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Webbed Feet UK, web developers in Salisbury, Wiltshire

Why do people hack websites, and what damage can it cause?

People hack websites for a whole range of reasons but, contrary to popular belief, this is not usually a specific attack on the company or website.

Yes, governments, large organisations or those with sensitive data, for example will be specifically targeted, but realistically it’s unlikely that someone will make a deliberate attempt to break entry to their local solicitor or accountant’s website. This is because hacking isn’t usually easy, and therefore isn’t cheap, and there would be little reward.

So, why would someone hack your website? Hackers are able to attack a certain version of a certain type of website easily as any specific site, so if there are a million websites on a list matching their criteria, they can quite literally hack a million websites automatically in one go, overnight.

This is why you may be targeted; not because people want to attack you specifically, but because you match their criteria.

Usually we see this on open source systems, for example WordPress or Joomla. Not because they are any more or less vulnerable than other platforms, but because if users don’t keep them updated, computers run by hackers (robots) can build a list of millions of sites and then hack them all in one go.

They will usually then use your website or the underlying server to benefit themselves. Not that one website or computer is of use, but collectively a million websites or computers can have huge value.

They could use your server to mine bitcoins to make them money, essentially slowing down your server potentially to the point it is unusable. They can use your server to send spam emails, which could add you to spam-lists stopping your emails from going through. They could also subtly (or not so subtly) alter the content on your website to promote their own, or alter how Google see it to boost their own ranking at the expense of yours.

We had someone contact us a while back saying that their WordPress website was very slow. It only took us a minute to determine it had been hacked as it has not been kept up to date.

What this particular hack was doing was modifying the pages to include specific ‘pharmaceutical’ terms and link these back to their online shop. For the hacker this means millions of websites with relevant content pointing back to theirs, boosting their position in search engines.

For the owners of the hacked websites however, it means that if their customers Google them they find these rather than their genuine pages.

Hacked website in SERP

This looks really unprofessional, makes them appear as if they are not a legitimate company, and harms their own search engine optimisation.

We managed to detect this hack, rectify any damage, and update the WordPress installation so that it is secure.

If you have any concerns about security, hacking, updates, or websites in general, please get in touch.

We are Webbed Feet, we are experts in web security.

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Case Studies Security WordPress