Website defacement is a form of cyber-attack where hackers drastically alter the visual appearance of a website or Web page. It can be compared to vandals messing up public walls or buildings with unwanted graffiti.

Web defacement is mostly done for ideological reasons. Hacktivists deface the websites of companies or organizations they accuse of social or political wrongdoing. They block access to the pages and replace their original content with a statement that strongly proclaims their beliefs and demands.

The attack is also used to make money such as when hackers deface a website during the course of a ransomware attack.

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Hackers would sometimes deface websites just for the thrill of it. At times, the act may be politically motivated.

The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was among the growing list of victims of website defacement. In January 2020, pro-Iran hacktivists hijacked its website and displayed a picture of a beaten-up President Donald Trump.

Another highly publicized example took place in 2008. A Turkish group called “NetDevilz” defaced the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) website by posting the following message on the site, which was live for about 20 minutes before the authority regained control of its domain:

“You think that you control the domains, but you don’t! Everybody knows wrong. We control the domains including ICANN! Don’t you believe us? haha 🙂

(Lovable Turkish hackers group)”

Methods Hackers Use to Compromise Websites

Hackers can quickly take over a website’s control panel if they want to, especially if its owner has lax security practices. Through phishing emails, nefarious actors can send users a link that redirects to a dangerous site they control. That can lead to the download of malicious programs onto the visitor’s computer, allowing the attackers to steal the user’s credentials or remotely control the affected device.

Domain Name System (DNS) hijacking also paves the way for criminals to deface a site. As the so-called “phonebook of the Internet,” the DNS converts IP addresses into human-readable domain names. The system’s design, unfortunately, makes it prone to hacking, which is why DNS records need to point to the right destinations. Misconfigured domain records can be quickly taken over by a hacker. All hackers need is to find a dangling domain to carry out DNS-based attacks, including website defacement.

How to Determine If Your Website Is Getting Defaced

Website owners and system administrators can check if their websites are at risk of defacement. With the aid of advanced cybersecurity tools, they can watch out for attack entry points, such as spam emails and malware. Users can also install a variety of cybersecurity solutions on their servers to monitor visitors. They can also rely on these tools to determine when unauthorized users make changes to their site content or records.

Trivia

Did you know that the Canadian Internet service provider (ISP) dlcwest[.]com was one of the first website defacement victims? Its website was hacked in 1995 to show a graphic with the caption “You’ve been hacked MOFO.”