Ultimate Drupal Security Checklist

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Firas Ghunaim

The Ultimate Drupal Security Checklist: Fortifying Your Website in 2024

Drupal's robust features make it a haven for enterprise marketing and content creation. But its power demands vigilance – Drupal security must be a top priority. With the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, a comprehensive security strategy is crucial. This ultimate Drupal security checklist empowers you to safeguard your website and maintain user trust.


Why Drupal Security Should Be Your Top Priority

A single security breach can cripple your website, erode user trust, and incur hefty financial penalties. Here's a stark reality check:


$10.5 trillion. That’s how much cybercrimes will cost companies by 2025 — a 15% year-to-year growth, as reported by Cyber Ventures.


In a study done by Accenture, it was revealed that 43% of cyberattacks target small businesses. 90% of global online consumers have at least one major concern regarding data privacy. Who can forget the 2018 attack on Capital One where 100 million customers had their personal information stolen.


Drupal's inherent security features are powerful, but ongoing vigilance is essential. Regular updates, secure configurations, and user access controls are your defense against ever-evolving threats.


This checklist equips you with the knowledge and actionable steps to secure your Drupal website at every level.


Data Protection and Encryption

  • Remove SQL Dumps: These backups contain sensitive data and are a prime target for attackers. Schedule automated deletion using a cron job or script after database backups. Never leave them on the production server.

  • Data Encryption: Use the Drupal "Encrypt" module to encrypt sensitive data (like credit card numbers) at rest before storing it in the database. Always employ robust encryption algorithms like AES-256. Remember to store encryption keys securely, separate from your Drupal installation.

  • Secure File Uploads:

    • Restrict file uploads by type and size to prevent malicious file injection.
    • Leverage the Drupal "File Entity" module to manage file entities and settings effectively.
    • Implement server-side malware scanning tools to scrutinize uploaded files before they reach your system.
  • Database Security:

    • Utilize database prefixes to add an extra layer of protection.
    • Restrict database user permissions. Grant the bare minimum permissions required for Drupal to function. Regularly review and revoke unnecessary access.


Drupal Installation Security

  • File Permissions:

    • Establish the correct file and directory permissions using commands like chmod.
    • Directories should have 755 permissions, while files should be set to 644. Refer to Drupal's official documentation for detailed guidance.
    • The sites/default/files directory, crucial for storing uploads, should be writable by the web server but not publicly accessible.
  • Private Folder Setup:

    • Configure Drupal's private file system path via the admin panel (admin/config/media/file-system).
    • Ensure it resides outside the web root directory, or protect it with robust .htaccess rules. This safeguards sensitive files from direct URL access.
  • Secure Configuration Files:

    • Make critical configuration files like .htaccess and settings.php read-only using the chmod 444 command.
    • The settings.php file contains sensitive data; prevent unauthorized modifications by enforcing read-only access.
  • Trusted Host Settings (Technical Details):

    • Configure trusted host settings within settings.php to deflect HTTP Host Header attacks.
    • In essence, explicitly list authorized domains that can serve your Drupal site in the settings.php file.


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User Access and Permissions

  • Disable User Registration (if applicable): If your website doesn't require user-generated content, navigate to Configuration > Account settings and set "Who can register accounts?" to "Administrators only." This minimizes the attack surface.

  • Strong Administrator Password and Username:

    • Enforce strong, unique login credentials for the administrator account.
    • Drupal recommends a minimum password length of 12 characters, incorporating a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid common usernames like "admin."
  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC):

    • Create user roles with granular permissions under People > Permissions.
    • Adhere to the principle of least privilege, granting users only the permissions they need for their specific tasks.
    • Regularly review and update roles and permissions to ensure they remain appropriate.
  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA):

    • Implement the "Two-factor Authentication (TFA)" Drupal module to add an extra layer of security.
    • Encourage all users, especially administrators, to enable 2FA for enhanced account protection.
  • Session timeout: Use the "Automated Logout" module to configure session timeouts for various roles. Shorter timeouts boost security but might impact the user experience for roles requiring extended login sessions. Strike a balance that prioritizes security but doesn't hinder your team's work.


Additional Security Measures

  • Captcha:

    • Install and configure the "Captcha" or "reCaptcha" modules.
    • Add captcha challenges to forms like login, registration, and contact forms, offering a crucial roadblock against automated bot attacks.
  • SSL Configuration:

    • Acquire an SSL certificate (free options like Let's Encrypt or purchased ones from reputable providers).
    • Configure your web server to redirect all HTTP traffic to HTTPS, ensuring encrypted data transmission.
  • HTTP HOST Header Protection:

    • Incorporate safeguards at your web server level, validating the HTTP HOST header to prevent Host Header Injection attacks.
    • Ensure your web server only responds to requests with trusted, valid headers.
  • Security Headers:

    • Leverage the Drupal "Security Kit" module to implement security-critical HTTP headers.
    • Examples include:
      • Content Security Policy (limits resource loading origins)
      • X-Content-Type-Options (mitigates MIME type sniffing)
      • Referrer-Policy (controls information leak to third-party sites)
  • Non-Blocking Issues from DBlog: Monitor Drupal logs for non-blocking issues. Instead of logging them in the database directly, integrate a project management tool for streamlined tracking. This prevents database bloat.

  • Development Module and Setting Cleanup: Production environments are strictly for production code! Meticulously disable development-related modules (like Devel) and settings (like Twig auto-reload), which can expose vulnerabilities.

  • Robust Logging Strategy: Consider using the "Syslog" module instead of "DBlog" for logging to maintain database efficiency and security. Remember to back up your logs and review them regularly, keeping a watchful eye for any signs of unusual activity.


Monitoring and Auditing

  • Regular Security Audits:

    • Employ tools like Drupal's "Security Review" module for automated security audits.
    • Schedule these regularly and meticulously review reports to pinpoint and swiftly address vulnerabilities.
  • Module Updates:

    • Religiously update Drupal modules, especially when updates address security fixes.
    • Utilize the "Update Manager" module for notifications, and always test updates on a staging environment before deploying them to your live site.
  • Drupal Core Updates: Keep your Drupal Core updated to remain protected against known vulnerabilities. Use a tool like drush to manage updates. As always, rigorously test core updates in a staging environment before production deployment.

  • Log Monitoring:

    • Utilize log monitoring tools to keep a watchful eye on system logs.
    • Consider setting up alerts for suspicious activity.
    • Solutions like Splunk or ELK stack can centralize and analyze log data, assisting in the early detection of any security incidents.
  • Backup and Restore Strategy

    • Implement an ironclad backup and restore strategy. Modules like "Backup and Migrate" facilitate automated backups.
    • Store backups securely, ideally in an off-site location.
    • Routinely test the integrity and functionality of your restore procedures.

Regulatory Compliance

  • GDPR Compliance:

    • Utilize a module like "GDPR Compliance" to align your website with this regulation, addressing areas like cookie consent and data portability.
    • Perform a comprehensive GDPR audit to pinpoint any non-compliant aspects and urgently rectify them.
  • PCI DSS Compliance:

    • If your website processes card payments, meticulously adhere to PCI DSS standards.
    • Use secure payment gateways and diligently update software to maintain robust data handling practices.
  • Accessibility Compliance:

    • Employ the "Accessibility Checker" Drupal module to evaluate whether your site meets WCAG 2.0 standards.
    • Making your site accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, is not only an ethical imperative but often a legal one.
  • Local and Industry-Specific Regulations: Thoroughly familiarize yourself with any industry or region-specific regulations that govern your website. Consult with legal specialists if needed to ensure full compliance.

  • Audit Trails: Maintain comprehensive logs and audit trails for compliance purposes. Leverage modules like "Audit Log" to capture vital events. Regularly review audit logs, safeguarding them for use during compliance audits or incident investigations.


Incident Response and Recovery

  • Incident Response Plan:

    • Develop and maintain a detailed incident response plan, outlining steps in case of a breach.
    • Regularly review, update, and simulate this plan. Ensure all team members are thoroughly familiar with their roles and responsibilities.
  • Data Breach Protocols:

    • Establish clear protocols for notifying affected users and authorities in the event of a data breach. Time is critical in such scenarios.
    • Have communication templates at the ready, and maintain an up-to-date list of relevant contacts.


Secure Your Data: Download our Incident Response Plan Template


  • Forensic Analysis: Preserve logs and evidence for analysis. This information is invaluable for identifying vulnerabilities and legal proceedings.

  • Recovery Procedures:

    • Document step-by-step recovery procedures for different scenarios (e.g., restoring from backups, patching, etc.).
    • Test and update these procedures to keep them effective and relevant to current threats.
  • Post-Incident Review:

    • After an incident, conduct a comprehensive review of the attack, your response, and the effectiveness of your defenses.
    • Utilize this knowledge to improve your security posture and refine your incident response plan to prevent recurrence.

API Security

  • API Authentication: Implement secure API authentication using methods like OAuth or JWT, avoiding vulnerable practices like API keys in URLs. Favor OAuth 2.0 whenever possible due to its enhanced security.

  • Rate Limiting: Protect your API endpoints from abuse with rate limiting. Drupal's "Flood Control" module provides basic functionality, while a dedicated API gateway can offer more sophisticated, behavior-based rate limiting.

  • Data Validation: Always, always, always validate data on both the client-side and server-side before processing API requests. Built-in Drupal validation functions or custom logic ensure only legitimate data enters your system.

  • Secure Transmissions: Enforce HTTPS for all API communications, guaranteeing data encryption during transit. Rely on strong encryption algorithms and maintain updated SSL/TLS certificates.

  • API Monitoring: Continuously track API usage and establish alerts for unusual patterns or spikes in activity. Specialized API monitoring tools can detect and block anomalies in real-time.


Performance and Security

  • Server Response Time: Optimize your server response time using caching mechanisms (Redis, Memcache). This delivers a snappier user experience and makes it harder for attackers to target time-based vulnerabilities.

  • Image Optimization: Employ advanced image formats (WebP, AVIF) for smaller file sizes and faster load times. Optimize image delivery to reduce strain on your server and minimize bandwidth usage, which improves overall security.

  • SEO and Security: Prioritize Search Engine Optimization. Ensure the Sitemap and Meta Tag modules are configured appropriately, and keep your Robots.txt file up-to-date. Vulnerable sites are often penalized by search engines.

  • Resource Minification: Minify your CSS, JavaScript, and HTML. Minification not only enhances load speeds but subtly obfuscates code, making it slightly harder for attackers to analyze.

  • Content Delivery Network (CDN): Opt for a CDN to distribute traffic, improving performance and absorbing the impact of DDoS attacks. Choose a provider with integrated security features like a Web Application Firewall (WAF).


Periodic Review and Updates

  • Regular Security Audits: Incorporate regular security audits into your development cycle. Use Drupal's "Security Review" module and consider professional third-party audits, especially after significant updates or feature releases.

  • Update and Patch Management: Maintain a rigorous schedule for checking and applying updates. This applies to Drupal Core, modules, and external components you use. Automation tools can streamline notifications, but always test in staging!

  • User Access Review: Periodically audit user roles and permissions. Ensure the principle of least privilege – grant the minimum access necessary for users to fulfill their roles. Regularly review and update access to maintain a secure perimeter.

  • Backup Verification: Test your backup integrity frequently! Ensure they are restorable. Store multiple copies securely, and, if possible, automate the verification process.

  • Security Training and Awareness: Conduct regular security training sessions for your team. Keep them updated on evolving threats and best practices. A security-conscious workforce is your first and best defense.


The Ever-Evolving Threat Landscape - Stay Ahead!

Securing your Drupal website is not a one-and-done task. Partner with certified Drupal security experts like iSpectra for ongoing monitoring, risk evaluation, and proactive protection.

Our team of experts is committed to ensuring that your Drupal website remains impenetrable against evolving security threats.