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Everything You Should Know About Website Defacement

Your website’s security is of paramount importance. While many hacks are subtle, requiring intensive evaluation to determine if anything has gone wrong, there is one form of attack that’s readily obvious: website defacement. 

This occurs when hackers gain access to your website and leave a mark through digital vandalism. While many types of hacks are done to attain some form of financial gain, defacement simply involves attackers wanting to leave their mark. For instance, they may try to espouse some kind of religious, political, or ideological goal. Or, they may just want to leave a calling card to let the world know a new hacker is out there. 

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have moved to remote work, which has exposed them more than ever before to the threat of website defacement. 

An example is how a U.K.-based kayak and canoe club recently fell victim to this form of attack when the Manusia Biasa hacking team bragged about how they accessed their site. 

Of course, Manusia Biasa is not the only bad actor out there, and there are certain things every business needs to know about website defacement so that they can be adequately prepared. That’s what we’re going to discuss today. 

How Hackers Are Able to Deface Websites

There are many ways hackers avoid detection. They can spoof IP addresses or switch between virtual private networks (VPNs) to keep their identities secret. 

It’s through these methodologies many hackers are able to deface websites. Typically, hackers will gain unauthorized access to a website through various means. Some of the more popular methods by which this is attainable include stolen log-in credentials and third-party plug-ins.

Essentially, hackers just need to gain access to a website, and they can do whatever they want. This can be particularly troublesome when a business allows employees to work remotely. Many hackers will implement an “evil twin” on public Wi-Fi so that someone working at a local coffee shop or the park will unknowingly log into this network, and the hackers can do as they please.   

It is for this reason many businesses prefer to implement a VPN to keep data secure from hackers by encrypting all data sent between your company network and the internet. If anything, you should mandate that your employees or contractors use a VPN when conducting business-related work online.

However, the savviest hackers can still find ways to exploit vulnerabilities and get into your website. In the event they get inside, they will generally leave their logo and some kind of message along the lines of “You’ve been hacked.” While this may just seem like an annoying inconvenience, it can actually have wide-ranging consequences to your business. 

A shield over a website

Businesses that Are Particularly Vulnerable to Defacement

The truth is that if you have any kind of presence online, then you need to be careful. However, many hackers tend to deface websites of specific entities. 

The most common targets of this form of hacking tend to include corporate, bank, government, and religious websites. When hackers simply want to deface a website, they want to get a message across. 

It’s possible a hacking group has different political views than a certain party. To get that message across, they’ll hack the website so that people who belong to that political party are unable to get the information they need. 

Now, you may think to yourself that you’re safe because you run a small business. You may sell clothing, video games, or various other knick-knacks. What kind of hacking group would want to attack you?

For starters, it may be extremely difficult for a small-time hacker to deface Harvard’s website, but your small business may become a more attractive target

Additionally, your business may be innocuous, but you personally hold political and religious views. If you espouse those views on social media, then it’s possible a hacker will find it and want to make an example out of you. 

It’s a good rule of thumb for anyone on social media to be aware of what they post. You don’t necessarily have to silence yourself, but you need to be wary that other people may not think the same way you do. As a public figure, i.e. a business owner, your words hold more weight, and you need to watch out for the potential downfalls of making your website a target. 

What Are the Consequences of Website Defacement?

If you realize your website has fallen victim to website defacement, you need to fix it as soon as possible. First, your website will be blacklisted from Google search results. That’s because in the event your website no longer displays pertinent information, which is absolutely essential for ranking on Google. 

This will obviously immediately have a negative impact on your revenue because you’ll have fewer people finding your website. Additionally, people who do go to your website will see the defacement and not know what you have to offer, so they’ll immediately click away. Getting off the Google blacklist is incredibly difficult, and it’s not something any small business should have to go through. 

The second issue you’ll face is the threat of other information being compromised. In the event your website falls victim to ransomware or cybercrime, then it’s possible the hackers could access customers’ email addresses and credit card information. Once customers learn of this information, they may never trust your business again.

You could end up losing money in the long-term with a single defacement attack. Even if your customers’ information remains secure, the loss of trust and seeing how vulnerable your website is may be enough for some people never to buy from you again. While you want to act quickly if your website ever falls victim to a defacement attack, you’re much better off preventing such a problem in the first place. 

How the Google Blacklist Can Get in the Way of Your Website’s Success

Google is the most widely-used search engine in the world, claiming over 70% of the market share. Every day, millions of people go to Google to find information about what products to buy. With specific keyword phrases, people are shown millions of websites to click on, and the goal for any website owner is to make sure their site ends up on that coveted first page. 

Due to faulty security and previous hacks, Google reserves the right to “blacklist” any website they think will bring harm to users. If you’ve used Google, then you may have found some blacklisted sites crop up. 

The search engines results may place a disclaimer onto the specific site saying how it might have been hacked. When you click on the site, Google will give you a disclaimer recommending you to click away because the site may be dangerous. 

Just like your business has a reputation it needs to protect, Google also needs to think of its own integrity. If it started sending users to hacked websites where people’s information was being stolen, then fewer people would use Google. 

That’s why you might see the following messages come up during Google’s search results. 

  • Warning: potential security risk ahead
  • Suspicious site
  • Phishing attack ahead
  • The site ahead contains malware
  • This website has been reported unsafe
  • This site may harm your computer

Even if people are still able to click on your links, they may not want to. No one wants to potentially damage their computer. And once people see one of those messages just once, they may never trust your website again, which is why prevention is recommended for every website owner to take certain action to avoid ending up on the blacklist. 

How to Prevent Website Defacement

In the event you have an issue with your WordPress site being hacked, there are various steps you can take to get it under your control once again. You can replace any missing files and eliminate any malicious redirects that may have been planted within your pages.

However, prevention is always preferable to reaction. To limit your risk of website defacement, you want to limit the access levels present on your website. The more people who are administrators on your website, the more doors that are opened for cybercriminals to make their way through and gain access. 

It’s a good idea to have just one or two people have such privileges. You can even make sure these administrators only use the secure browsers available to further decrease the chances of an attack. Browsers that place an emphasis on security will have important measures in places such as encrypting your data while it is in transit and conceals the user’s location and data usage.

Another good preventative step is to install an automated website scanner to regularly inspect for suspicious activity. The software monitors your website’s database and files, and it will instantly patch any vulnerabilities it finds. It also automatically eliminates spam and malware when it’s detected. 

Lastly, if you really want to make sure your website is secure, you can manually inspect for malware. You’ll just need access to the file manager provided by the file transfer protocol or the domain host. 

You’ll need to search for <iframe> and script attributes. You’ll also want to scan all URLs to make sure you recognize them. If there are any that seem odd, then your website may have been injected with harmful content. 

Illustration of Google blacklisting

How to Remove Your Website from Google’s Blacklist

Even with the best preventive steps, you can’t always protect yourself against website defacement. You may even find yourself on Google’s blacklist, which is a place no business owner wants to be. Fortunately, there is a way to remove yourself if you find yourself in this predicament.

Basically, to remove the blacklist warning, you need to prove to Google that you have 100% remedied your site of the attack. To start with, you’ll need to verify that you are, in fact, the owner of the website.

To do this, you’ll just need to follow these steps. 

  • Open Google Webmaster Central
  • Click on “Search Console” log into your Google account 
  • Click “Add a Site”
  • After you type in your website’s address, hit “Continue”
  • Verify your website
  • Click “Add a Site”
  • Click “Verify”
  • Check the Security & Manual Actions

Once you claim the website as your own, you’ll need to then ask for a security review. When you do this, you essentially tell Google that you have taken the necessary actions to clean up your website. You should only do this if you have gone through the necessary steps to remove the defacement and ensure your website is safe for users to use once again. 

It is paramount you only request this when you are absolutely sure you will pass. Google only allows blacklisted offenders to request one security review once every 30 days. If you fail this review, then you will not be able to get your website listed on Google for another month. 

Once you have submitted the request, you may need to wait several days for Google to get back to you. However, if your efforts are successful, then Google will reindex your website, and it will be available within the search engine yet again. 

After this, it is a good idea to remove any excess spam URLs that are still up on your site. As part of your cleanup, you should look into getting rid of URLs you don’t need for your website. If someone were to click on one of these links, it would give them a 404 error message. You don’t want that lingering over your website, so it’s best to get everything in order and put the defacement behind you for good. 

With Anonymous back in the headlines, companies need to watch out for their sites becoming part of an agenda they may not want to be part of. Small business owners may think they have nothing to fear, but hackers are on the lookout for any vulnerabilities they can find, and you may be the next victim if you’re not careful.

The Best Plan to Keep Your Company’s Website Secure

Thousands of websites have been impacted by defacement. You never want to assume you’re safe because you’re too small to be messed with. Even though every website is at risk, with a little preventive action, you can greatly decrease your odds of seeing a hacker’s calling card on your site.

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Gary Stevens avatar

Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens is a web developer and technology writer. He's a part-time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor. More articles written by Gary.

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