Online security is important for every business—no matter how small.

If you’re like many small businesses, you probably haven’t thought much about the security of your website. In fact, many small businesses are caught off guard when their sites are hacked because they never expected to be targets. They assume that hackers mostly go after large companies with lots of money and huge stores of information, and that their smaller businesses will go unnoticed. Either that, or they fall prey to the idea that it simply won’t happen to them.

In reality, it’s possible for your site to be the victim of a cyber attack without you even knowing.

Signs that your site might have been hacked include:

  • Your site is suddenly and inexplicably running much slower than usual.
  • There are changes to the front end of the site that you didn’t make.
  • There are files stored on the back end of your site that you didn’t upload.
  • There are orphan pages on your site that you didn’t create.
  • There are pop-up forms on your site that you didn’t enable.
  • Your users are reporting suspicious behavior.
  • You’ve been locked out.

As you can see, some signs that your website security has been compromised are easy to spot. It’s hard not to notice if your password has been suddenly changed, or if the banner on your website is a spammy advertisement for some knock-off product. But others are far more subtle. They’re hard to spot because the perpetrators don’t want to be caught, and many of them are happy to play on your complaisance to slip under your radar.

Once a hacker has access to your website, there are several ways in which they can compromise your business. Here are some of the most common.

1. Obtain private information about your users.

If you have access to personally identifiable information about your customers through your website, and that information is compromised due to security negligence on your part, it could land you in some pretty hot water. Private information is valuable, and most people take their data privacy very seriously. Discovering that their personal information was leaked through your website can do irreparable damage to those client relationships.

Hackers usually benefit from these hacks more the longer they go unnoticed. The longer it takes you to realize your site security is compromised, the more data they’ll be able to gather about your clients in the meantime.

2. Use your site for file storage.

File storage is another hack that benefits from going undiscovered. Hackers that can piggy back off your website’s hosting can use it to store or transfer large files—especially illegal ones, containing pirated or adult content.

3. Inject malware into your website.

Malware injections are one of the most common ways a hacker may try to abuse their access to your site. Once this script has infected your site, it can target visitors by adding a hidden virus to a download button that will go on to infect their computer, or by trying to gather customer information through form pop-up ads, among other things.

Because this attack involves adding code to your site, it will often slow down site speed. An infected site is also more likely to be noticeable to visitors, as foreign code often sticks out by failing to match the styles of the site itself. In cases where it does succeed in blending it, it can go a dangerously long time undiscovered.

4. Add backlinks or spam comments into your site.

Another hack that benefits from going unnoticed is one that adds backlinks or spam comments to your website. This is a seriously shady Black Hat SEO technique, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for. The backlinks can often be disguised with anchor text and may not be noticed until someone clicks on the link itself.

Spam comments are more noticeable on the front end, but if you never check your site’s comments, or if the hacker approves the comments behind your back, then they, too can go a long time before anyone spots them. During that period they may be directing your traffic to illicit corners of the Internet, or else making your site look dodgy to customers.

5. Deface your website.

Some hackers may use their site access to vandalize your site as a prank. This can be a particularly infuriating attack, because it’s simply an act of senseless destruction. Hackers often have very little to gain from defacing your website unless they can…

6. Hold your website for ransom.

Locking you out of your site and demanding a ransom to get access again is a serious enough threat, but it can be made significantly worse if your website has been covered in embarrassing graffiti in the meantime. For a small ecommerce business, being locked out of a site can also mean lost sales as each hour ticks by.

Protect your business and your customers by maintaining your website security.

When someone hacks into your website, it’s not just your brand that gets compromised—it’s the private information of your customers as well. This means that keeping your website secure should be a top priority for their sake as well as yours.

A few basic precautions to protect your site from hacking attempts include:

  • Use strong, unique passwords.
  • Enable two-factor authentication.
  • Install SSL certification.
  • Use ReCAPTCHA on forms.
  • Keep WordPress and plugins up to date.

Here’s a final tip: If you’re getting work on your website done, look for people who understand the basics of website security and follow best practices. Your website is the online face of your business. Work with people who care about protecting it as much as you do.

Published 01/31/20 by Laura Lynch