Website Attacks and Hacks
Imagine the following scenario:
You've just had a brand new website built for your business, and before you know it you are getting a
warning from Google that your website has been hacked.
It would, undoubtedly, evoke anger towards the pests that are hacking your site, and resentment
towards the guys who built your site and, in your mind, didn't put the measures in place to avoid this
We have, on numerous occasions, come across "Virus Attacks" or "Hacks" as they are sometimes called.
They commonly occur in Open Source Websites & are one of the few risks that come with using Open
While your IT Team should be able to fix this predicament in almost all cases they have very little to do
with the originating problem (i.e. equipping the site against these types of attacks). In general, a Google
warning is the first notification of such a problem to them, as well as to you.
What is at Risk?
The most common reason for a website hack in the case of a small to medium scale website is link-
farming for SEO gains. Moreover, Hackers go after E-commerce sites for customer & possibly credit card
data. Email addresses of customers are also up there in the list of things hackers are after.
How it Works?
There are two common ways that hacks occur. Of course, there are many other types of hacks as well
but these two are the most common in small to medium sized websites:
1) SQL Injection
In this way, the hacker is very familiar with the database schema (or data model) of the site and creates
a script that enters malicious code directly into the database table that carries the page content.
SQL Injection can occur in most open source platforms because open source systems database schemas
are common public knowledge.
In Hosted platforms the risk of SQL injections is close to negligible as the databases are well protected &
use connection methods / models known only to the company that runs the platform
Cleaning a SQL injection means searching the database and removing the code, which at times can cause
service disruptions, layouts or breaks in website functionality?
2) File System Infection
In this way a hacker enters via an FTP or other channel for server vulnerability and actually modifies the
source code files in order to place malicious code into the system
This type of hack is very tough to fix because the scripting can be intelligent, spread quickly and continue
to replicate even after clean-ups. Sometimes hackers wil plant "receptor" scripts that go undetected
and look very normal until they connect to the hackers' own servers and pull down malicious code.
Cleaning this hack means effectively looking at each file individually and systematically cleaning up the
code. Your IT team can undertake a mass "Find & Replace" approach to clean the code if they are able
to locate the malicious code, but shortcuts almost always mean that they will miss out the "receptor"
script that is infecting the files. This effort is extensive and can involve various elements:
Your base WordPress install version 3.0.1 has 756 Files! Version 3.4 has 1400+ files!
Your Joomla 2.5 install has 6000+ files with a standard set of components & plugins!
Sometimes clean up can also affect the functionality of the site or layouts, which result in a lot of lost
productivity to the site
How do we fix it?
While your IT team doesn't bear the responsibility for the hacking, which is, in many cases, hard to
predict and potentially unavoidable, there are certain measures that can be taken to prevent it from
happening (please see details in the next paragraph). For starters, the password selection for the Admin
panel or FTP must be as hard to detect as possible. Once the hacking has taken place you will have to
work with a very skil ed System Administrator and a Programmer (both skil s are a must) to clean the
infected website and reestablish functionality.
Once this action has been completed, the site must be re-submitted to Google as there are high chances
that Google still has it detected as an "infected" site.
How do we prevent hacking from happening in the first place?
There are many things that can be done at the website production stage to prevent- or at least reduce -
* Your IT team can use a non-standard data model in with a regular CMS module - This can be a
fairly expensive solution and will need a talented developer to execute. The cost, however, may
* Upgrade to the latest version of your platform. This may also be a costly affair depending on
how much customization has been done to your website. Most platform providers will release
security updates frequently because they are familiar with the common threats against their
* Use secure passwords and change them frequently. Use combinations of upper case, lower case,
numbers and special characters, and make your passwords at least 8-10 characters long. NOTE:
numbers-only passwords are the easiest to hack
* Try not to send out passwords by email, send user names and use SMS / texting to send the
* Invest in a dedicated server
o Shared servers are very risky, mostly because you don't know who your neighbors are and
you are sharing everything with them. Potentially you could be on the same file system as a
highly infected site and the virus will spread very easily to your site. In such cases your IT
Team cleaning up the virus is completely wasting their time as they can't clean the rest of
the server, and it's only a matter of time before the infection comes back
o On Dedicated servers your IT Team will have access to the root file system and base
modules so they can install a lot of tools & scripts to "harden" the server and secure it. This
is not possible on shared servers
o Dedicated servers are more expensive to own & maintain
o Highly recommended: PaaS (Platform as a Service) hosting is the next generation of web
hosting, which is highly secure
o You can consider the use of Reverse proxies & other advanced security tools, a few of these
are now available on a service basis (SaaS)
We recommend Dedicated Servers to our customers along with a proper security and support package
to help prevent such problems. It is very difficult for any IT team to guarantee that hacking won't
happen, but we can certainly warn of contributing factors such as shared servers / weak passwords /
outdated software, etc. and make recommendations for the best ways to prevent hacking from