Website Defacement Prevention 101: How to Prevent and Monitor Attacks

April 21, 2023 in Cyber Attacks

As a small business owner, you know that your website is a critical component of your business. It provides prospective customers with first impressions of your company and may even serve as a digital storefront. A web defacement attack that makes visitors turn around and leave could have lasting consequences on your business.

The best way to avoid the negative consequences of website defacement and protect your small business is to prevent these attacks from occurring in the first place.

What is Website Defacement?

Much like vandalism in the physical world, website defacement attacks can leave a visible mark on your digital property. In carrying out this type of attack, cybercriminals typically replace existing content on your site with their own messages — whether those messages are intended to be political, religious, or simply shocking.

Website defacements can damage your company’s reputation, giving visitors the impression that you don’t take security seriously or are incapable of protecting your business online. Aside from hurting your reputation, website defacement can also cost your business a significant amount of money. Prospective customers will abandon your site if they don’t feel it’s secure. What’s more, while website defacement detection isn’t difficult, getting rid of defacements requires downtime that could cause a drop in revenue.

8 Steps on How to Prevent Defaced Websites

To gain access to your website, cybercriminals often hone in on contact forms, inject spam into comment boxes, or insert unwanted links into your source code or database. The more entry points your website has, the easier it will be for attackers to gain access. If you don’t have the tools in place to detect their entry, they’ll be able to carry out a defacement attack.

Follow these tips to stop cybercriminals in their tracks and keep your site protected:

1. Monitor Add-Ons and Plug-ins

Cybercriminals usually target sites that are either seen as vulnerable or would draw a lot of attention if hacked. Oftentimes, the sites that are especially susceptible to attack are those that incorporate a bevy of added plug-ins and features. Add-ons expand a site’s surface, giving hackers more potential points of entry. Using a high number of plugins or add-ons on CMS platforms such as WordPress or Shopify could increase the number of vulnerabilities on your website.

One way to prevent website defacement is to choose your plug-ins and apps carefully. Make sure each one provides value to your website and use only what you need. Regularly audit add-ons and completely uninstall any plug-in or theme that’s deactivated within your dashboard.

Unused add-ons are likely outdated and become less secure over time, making your site more vulnerable. Outdated software is a leading factor in cyberattacks due to the vulnerable code not being updated. It’s strongly recommended to update plug-ins, themes, and core files as soon as updates are available.

2. Secure Login Credentials

Securing passwords is essential to prevent website defacements. Hackers can gain access to a website by using stolen or weak login credentials. Strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, and regular password changes are just some of the many website security measures to protect passwords. When attackers can't get their hands on valid login credentials, they are less likely to be able to deface a website. Ensuring the security of logins is a crucial step toward protecting a website from attacks and maintaining its integrity.

3. Limit Administrative Access

If more than one person is logging into the website to make changes to content, limit the type of access each additional individual has. Having multiple administrators on your website leaves the door open for a cybercriminal to gain unauthorized access via your login page. Limiting full access to content can prevent a website defacement caused by human error (e.g., weak passwords).

4. Reduce the Number of File Uploads

Attackers can upload malicious files to a website to gain unauthorized access, modify site content or perform other nefarious actions. By limiting the number of file uploads, website owners can prevent attackers from using this method to deface their sites. Simply limit the acceptable file types, establish a maximum file size, and perform malware scans prior to authorizing file uploads to make the process effortless. Regularly monitoring and reviewing file uploads can also help detect any suspicious activity and prevent attacks before they occur.

5. Scan for Security Vulnerabilities

If you have a technical background or tech-savvy staff members, you can manually check for malware on your site. You should also have access to the file manager provided by your domain host or file transfer protocol, both of which can be used to check your site for malware. Look for both script and <iframe> attributes, and scan the URLs that follow these attributes to be sure you recognize them. If you don’t, they may have been injected with malicious content, and you could be dealing with a potential data breach.

6. Use a Web Application Firewall

A web application firewall, or WAF, helps protect web applications from a variety of cyberattacks. It examines HTTP traffic between the web server and the client, filtering out malicious traffic and blocking attacks that could harm your website. It can also impede many types of attacks, like SQL injection and cross-site scripting (SQLi and XSS). WAFs can and will block traffic from known malicious IP addresses and botnets. Most importantly, it provides an additional cybersecurity layer and helps to ensure that sensitive data is kept safe from threats.

7. Get an SSL Certificate

An SSL certificate conceals the information shared between a user's web browser and your website, making it tough for anyone to deface pages or steal data. It's for sites that contain sensitive data like passwords, payment information, etc.

This certification also helps to improve your website's search engine ranking. Google has made it clear that SSL encryption is a ranking factor, and websites with SSL certificates are given preference in the form of an HTTPS status. HTTPS, instead of HTTP, is not only important for securing your website but also for improving your online visibility and credibility.

8. Install an Automated Scanner

Even if you have the technical expertise to manually check for malware, an automated website scanner is critical for regular maintenance that won’t take up your time. This kind of scanner can detect suspicious activity as soon as it occurs. It will be able to monitor your website files and database, patch vulnerabilities, and automatically remove malware and spam when it’s detected.

Ultimately, the costs of recovering from a website defacement attack will be higher than those of preventing the attack in the first place. To avoid downtime, loss of revenue, and a damaging hit to your reputation, follow these security best practices and explore SiteLock’s website security plans.

Monique Becenti is a product and channel marketing specialist at SiteLock, a cloud-based website security provider currently protecting more than 12 million websites globally. Monique is passionate about improving the customer experience for all. SiteLock’s combination of dedicated research and developmental efforts, aggressive product road maps, and access to a massive global data set make the company a leading innovator in web security.

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