What to Do If Your Website Has Been Hacked

digital fortress representing website securityUh oh! Website hacked? Don’t sweat it.

Your website is your online hub, attracting customers and building your brand. Just like you’d secure your bricks-and-mortar store, you need to protect your website from intruders. If you’ve been hacked, take a deep breath. This guide will be your lifeline, showing you how to recover your website and prevent future attacks. We’ll cover everything from taking your site offline to patching vulnerabilities and building stronger defences. With global cybercrime costs expected to grow by 15% per year over the next five years, reaching a staggering $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, the importance of website security has never been more evident​.

Make Your Website Secure

Stay Calm and Assess the Situation

Discovering your website has been hacked can be a shock. It’s natural to feel frustrated or worried, but staying calm is critical. Rushing into decisions without a clear understanding of the situation could make things worse. Here’s what to do first to assess the damage and get a handle on things:

Gather Your Bearings

Acknowledge what’s happened and take a moment to collect yourself. Panicking won’t help, so focus on taking methodical steps to recover your website.

Identify the Signs of the Hack

Website hacks can manifest in various ways. Look for any red flags that might indicate a security breach. Here are some common signs:

  • Unusual content: Are visitors seeing strange messages, images, or links they didn’t expect? This could be a sign that hackers have injected malicious code into your website. A common hack is link insertion, where you’ll see odd links pointing to dodgy websites offering gambling or viagra!
  • Website malfunctioning: Is your website behaving erratically? Slow loading times, broken features, or unexpected error messages might point to a hack.
  • Search engine warnings: Google may flag your website as hacked, warning visitors of potential security risks. Google Search Console will notify you if your website has been identified as hacked.
  • Suspicious activity in website analytics: A sudden spike in traffic from unusual locations or a significant change in user behaviour could be a sign of a hack.
  • Odd redirects: We once had a client who said her customers were seeing Nike shoes for sale on her website. We looked and saw nothing suspicious. She said that it only happened when people clicked on a Google link to her website. Sure enough, only traffic coming from Google was being redirected to a phishing website selling non-existent Nike shoes!

Document Everything

Keep a record of what you find. Note down the date and time you discovered the hack, any specific warning messages you encountered, and any unusual activity you observed. This documentation will be helpful when you move on to fixing the problem.

Limit the Damage

Once you have a better understanding of the situation, take steps to prevent further damage. In most cases, the best course of action is to take your website offline temporarily. This will stop hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities and protect your visitors’ data. We’ll discuss how to do this safely in the next section.

By following these steps, you can gain a clearer picture of the situation and start formulating a plan to recover your website.

Isolate and Restore: Take Back Control

Discovering a website hack can be stressful, but there’s no need to panic. The best course of action depends on the severity of the attack and whether you have a recent, clean backup of your website.

If You Have a Clean Backup:

The ideal scenario is if you have a recent backup of your website that hasn’t been compromised by the hackers. This allows you to restore your website to a clean state quickly and minimise downtime.

  • Contact your hosting provider: Most web hosting providers offer backup and restore services. Get in touch with their support team and explain the situation. They can guide you through the restoration process.
  • Restore from backup: Once you’ve confirmed the backup is clean, proceed with restoring your website. This will overwrite any malicious code injected by the hackers.
  • Secure your website: After restoring your website, don’t stop there! It’s crucial to identify and address the vulnerability that allowed the hackers in. We’ll cover how to secure your website in later sections.

If You Don’t Have a Clean Backup

If you don’t have a recent backup, or if you’re unsure of its integrity, taking your website offline temporarily might be necessary. This prevents further damage and protects your visitors’ data.

  • Safely take your website offline: The method for taking your website offline depends on your hosting platform. Many web hosting providers offer a “maintenance mode” option that allows you to display a temporary message to visitors while you address the issue.
  • Identify the vulnerability: Once your website is offline, you can begin investigating the source of the hack. We’ll discuss methods for identifying vulnerabilities in a later section.
  • Clean and secure your website: With the vulnerability identified, you can take steps to clean your website of any malicious code. We’ll cover website cleaning procedures in a future section as well.

No matter which approach you take, remember – prevention is always better than cure! We’ll discuss strategies for fortifying your website’s security in the following sections.

Bolster Your Defences: Change Your Passwords

Lock Down Your Logins

After regaining control of your website, it’s crucial to tighten your security measures and prevent future attacks. The first step is to change all passwords associated with your website. This includes:

  • Content Management System (CMS) login: This is the primary login for managing your website content.
  • Database login: Your website’s database stores all its content and information. Make sure to change the login credentials for accessing the database.
  • FTP login: If you use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to upload files to your website, update the FTP login credentials as well.
  • Email accounts: If you have any email account login details stored on your website, change the passwords for those accounts too.

Strong Passwords are Essential

When creating new passwords, prioritise strength over convenience. Here are some tips for creating strong passwords:

  • Size matters: Aim for passwords that are at least 12 characters long. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack.
  • Mix it up: Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Avoid common phrases: Don’t use easily guessable information like your birthday, pet’s name, or dictionary words.
  • Unique passwords for each account: Resist the temptation to reuse the same password for multiple accounts.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

For an added layer of security, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) wherever possible. 2FA requires users to provide two forms of identification before gaining access to an account. This could be a password combined with a code sent to your phone or generated by an authentication app. By enabling 2FA, you make it significantly harder for hackers to gain unauthorised access to your website, even if they manage to guess or steal your password.

Consider a Password Manager

Managing multiple strong passwords can be challenging. A password manager can help you securely store and generate complex passwords for all your online accounts.

Scan and Eradicate: Identify and Remove Malware

Fight the Malicious Code

With your passwords reset, it’s time to take a closer look at your website’s files and identify any malware that might have been injected by the hackers. Malware can be used to steal data, redirect visitors to malicious websites, or deface your website.

Website Scanning Tools

Several website scanning tools can help you identify malware on your website. Some web hosting providers offer website security scanning as part of their service. There are also free and paid website security scanners available online.

Choose a reputable scanner and follow their instructions for conducting a thorough scan of your website’s files and code. The scanner will generate a report highlighting any suspicious files or malware it detects.

Removing Malware

Once you’ve identified malicious files, you’ll need to remove them from your website. The removal process will depend on the specific type of malware and your technical expertise.

  • For Simple Cases: If you’re comfortable with basic file management, you might be able to remove the malicious files yourself.
  • For Complex Cases: For more complex malware or if you’re unsure about how to proceed safely, it’s advisable to seek help from a website security professional. They can remove the malware and ensure your website is clean.

Note that due to the complexity of a website content management system (there are thousands of lines of code), it may not be possible to be absolutely certain that your website files are clean. This is why ongoing preventative security measures are so important.

Patch Up the Weaknesses: Update and Patch Your Software

Hackers often target these vulnerabilitiesKeeping Your Website Up-to-Date is Crucial

Just like any software program, website applications and plugins can have vulnerabilities. Hackers often target these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised access to websites. Regularly updating your website’s software is essential for maintaining strong security.

Here’s what you need to update:

  • Content Management System (CMS): Make sure you’re running the latest version of your CMS software. Most CMS providers release regular updates that include security patches and bug fixes.
  • Plugins and Themes: Keep all plugins and themes you use on your website updated as well. Outdated plugins can be a major security risk.
  • Other Software: If you use any additional software on your website, such as contact forms or analytics tools, update those as well.

How to Check for Updates

The process for checking for updates will vary depending on your CMS and specific software. Here are some general guidelines:

  • CMS updates: Most CMS platforms have a built-in notification system that alerts you when a new update is available. You can usually update your CMS directly from the admin panel.
  • Plugin and Theme updates: Many plugins and themes will notify you of available updates within their settings menus. You can also check for updates on the developer’s website.
  • Automatic updates: If possible, consider enabling automatic updates for your CMS and core plugins. This will ensure your website is always running the latest secure version. The only concern with this is that if the updates are automatic, you may not be notified if an update has broken your website.

At Energise Web, we offer a service that will keep your WordPress website secured. Let us check your website every work day and apply the updates for you. We’ll send a report to you every month letting you know what we’ve done. We also do free fixes of minor issues caused by updates where possible.

Why Updates Matter

Software updates often include security patches that address newly discovered vulnerabilities. By keeping your website’s software up to date, you significantly reduce the risk of hackers exploiting these vulnerabilities to gain access to your website.

Remember, even a minor security flaw can be a major entry point for hackers. Regularly update your website’s software to keep it safe and secure.

Mind Your Keys: Check User Permissions and Access Control

Assign Access Wisely

Now that you’ve addressed the immediate security threats, it’s crucial to review how user accounts and access permissions are set up on your website. Limiting access can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorised activity.

  • Identify User Accounts: Make a list of all user accounts with access to your website’s backend or administrative area. This includes your own account, any staff accounts, and any third-party accounts (e.g., developers or marketing agencies).
  • Review User Permissions: Carefully examine the permissions assigned to each user account. Do all the permissions align with the user’s specific role and needs? For instance, a content editor might only need permission to create and edit website content, but not access to user accounts or website settings.
  • Implement Least Privilege: Follow the principle of least privilege. This means granting users only the minimum level of access required to perform their tasks. Avoid giving users more access than they need.
  • Disable Unused Accounts: If you identify any user accounts that are no longer active or no longer require website access, disable them. There’s no point in keeping unnecessary accounts around, as they could be potential security vulnerabilities.

Enlist the Experts: Conduct a Security Audit

A Deep Dive for Maximum Protection

While you’ve taken significant steps to recover from the hack and secure your website, a professional security audit can provide an extra layer of protection. A security audit is a comprehensive evaluation of your website’s security posture, identifying vulnerabilities that might have been missed.

Benefits of a Security Audit:

  • Uncover Hidden Weaknesses: A security audit can identify vulnerabilities that automated scanners might miss. This could include weaknesses in your website’s code, configuration issues, or security mis practices.
  • Gain Expert Insights: Security professionals can provide valuable insights and recommendations for strengthening your website’s security posture.
  • Proactive Approach: Regular security audits can help you identify and address security issues before they get exploited by hackers.

We can assist you to keep your website secure by adding extra software to clock hacking attempts and exclude access for users who are a security threat.

Stay Vigilant: Monitor Your Website for Suspicious Activity

Keeping an Eye Out for Future Threats

Even after recovering from a hack, vigilance is key. Here are some strategies to monitor your website for suspicious activity:

  • Website Security Monitoring Tools: Several website security monitoring tools can track your website for suspicious activity, such as malware injections, login attempts, or unauthorised access. These tools can alert you immediately if they detect anything unusual.
  • Security Logs: Most web hosting providers offer access to security logs that track activity on your website. Regularly review these logs to identify any potential security incidents.
  • Regular Backups: Having regular backups of your website is crucial for disaster recovery. In the unfortunate event of another attack, a recent backup allows you to restore your website quickly and minimise downtime.

Use an SSL Certificate

An SSL certificate encrypted communication between your website and visitors’ browsers. This encryption scrambles sensitive data, such as credit card information and login credentials, making it unreadable to anyone who might intercept it. An SSL certificate is essential for any website that collects user data or processes online transactions. We provide an SSL connection for all our website clients as part of any new website build.

Educate Yourself and Your Team

Security awareness training can be a powerful tool in your website’s defence. Here’s how:

  • Train Your Website Management Team: If you have a team that manages your website, consider providing them with regular security awareness training. This training can help them identify and avoid common social engineering tactics used by hackers. Phishing emails and malware-laden attachments are some examples where awareness training can make a big difference.
  • Stay Informed Yourself: Website security is constantly evolving. Make an effort to stay updated on the latest security threats and best practices. There are many resources available online, such as website security blogs and industry publications. By staying informed, you can be proactive in protecting your website.

By implementing these long-term security strategies, you can significantly reduce the risk of future website attacks and ensure your website remains a safe and secure platform for your visitors.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions About Website Security

Here is an overview of common questions website owners have about website security:

Q: What are some signs that my website might be hacked?

There are several signs that could indicate your website has been hacked. Here are a few to watch out for:

Unusual content appearing on your website
Website malfunctioning or behaving erratically
Search engine warnings about your website
A sudden spike in website traffic or changes in user behaviour

Q: What should I do if I suspect my website has been hacked?

If you suspect your website has been hacked, stay calm and follow these steps:

Identify the signs of the hack.
Document everything you find.
Limit the damage: If possible, restore your website from a clean backup. Otherwise, take your website offline temporarily.
Change all your passwords.
Scan and remove any malware.
Update and patch your website software.
Conduct a security audit (optional).

Q: How can I prevent my website from being hacked in the future?

Here are some steps you can take to improve your website’s security and prevent future attacks:

Use strong passwords and update them regularly.
Keep your website software updated.
Use security plugins and tools.
Invest in an SSL certificate.
Regularly back up your website.
Stay informed about the latest security threats.

Conclusion: Take Control of Your Website Security

While a website hack can be unsettling, this guide has equipped you with the knowledge and steps to recover and prevent future attacks. Remember, website security is an ongoing process. By implementing the strategies outlined here, you can build a strong defence and keep your website a safe haven for your visitors and business.


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