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November 12th, 2013

Top 3 types of hacks against small websites

This question, from a small-site owner with tens or hundreds of visitors per day, is an unfortunate but all too familiar one.

One morning I started getting emails from my customers complaining that their antivirus reported my site as infected and won’t let them in. It must be some mistake because I don’t have an e-shop. There is just a contact form and information for customers. Is it possible that someone is attacking my business?

codeAThe answer, in most cases is, “You became part of an automatized network which leads your users to an Exploit Kit.” (explanation below)

Why do hackers attack small webpages when there are larger targets?

Small websites have a very low frequency of updates, and the possibility that somebody would find and fix malicious code is almost non-existent, which make them attractive targets to hackers. Hackers seek unpatched pages based on open-source solutions because they can attack them quickly and easily. These pages are later used for sorting users – by those who have vulnerable applications on their computer and by those who cannot be attacked – or simply to hide their true identity. Attackers close “the door” behind them by patching the vulnerability that leads them in and simultaneously create another backdoor, only for them, so the page does not show as suspicious when tested for vulnerabilities.

In general, there are three common types of hacking events a web administrator could encounter:

1. Defacement

This type is recognizable on the first look because the site has been changed to display a message from hackers showing off their skills and mocking the web administrator. This is usually a less harmful attack, and although your page was deleted, you don’t have any financial loss because the motivation for this attack was to show the lack of security on your pages and get credit from other hackers. People which make these attacks usually follow the rule, Don’t learn to hack, hack to learn.

For example, there are PHP shells that lets you select the method and reason of defacement and post it online.  The image below shows part of a PHP-shell that sends statistics.

phpshellB

shellstatAccording to statistics from Zone-H, there were 1.5 million sites defaced during 2010, and the screenshot to the right shows the reasons for the attacks. A million and half seems like big number, but these are only documented attacks and the actual number would be much higher.

During the last few years, defacement has been used to display political or ethical opinions by attacking sites with lots of daily visitors. This is turn attracts media and gets as much attention as possible. Even antivirus companies are not spared, as you can read in a recent article about the hack against AVAST.

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