What Happens When a Website is Hacked and How to Respond 

A breach in website security is an event that strikes fear in the business leaders, whether they’re running a Fortune 500 company or operating a small business. A website hacking can result in devastating consequences for a company’s ability to perform and its customer and partner relationships.

Companies can prepare for and prevent website hacks by taking a strategic approach to understand common attack methods, how attacks happen, and what they can do preemptively to prevent a hack.

How will you know if your site is hacked? You might receive a note from Google, or visitors will see a “This site may be hacked” type of message that indicates the presence of malware on the site, or some other hacking indicator. In some instances, the hosting provider will know of a hack due to their IT security service monitoring, and they’ll take action by shutting down the site. The site might appear slow, because of the malware running in the background, or you might find your site domain emails go to spam because your domain is being used to send mass spam emails by the hackers.

Common Website Hacks

Hacking usually comes through several different methods:

  • Phishing schemes that use fake email or SMS messages to trick an employee into revealing information or providing access that serves as a route to the site. This could involve a fake email meant to look like communication from the internet provider that dupes someone into providing the site login credentials.
  • Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS attacks crash servers by sending millions of site access requests through botnets or zombie computers. The server running the site can’t handle the traffic, so the site becomes unavailable. DDoS attacks and ransomware often go hand-in-hand.
  • Brute force attacks use sophisticated computers to correctly guess login credentials until they receive a match. It’s a simpler technique, but one aided by many company’s lax password standards and employees still using “12345678” and similar password combinations.

Actions To Take After a Hack

Once a company sees its website security is compromised, it needs to take immediate action. The IT services group should perform several tasks to better understand how hackers overtook the site, and ways they can mitigate the damage:

  • Run a security scan to learn about the nature of the hack and the extent
  • Strategize about any potential data loss or exposure, especially if it involves customer data. The IT team and management should also talk through any ransom demands and their response.
  • Identify the compromised systems and the IP addresses used for the attack and the type of attack. Once this is known, the IT security team can tell users so they don’t fall victim to hacked email messages, and they discontinue entering their info on the site through order forms or other inputs.
  • Disclose the website hack and informational breach to the proper authorities, the users, and the public at large. You want to act transparently in order to protect your damaged brand.

Here are some proactive steps your company can take to prevent a website hack:

  • Backup website files and content regularly. Don’t rely on the backups from hosting companies, but instead perform frequent backups that at minimum need to occur after every website change.
  • Secure passwords. Ensure all employees and contractors use strong passwords, with two-factor authentication and other requirements to prevent hackers from getting into the site login.
  • Encrypt customer data and store it separately from the site’s servers to give the company a layer of protection.
  • Educate employees on risky behaviors such as installing and using unapproved software, adding extensions, and sharing their login credentials. Restrict data access when it’s not needed for an employee’s daily duties.

Finally, firms should strongly consider an IT specialist who can provide managed IT services with 24/7 support, scanning, IT auditing, and other proactive services. Working with a proven company like Visual Edge IT can help a firm shore up its website defenses, and take a proactive instead of reactive approach.