Much like graffiti 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.

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 defacement attack that makes visitors turn around and leave could have lasting consequences on your business. 

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. First, 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. 

All in all, 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.

How to Prevent Website Defacement

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:

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. Our data shows that WordPress sites with six to 10 plug-ins are twice as likely to be attacked compared to those with no plug-ins. Basically, add-ons expand a site’s surface, giving hackers more potential points of entry.

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. Limit access levels. 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). 

3. Scan your site’s source code. 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. 

4. Install an automated website 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.

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.