Top 5 Shared Hosting Security Risks (And How To Prevent Them)
Are you worried that your shared hosting plan is jeopardizing your WordPress site’s security and performance?
We wish we could tell you your website is safe, but the truth is, shared hosting poses a number of security risks.
While shared hosting might be the most economical solution to run your website, it can compromise your site’s performance and security.
Clients often ask us if they’re website can be hacked due to shared hosting. The answer is yes, shared hosting carries a certain amount of security risks that could potentially lead to a hacked site.
If this happens, hackers can use your website to spam your customers, display unwanted content, and redirect your visitors to unknown sites. If Google detects that your site is hacked, they will blacklist your site immediately, and your web host will suspend your hosting account.
But don’t worry, you can take steps to secure your website against shared hosting risks. In this article, we will discuss the dangers of using shared hosting and the steps to protect your site.
By exploiting shared hosting vulnerabilities, hackers can quickly infect your website and hide their hack from you. You need to install a security plugin like MalCare that is capable of detecting such activity on your site. Its smart scanner will detect any suspicious behavior on your site and alert you immediately. You can also use MalCare to clean up the hack instantly and protect your site from being damaged.
In order to understand the risks, you need to first understand how shared hosting works.
To make your website available on the internet, you need a web server that you can buy from hosting providers like GoDaddy, BlueHost, Kinsta, etc.
Every function and operation of your website will utilize resources from this server. For example, when a visitor comes to your site and wants to view your home page, your server will fetch the data required and display the home page. To run this process, your website will utilize some of your server’s resources.
Now, not every website needs to use an entire server and its resources. Many websites are small in size with only a few pages and posts and require just a fraction of an entire server’s resources. Thus, investing in an individual server is not only expensive but a waste of resources.
You can think of it as buying an entire apartment building when you only need one apartment.
Thus, shared hosting was born. Shared hosting is a system under which a single server hosts multiple websites.
The number of websites on a shared server depends on the limit of resources granted to each website. But shared hosting servers can even host thousands of websites together.
This makes it possible for hosting providers to offer shared hosting plans at such low rates making it the cheapest option possible.
But hosting thousands of websites on one server also poses some problems. We’ll discuss this in detail next.
Going back to the apartment analogy, imagine you share the apartment building with thousands of other people. You have a few common spaces such as the elevator, the stairwell, and the lobby.
Now, if one person doesn’t follow proper safety protocol and close their windows, a thief could break in and gain access to the common areas. This thief is now lurking inside, trying to break into other apartments.
Similarly, if one website on the server is hacked, hackers can leverage their access to attack other sites residing on the same shared server.
But it’s not just security that you have to worry about. Even basic maintenance can be one of the security issues. For example, if one person has a plumbing leak and fails to fix it for a long time, the leak could spread and start affecting other apartments next to it as well.
Likewise, other websites on your shared server could cause problems for your website. Here are the top 5 security and performance risks of using a shared hosting service:
Every WordPress website has its own folder that contains its WordPress files, content, and other data. This folder resides inside what is called a ‘directory’ on your web server.
On a dedicated server, there will be one directory with one website’s files inside. But with shared hosting, there will be one directory with multiple websites’ folders inside.
Even though your website has a separate domain and separate content, by sharing this directory, it is intrinsically linked to the other websites on your server.
This means if a hacker is able to access this main directory, they can target all sites on the same server. Hackers do this by running programs to identify any vulnerabilities on all the sites in the directory. This could be an outdated plugin installed on the site. Once they find the vulnerability, they exploit it to hack into the site.
2. Slow load time
If another website on your shared server is hacked, it could also spell trouble for your website’s performance. When a website is compromised, hackers can use it to execute malicious activities like storing illegal files and folders lke wp-feed.php file, sending spam emails, launching attacks on another website.
In this way, the hacked website is using more than it’s shared server resources. This will affect your website. It’ll significantly slow down your site. Your site could also become unresponsive and inaccessible to visitors.
3. DDoS attacks
Your website can become slow if other sites on the same server are experiencing a spike in the traffic.
When a hacker wants to bring a website down they program thousands of malicious bots and devices to send a flood of traffic to a website. This is known as a DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service).
To cater to the sudden surge in traffic, the website under attack will start using up more resources from the server. This will invariably lead to lesser resources available to your website which will have a negative impact on its speed and performance.
Your website is not the target of the attack just collateral damage.
An IP address is a unique code that identifies a device using the internet such as your mobile phone or computer. Servers are also devices that use the internet and therefore, every server bears its own IP address.
A shared server would have one IP address which means all the websites hosted on this server will share the same IP address.
If a neighboring website conducts illegal activity or spams its customers, the IP address is blacklisted and marked as malicious. This will cause a number of problems for your site:
- Firewalls will identify your website as malicious and block their users from accessing it.
- Email providers like Gmail will blacklist your IP address which means any email you send will be diverted to your customers’ spam inbox.
- Search engines like Google will blacklist your site and mark it as insecure.
While the simplest option might be to never go for shared hosting, the fact is that not everyone can afford a dedicated server and IP address. We’ve listed four measures you can implement on your website to mitigate the risks of shared hosting:
1. Install a Security Plugin
This is a measure you must take on your site regardless of whether you use shared hosting or a dedicated server.
A good WordPress security plugin will put up a strong defense against hackers and any malicious activity on your site. If a hacker on your shared platform is trying to gain access to your site or execute malicious commands, the security plugin should detect it and alert you.
We recommend installing MalCare on your WordPress site.
- It will automatically station a strong firewall that will block hackers from accessing sensitive files on your website.
- It will scan your website every day to make sure there is no malware present on your site. If a hacker has inserted anything malicious on your site, the scanner will detect it and alert you immediately. You can clean it up promptly with the instant malware removal option without breaking your website.
- You can also implement recommended WordPress hardening measures on your website in just a few clicks. These measures will tighten up your website’s security.
We suggest comparing different hosting providers and checking what security measures they put in place at a server level.
You can look up reviews of other customers. You can also contact the customer support team via chat or call to get more details on your host’s security. Most reputed hosts have found ways to deal with the threats mentioned above.
Ensure that they separate your website’s environment from others. This means the environment of site1.com should not be accessible to the environment of site2.com.
3. Set File Permissions
As we mentioned earlier, hackers on a shared server can try to gain access to your WordPress files. You can prevent this from happening by setting the right file permissions to ensure only you, the owner of the website, can access them.
To change file permissions, you need to access cPanel in your hosting account.
Follow this guide to implement the right file permissions on your website.
4. Block PHP Execution in Unknown Folders
If hackers find a vulnerability on your website, they exploit it to create their own files and folders. This will allow them to execute malicious activities on your websites such as redirecting visitors or spamming customers with unwanted content.
Usually, they execute code in a programming language called PHP. While PHP execution is required on your website, it is used only in particular folders. You can prevent hackers from carrying out their activities by blocking PHP execution in untrusted folders.
You can do this manually as we’ve explained in our guide about disabling PHP execution, or you can use a plugin like MalCare to implement it in just a few clicks.
With that, we come to an end on protecting your site if you’re using a shared host. By implementing these measures we’re confident your site is more secure now.
Shared hosting plans are usually a good option for websites that are just starting off or for businesses that need a basic online presence. But as your business grows and your site becomes bigger, you might need to consider getting a dedicated server.
If you can afford a dedicated hosting plan, it’s always advisable to use that for better security and performance.
But no environment is 100% secure from cyberthreats. Hackers find all sorts of ways to break into your site. We strongly recommend that you always keep a reliable security plugin like MalCare active on your site.
This will ensure your site has a firewall to block bad traffic and a scanner to check for malware. In the event your site is hacked, you can quickly clean it up with the instant malware removal option. You can rest assured your site is secure. For more information, you can check our guide on web host security.
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Melinda is a WordPress enthusiast, and enjoys sharing their experience with fellow enthusiasts. On the MalCare blog, Melinda distils the wisdom gained from building plugins to solve security issues that admins face.