Over the years I’ve had to deal with many hacked websites, including our own just a few years ago! Just this month I’ve had to recover two sites that were hacked, one that took over the home page of the site and displayed a site advertising videos and the other site was redirecting visitors to a string of other *dodgy websites.

In the past I’ve had to recover sites that have been replaced with extremist propaganda, pornographic material and other odd content and redirects but there are many ways that a website can be hacked and every website is at risk from these attacks – it doesn’t just effect the more popular brands and businesses.

The first case I dealt with this month appeared to be a victim of DNS spoofing, in that visitors to the website were shown a page offering videos for sale but when I got our security partner Sucuri to scan the site code there was no evidence of any dodgy code. To resolve it, first I had to set up a new hosting account and create a “down for maintenance” message then change the domain name settings (DNS) to point to the temporary website. I then had to grab a full backup of the site and upload that to the new hosting but because I wasn’t sure if the site had malicious code I got Sucuri to scan through the site and check for any unwanted files.

It wasn’t technically challenging but it meant that the site was off-line for a few days potentially damaging the organisations reputation and losing potential enquiries and opportunities.

The other case I dealt with consisted of sorting out a re-direct on the website itself where the malware had injected some code on to the server and changed the main URL of the WordPress website to point it to a string of linked spammy website. Again, I got our security partner Sucuri to scan through the website code and remove the unwanted code. I then had to access the site database directly and fix the initial re-direct that had been injected into the site.

Both sites were built on WordPress and as the most popular content management system for building websites it’s a particularly popular target for hackers. If you’re technically proficient you can read an excellent article by Sucuri on how to clean a hacked WordPress website.

You can help to avoid having your WordPress website attacked by following some simple rules:

  1. Keep your website core code and plugins up to date with the latest versions
  2. Install a security plugin such as any of the ones listed here
  3. Install an Anti-Spam plugin such as the excellent service provided by CleanTalk
  4. Use passwords that are at least 15 characters long and complex – don’t use any simple passwords for your website, the hosting account or any accounts related to your site.

You won’t completely eradicate the threat of being hacked (unfortunately you can’t protect your site 100%) but by following these rules will dramatically reduce the risk.