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Could a hacker really kill your website … and your business?

By John - March 21, 2012

When you’re dealing with the day-to-day issues of running a website (not to mention running a business), worrying about security can come way down your list of priorities. And that’s understandable: if your website’s never been hacked or attacked, it’s hard to grasp quite how much damage it can cause.

After all, why would hackers target your site at all with so many higher-profile targets out there? Big brands like Lush and Adidas, media outlets like The Sun and Gawker and some less salubrious sites have all come under attack in recent memory.

Website hackers turn to smaller targets

However, online criminals are increasingly turning towards smaller businesses. With fewer resources to dedicate to online security, they’re easy targets, as the Wall Street Journal article has explained:

Hacking at small businesses “is a prolific problem,” says Dean Kinsman, a special agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s cyber division, which has more than 400 active investigations into these crimes. “It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.”

And don’t let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security because that article focuses on US websites. Website hackers don’t have to respect national borders. They can go wherever the easiest targets are.

Some hackers do it for fun or to cause disruption. Others do it just to prove they can. But nowadays, many have more sinister motives.

Quite simply, there’s serious money to be made in website hacking. From stealing credit card details to committing business identity theft to harvesting names and addresses to sell to spammers, all too often hacking is motivated by hard profit.

The damage website hackers can cause

If you’re still not convinced that protecting your website should be higher up your list of priorities, it’s worth taking a minute to understand the sort of consequences you could face if a website hacker gained unauthorised access to some or all of your website files:

  1. Lost business is the most obvious and immediate problem. If your online shopping site gets compromised you might have to suspend trading or close the site altogether. But simply having to divert resources into securing a hacked website will take you away from other tasks.
  2. Your reputation can take a beating if word gets out that your site has been hacked. It takes a long time to rebuild trust with existing and potential customers and suppliers. Sure, its hard to quantify that damage, but it can be very significant.
  3. You could lose vital data too. If you don’t regularly backup your customer list, a hacker could destroy it in a few seconds. That would mean losing the details of hundreds or maybe thousands of happy customers who’d buy from you again if only you got in touch.
  4. Search engines might penalise your website. Search engines like Google actively blacklist hacked websites to avoid them causing harm to internet users. But it can take a while to get a blacklisting lifted – research has found found the average length of a blacklisting is 13 days – meaning you’re in real trouble if you rely on search engines for traffic.
  5. Fixing things is a total headache. Trust us on this one. It takes real time and effort to put right a hacked site – often the only safe thing to do is to delete everything and start again. It takes time and – if you need to bring in an external supplier – costs money.

If it’s not quite registered with you yet, suffering from a website hacking attack can cause significant disruption. If you’re relying on your website to maintain your business cash flow, a serious incident can cripple or even destroy your business.

If you’re not already thinking about website security, it’s about time you did: