Defacement (also website or web defacement) is an attack on a website that alters its visual appearance or informational content. Often, cybercriminals add messages of a social, religious or political nature, or swear words and other text that is unrelated to the subject of the site. Defacement can be described as graffiti in electronic form. People who deface websites are called defacers.
Unlike many cybercriminals, defacers seek publicity, so they often leave behind traces that can be used to identify them, such as their contact information or other details.
To hack a website and change its content, cybercriminals can:
- Brute-force the credentials of the site administrator;
- Exploit vulnerabilities in site components; for example, performing an SQL injection (SQLi) or cross-site scripting (XSS);
- Infect the administrator’s device with malware.
The attackers either embed their message in existing web pages, or create their own. Also, the original site can be made inaccessible to users, damaged or completely deleted.
Site defacement targets
The goal of defacers tends to be one of the following:
- Hacktivism; that is, hacking for socially or politically motivated reasons;
- Raising awareness of the site’s ineffective security;
- Causing damage to the business and/or reputation of the site owner;
- Advertising of competitors or third-party products and services;
- Demonstrating hacking skills;
Website defacement damage
Web defacement almost always results in reputational damage for the owner of the targeted site. In some cases, the harm can also be financial. For example, defacement of an online store can undermine customer trust. What’s more, inappropriate content can lower a site’s position in search results or even lead to exclusion.
The risk of website compromise, including defacement, can be reduced through standard security measures: regular updates of third-party software used on the site; elimination of vulnerabilities in site components such as scripts and databases; unique, strong passwords for administrator accounts, and so on.
There are also solutions for automatically tracking changes made to websites.