When your website is hacked, your first priority is most likely to stop the attack and restore the site to its original form. Once the immediate danger is past, though, your thoughts probably turn to looking for answers. How did this happen? How can we stop it from happening again? And why were we attacked in the first place?
The answers to the first two questions are usually related to security and indicate that you need to tighten up the vulnerabilities that attract hackers in the first place. The answer to the third questions is typically a bit less straightforward, though — and probably not what you think.
The fact is, in the majority of cases, the fact that your site was hacked has absolutely nothing to do with you. That is, you weren’t specifically targeted, and the hacking was a crime of opportunity. Most hackers use scripts, which automatically run 24/7 to identify vulnerabilities in websites and then exploit them. If one of these scripts comes across a vulnerability on your site, it will infiltrate, wreaking whatever havoc it was designed to do. It might inject just a few lines of code, or it could add malicious code via hundreds of files that will take days to identify and remove.
The question remains, though, as to why hackers hack. In some cases, it’s just for fun. Some hackers like to see what they can do or prove that they can infiltrate a particular target. However, the majority of hackers are working for more nefarious purposes, usually for profit in some way. By understanding what they are after, you can more effectively protect your site and avoid losing time and money due to being hacked.
Perhaps the most common reasons that hackers hack is to make money. After all, data is valuable, and personal information can be sold for big profits. For example, hackers develop malware and scripts to break into websites and install phishing malware to steal usernames and passwords, which often lead to more information, such as credit card and bank account numbers. Sometimes, hackers attack your site so you will pay them. They might hold your site for ransom, for instance, or in an attempt to get you to give them control of your site to fix the security problems they created.
And of course, there are those occasions in which hackers are being paid to attack your site specifically. You might be the target of a competitor, for example, who hired hackers to launch a DDoS attack on your site to lower your sales or to steal intellectual property. In any case, it’s safe to assume that when your site is hacked, someone somewhere is trying to make money from it.
Sometimes, hackers will go after websites as a means to make a point, promote a particular agenda or simply “take down” a business or group they don’t agree with. These hackers might vandalize a website, leak information, launch a DDoS attack or otherwise disrupt the normal functioning of a website to create chaos or build awareness of a specific issue. Typically, small businesses are not on the receiving end of such attacks, but if you are in a controversial industry or have publicly stated specific viewpoints, then you could be vulnerable.
Research indicates that 27 percent of cyberattacks come from an insider threat, and 20 percent from angry users. In other words, hacking is sometimes very, very personal. A disgruntled ex-employee, for instance, might launch an internal attack to take down the website in retaliation for being fired. These types of attacks underscore the importance of monitoring internal threats as well as external and the need for strict security policies.
Finally, another common cause for website hacks is competition. Simply put, your competition may resort to dirty tactics to keep you from operating as usual. They might coordinate ransom attacks, DDoS attacks, attempt to steal and leak information or perform any number of malicious (and illegal) activities in an attempt to thwart competition.
You can learn how to fix a malware-infected website well before you learn why you are attacked, but understanding the whys will help you stay safer in the future. Staying on top of vulnerabilities using patches and updates, security software and using scanning tools can help prevent hacks from happening in the first place and send the hackers to find their “fun” somewhere else.