The Hack Attack: The First Steps to Take When Your Website is Compromised

Imagine this scary scenario: a website owner or administrator logs in to their website at the beginning of the day only to be met with a blank screen, an ominous “you’ve been hacked” message or, even worse, a mysterious redirect to an unsavory site which all visitors, clients and customers now have the unfortunate experience of viewing. And whether the hack was initiated to steal valuable data or just someone’s idea of a malicious prank, the fallout leaves many owners aimlessly scrambling to recover and get up and running.


It’s a troubling situation and can border on outright disaster for e-commerce sites that depend on constant up-time to keep their bottom lines happy and healthy. Indeed, tech experts estimate that many large and visible sites fall into two categories: those who have been hacked and those that don’t know they’ve been hacked. Recent surveys estimate that more than 65 percent of website owners aren’t even aware their site has been compromised until alerted by users or visitors.

However, should your site fall prey to a hack, there are quick and easy steps you can and should take immediately.

The first step is to not panic and call in technical reinforcements such as your hosting provider or website developer. Gather as much information as you can for them including CMS login information, passwords, usernames and web logs and any custom software codes that may have been installed (these are often the hack culprit as many don’t contain adequate security features) as well as any backups you have that can aid in data recovery.

Next, temporarily take your site offline by accessing your hosting control panel and password protect the main directory: this will block any and all visitors from getting onto your site while it’s being fixed. Then, initiate a comprehensive scan of your local computers for viruses and malware using up-to-date software such as one of the Norton products and, if you’re communicating with your host or web designer, insist they do the same for the server your site works through.

At this point it’s also important to assess the damage. Make a list of all affected and damaged files and determine the hacker’s intent. Were they trying to steal customer data? Did they want to damage the site’s reputation? Were they trying to make a statement about the fact that your site is vulnerable because of outdated security protocols? Knowing the “why” is crucial to protecting your site once you’re back in business, as you can then make more efforts to monitor possible intrusions from specific sources.

Lastly, change each and every one of your passwords, back up the site once again, ensure your software extensions are running on the most current updates and stay in close touch with your IT professional. It’s vital that you or your web professional determine what vulnerability allowed the attack to occur as too often, experts note, a site is repeatedly hacked by the same individual because the proper fixes weren’t put in place and the site was properly cleaned after the initial attack.

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