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Top Security Features to Look for in a Web Hosting Provider

If you’ve been following my articles you may have come across some security-related topics such as Secured Socket Layer (SSL) and WordPress Security. The Internet has become a vastly more dangerous place than it was when first starting out. It’s open to everyone – both good and bad and more importantly, has become a crucial tool for many businesses.

Businesses online present a pooled resource of billions of dollars to cybercriminals. Unfortunately, this translates indirectly to becoming a threat for small site owners – even individual bloggers, for various reasons.

Even if your site has nothing worth stealing, cybercriminals can exploit the resources of your site to launch attacks on other websites. Plus, let’s not forget that data is the new oil and if say for example you collect subscriber information on your site – that’s worth money as well.

Then there are also the graffiti artists on the Internet – people who go around attacking and defacing websites just because they can.

Wordfence Defaced Websites
The number of websites defaced by hackers numbers in the millions (Source: Wordfence)

With all that in mind, are you in any doubt now that it’s worth looking at web hosting solutions that are secure,; or at the very least offer options to help you increase your website security? Stopping a determined attacker is nigh on impossible, but every little bit helps.

1. Server Backups & Restore

Backups don’t only apply to your personal computer systems but as a matter of fact, more importantly to your website. However, you can control many aspects of backing up your personal data, but for websites, it can often depend on your hosting provider.

Most web hosting providers do offer free backups, but these are variations on this theme. For example, some may require you to perform the backup procedure manually, while others may do it automatically and require you to contact their support team if you should need data restoration services.

This site is on a host that doesn’t offer backups as frequently as I like, so I’ve installed a third-party plugin for WordPress

Ideally, look for a web hosting provider that carries out periodical automated backups and allows you to restore from them at any time on your own. This helps minimize potential downtime in case anything goes wrong with your site.

Tip: Cloudways comes with easy backup and restores features and supports up to 30 days of user data retention.

2. Network Monitoring

Websites are usually hosted in servers sitting in massive data centers. Much of the control there is automated, so there’s minimal staff around at any time. That makes it crucial to know if your web host is monitoring the network traffic to its servers.

This is usually done by having control and monitoring tools in place that keep an eye out for suspicious traffic or incidences. This way, anyone hoping to sneak in some Malware or carry out an attack can be detected early.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that many web hosting providers sell on, so you may need to ask them for more details. It will at the very least give you some peace of mind to know how well they guard their servers.

Tip: Hosting providers with free malware scanning include A2 Hosting, Hostinger, and Kinsta.

3. Firewalls and DDoS Prevention

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a nightmare. They are like the proverbial 300-pound gorilla rushing at your website determined to smash it to bits. Through a DDoS attack, hackers try to bring down websites by flooding them with so much incoming traffic that the site servers are overwhelmed and fail.

These are often mitigated by using a good Content Delivery Network (CDN) such as Cloudflare or a website firewall such as Sucuri. Some web hosts such as A2 Hosting include Cloudflare plans with their hosting packages, while others like InMotion Hosting do not, but allow them to be used.

Firewalls are also important because they serve as a first line of defense against web intrusions.

Tip: Hosting providers with built-in DDoS protections include A2 Hosting and Cloudways.

4. Antivirus and Malware Scanning

On your personal computer, you should be running antivirus software. On web servers, you depend on your web hosting service provider to install, run and monitor them for you. It’s important to at least know they’re doing this and what level of information they can provide to you on potential problems.

Some web hosts allow you to see their scan reports, while others simply perform them as part of the package. Some hosts offer more extensive options here compared to others, but the very least you need to be able to do is be able to restore your site from a previous version that wasn’t infected.

Tip: Web hosts with built-in anti-virus include Hostinger, Hostgator, and BlueHost.

HostGator and BlueHost offer a unique Malware defence system which it calls SiteLock, which comes as a separate add-on to their hosting plans. It not only scans for Malware but has an integrated Alert and Removal tool to keep sites safe.

5. Secure FTP

If you’re still new to web hosting, it can sometimes be useful to be able to move large amounts of files to your web host. This is more efficiently achieved using FTP, or File Transfer Protocol. SFTP is the secure version of FTP and helps keep your data safe during transfer.

Tip: Check out Kinsta and CloudWay for sFTP supports.

While almost all web hosting service providers offer FTP access, not all will support SFTP. If you look at our top picks in web hosting, you’ll notice that many of them such as Kinsta (review) and CloudWays (review) do offer SFTP access.

6. Spam Filtering

This is a little bit of a grey area and spam technically won’t affect your site security. However, if you’re suddenly deluged by a massive barrage of spam mail it could act as something like a DDoS. If your host offers spam filtering, then the attack goes through its spam filters first.

As a bonus, by keeping spam out, these spam filters help you save space in your mail folders. Almost all hosting providers will have spam filters of some kind available, but some will require a little manual configuration.

Ideally, look for one which has various options in spam protection like BlueHost, which offers three different types of spam protection.

7. Internal Security

Again, this item isn’t really a part of your hosting package per se, but many top hosting service providers ensure that their servers are kept fortified against attacks. This means that they will be constantly updated with the latest security patches and tools.

Take for example the case of Cloudways Hosting, which has multiple security measures in place such as KernelCare, Auto-Heal Hosting Protection, and Server Hardening. Hosts like this know that these security measures protect both themselves and your site, for greater peace of mind.

Is Managed Hosting More Secure?

Some of you may be considering managed hosting as an alternative. IF you are, you should know that managed hosting is most likely to be more secure than standard shared hosting services. The reason is not always because of better technology or tools, but managed hosting environments simply have fewer sites using the same resources.

Managed hosting environments are especially good for specific uses, such as WordPress managed hosting services. By pooling a select number of WordPress sites on specially configured servers, the environment is often more secure and efficient.

It also means that support staff are more likely to be specialized and can assist you more easily and rapidly. Managed hosting providers also take over responsibility for patches and updates, which are security weaknesses that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Final Thoughts: How Concerned Should You Be About Secure Web Hosting?

I’m certain that by now you would know my opinion on that. However, if you still have the mindset that ‘this won’t happen to me’ I have s little scenario to share with you. In the past, I helped administer a site that provided information on financial services.

Due to a large number of virtual attacks against financial institutions, that site came under frequent, sustained attacks as well, simply because it had the word ‘bank’ in the site title. From this you can see that it doesn’t really take much to set an attack off.

Choosing a web host that is secure and reputable isn’t overly difficult or time-consuming, but it could reduce your stress levels by an order of magnitude. With that in mind, I’d also like to take the chance to direct you to Jerry’s Guide to VPNs for Newbies.

The Internet is a bottomless sea of resources which is also what makes it so very scary. As a website owner (or future website owner), help your visitors by offering them a haven in this environment by offering a site that is secure.

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Article by Timothy Shim

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