Why is Getting Hacked Harmful: Here’s a scenario – you wake up one fine day, get your morning coffee and open your laptop to find something strange happening to your WordPress website. You are horrified to find out that you can’t log into your site or Google has blacklisted your site blocking people you can’t visit your site. You, my good friend, have been hacked.
Getting hacked is never a pleasant experience and it’s only the beginning of a painstaking journey. After being hacked you are likely to experience a domino effect where a number of bad things will occur one after the other or maybe all at once (if you are unlucky). Our goal with this post is simple, we’ll tell you the harmful things that happen to your site after it’s hacked.
Following a hack, these are the harmful things that can happen to your site:
Your Site Could be Defaced
There are a number of reasons as to why hackers hack a WordPress site. Some hackers like to deface your site by posting a political message across the page to promote their own interests. These hackers are called hacktivists. After breaking into the site, they inject a piece of information that they want your visitors to see.
Take the case of the Anonymous hackers defacing a Philippine government site called Comelec (Commission on Elections) in 2016. Another time hacktivists defaced ISIS websites with illegal ads for performance-enhancing drugs. Although, these are big websites, in the past hacktivists are known to attack small sites too because small sites are lenient about their security, therefore, they are easier to hack. Recently, hackers hijacked a web-hosting server and defaced hundreds of websites, many of them were owned by small business owners.
Your Site Becomes Slow
The attacker might be using your website server to store hundreds and thousands of files like pirated movies, music, shareware, illegal information among other things. Moreover, they run some of these files on your server increasing the usage of the server which affects your website. When visitors come to your site, the pages take a long time to load. Studies have shown that in this digital era, the average attention span of human beings has shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds. Thus, slow websites are bad for business.
When trying to open a page of your site, a visitor might come across the ‘Error 500.’ This particular error is displayed when your site server is overloaded. Visitors who came to the error page hit the back button immediately and your traffic will drop.
You Site May Crash
Generally, a WordPress site crashes when the site developer is trying to modify the site or when the site admin is installing a new plugin or theme (which is why we recommend testing with a staging site first). But if one fine day you open your site and see the following message – “Page Not Found (404 error)” without any action taken from your side, it’s a sign of a hacked site.
The hacker must have done something, made changes in the site that caused the website to crash. Usually, a hacker tries to delay being discovered but a misstep has revealed him. Now that you know your site has been hacked, you must proceed to clean it as soon as possible. Because the longer your site remains down, the more effect it has on your traffic inflow and revenue.
The White Screen of Death
The White Screen of Death (WSOD) is an error that manifests a blank page on your site devoid of any information. Parallels can be drawn with that of Windows’ blue screen of death in which the computer stop working. In case of the White Screen of Death, your blog stops working and it sometimes prevents admins from accessing the WordPress dashboard.
The White Screen of Death may also appear when your site memory gets exhausted. This could happen if hackers are storing large amount of files in your server. Unknown to most websites owners, even unlimited hosting plans do have a limit.
Pages Being Redirected to Other Sites
Many hackers want to hack websites in hope of becoming rich quickly. They insert malicious codes that redirect a page or a post to a spammy site. Riding on your site’s credibility they extract sensitive information like credit card details, username, password, etc. It’s called phishing and it’s one of the most common fraudulent activities on the internet.
Hackers who have managed to break into your site, modify your htaccess file present on your server to redirect traffic from your site to a different site. Thus you are not just losing traffic but also unknowingly aiding fraudulent behaviour.
Here’s an example of this kind of malware attack that was discovered by Sucuri. A bunch of bad codes was placed on top of the header.php file of the active theme of a website. It redirected visitors to the following malicious sites:
Take a look at the codes in the picture below:
Weird Popup May Appear
Unexpected pop-ups may appear on your site without your knowledge. The purpose of the pop-ups is to leverage your traffic to sell or promote some product of the hackers or their clients. Pop-ups are annoying and some of your visitors may never return to your site after being bombarded with popups. And that’s not even the end of it. Some malicious pop-ups collect data capturing cookies of your browser or keeps track of your browsing patterns without your consent. Hackers may employ these methods to gather data to execute a malicious activity. Moreover, clicking through some of these pop-ups or even trying to close them could result in downloading malware on to the visitor’s computer system. If the malware gets installed into the system, a hacker could wreak havoc on the visitor’s computer.
Information Could be Leaked Online
In this digital age, the value of data is quite high. Many hackers break into websites to extract sensitive information to sell it to prospective clients. Sensitive information on your website doesn’t have to just be related to financial information, it could be something specific to your site. Every website has information unique to the site and that makes the data valuable.
Data that hackers look for could be ranging from pictures, to contact information and medical records. This information can be used to carry out a number of activities like:
- Hackers could use it to ask for ransom money. Uber paid hackers an undisclosed amount in exchange for deleting stolen data on 57 million people.
- They could publish sensitive information online. Take the instance of the Panama Papers leak in which attackers hacked FBI and CIA websites and stole officers’ personal information and release them online.
- They could sell it to people willing to buy data among other things.
Your Brand Reputation Takes a Hit
The online identity of a brand is significant to the growth of the brand. Defacing of websites or promoting illegal drugs affect brand reputation badly. Earlier we talked of how hacktivists deface websites with a political message in an attempt to further their interests. Politics is a divided ground where one must tread carefully. Messages on your site could potentially trigger people who don’t agree with the message.
There are pharmaceutical companies who try to sell and promote illegal drugs on other people’s website. You can lose traffic due to such distasteful promotions.
Web Hosts Will Suspend Your Account
Some of the malicious activities that hackers could perform using someone else’s site are sending spam emails and attacking other sites. Using one IP address to attack websites comes with the risk of being easily discovered. For this reason, hackers are always looking for a site they can use to launch attacks on their targeted sites. Moreover, some hackers use comprised sites to send spam emails. Popular email servers keep a record of the IP addresses sending out emails which is why hackers look for new IP address that has a clean record.
When web host discover that your website is being used to execute spammy activities, they suspend your account. Shared hosting providers are especially careful about compromised sites because if one site gets infected, there are chances that other websites on the same shared server will get infected.
Google Will Blacklist Your Site
Google aims to provide its users with a safe online experience. For that, it blacklists numerous compromised sites each day. If Google blacklists your site, your SEO and traffic will take a hit which will also affect your revenue collection. After being blacklisted, when visitors come to your site they’ll see a red page warning them about the site they are trying to enter and telling them to go back to safety (i.e go back to the previous page).
For website owners, getting hacked is one of the worst experiences ever. It affects the site’s ranking, it’s organic traffic, it’s reputation, your entire online identity. It takes years to build an identity and only a couple of hours to lose it. Which is why taking website security seriously is so significant. Keeping your site up-to-date, using security plugins to scan your site and harden your site’s security, taking regular backup will potentially help you in preventing your site from being hacked. Better take security measures before disaster strikes.