server, giving end-users peace of mind that their data is safe and can’t be easily intercepted. Private keys authenticate your server as the true-owner of the website’s certificate, automatically creating secured connections.

You can read our guide to setting up free LetsEncrypt certificates to learn more.

5. Monitoring Logs and Tracing Logins and Events

Monitoring and recording logs helps you protect your server by providing valuable insights into traffic patterns, application errors, and failed login attempts. This information can help you incorporate better security policies, identify and block attackers, and gives you greater understanding of how your server is being targeted and attacks are being leveraged against you.

Setting up event logs, advanced error logs, and monitoring for failed login attempts is vital to security today. While looking over logs doesn’t inherently secure your server, this information can give you an understanding of how potential attack vectors are being exploited. You will quickly notice failed ‘admin’ login attempts and IPs making many requests. With this data, you can setup scripts to automatically block IPs who have made failed login attempts, find automated programs that are brute-forcing your websites or databases, and identify breaches and their origin.

You can read our guide on setting up a log management tool to learn more.

Where Do We Go From Here?

These 5 policies to protect your data will go a long way in securing information and locking down your server security, but these aren’t the only steps you need to take.

Security never stops, and taking steps to stay up-to-date with the latest threat landscape, test and incorporate new security policies, and take an active role in your server security, can protect you or your organization and save you time and money when a compromise happens.

Most businesses think they are safe until they have a problem. Even small businesses are being targeted or exploited in wide-nets of automated attacks. Taking these first 5 steps will begin to give you the peace of mind you need as a system administrator. Incorporate them today and be on the look out for the next security policy you should be implementing!