What Are the Signs a Website Has Been Hacked?


When your website is hacked, a number of signs can act as proof. You may notice a shift in your web performance, web traffic, broken code, or even a change in content. Regardless of the host, every website has the possibility of being hacked if...

Author:James Fleming & Ian Musyoka
Category: Software



If you own a business, you likely depend a lot on your website. From eCommerce to marketing,  your website is the backbone of your transactions and all the things in between. Without its help, you could face a lot of setbacks. Nevertheless, many business websites are left vulnerable to attacks every day. A firewall for your web server is not enough to protect your site. 

When your website is hacked, a number of signs can act as proof. You may notice a shift in your web performance, web traffic, broken code, or even a change in content. Regardless of the host, every website has the possibility of being hacked if the correct security measures are not adhered to. Viruses, spyware, and other types of malware can be placed in a site and put the users at risk. Every day, millions of sites are scanned looking for malware. If your site is detected with it, it will be flagged as a potential risk for visitors. The site may also have a warning placed on it, and the warning will also be shared to all Google products. 

If you own a site, being hacked is a disaster for your business. Apart from ruining your business profits, it will also have a negative effect on your search rankings, damage your reputation, and get your site shut down. Taking the necessary measures to ensure website protection is very important. In this article, I will give you a quick guide to help you know when a site has been hacked. 

Signs of Website Hacking

1. The Red Screen of Death

What Are the Signs a Website Has Been Hacked?

This is probably the most obvious sign that a website has been hacked. You may see a red screen with an alert ‘Reported Attack Page!’ or ‘Danger Malware Ahead.’ If you visit a site and this screen appears instead of the actual site, it is infected. Do not attempt to continue accessing the site after this. Some other messages that you might see in the red screen of death include: 

  • Suspected malware site
  • The website ahead is infected
  • This site has been flagged as unsafe
  • Website request forgery
  • This site is hacked

According to Google, the false positive rate of such warnings are significantly low, therefore, it is likely that there is something fishy about the site you want to visit. 

2. Suspicious Downloads

If you visit a site and a download immediately executes itself, that is a clear sign that the website has been compromised. It should be a written rule among Internet users that if you did not look for something, do not download or install it. This also applies to all Internet-related downloads. If you did not give a program the permission to download, be assured that it is malicious. A website that is automatically executing downloads is likely to be hacked. 

3. A Disabled Website

Before a hosting website decides to disable a website, it must receive a report alert from their automated tools, from site visitors, or from outsourced automated systems that your website has been hacked. Whatever the case, one of the immediate course of action is to disable the site. Based on the policy of some of the hosting companies, a hosting account or hosting server should immediately be formatted. This step is crucial to discourage the infection from spreading, which may proceed to infect other customers after the site switched off. For those who own websites, this is a good reason to back up your site often. 

4. Slow Speed and Error Messages

The speed of a website could be determined by a number of things but this does not mean that you should rule out hacking. If a cybercriminal is using your site to send spam, it could lead to the reduced speed of sites hosted on it and the entire server. Hackers try to target a number of pages including payment, login, checkout and signup pages. If you are used to a site loading in 10 seconds and suddenly it takes 30+ seconds, it could be an indication that something is not right.

You may also start receiving error messages such as ‘The connection is timed out’ and ‘The server at XXXX is taking too long to respond.’ Are you receiving any errors when you try to submit forms? Are the pages that are loading missing some content? When cybercriminals hack into a website, it can lead to the intentional or unintentional breaking of code. This may result in errors on the page. 

5. A Warning Message from Google Search Console

It was previously referred to as Google webmaster tools. If you are a website owner, Google search console is a tool that should be in your Arsenal. Not only does it give you a lot of information about your site, it also provides a lot of tools to help check the performance of the site. Google search console will give you information on queries and keywords that to bring traffic to your site in addition to rich search results earned by your site’s content. If you have yours already set up, go to the ‘Security Issues’ panel and look for any warning messages. You will know whether your site is infected or not. 

6. Suspicious Website and Server Log Activities

Another advanced way of detecting whether your website has been hacked is by using your server logs. On most occasions, you will notice a familiar IP address visiting a page repeatedly over days or even weeks. You may also notice an unrecognized page existing in your logs being visited by different IP addresses. By keeping a constant review of your server logs, you will notice an indicator to give you an early warning sign of hacking attacks on your website. 

Methods Used to Compromise Websites

Unethical hacking is illegal. However, cybercriminals use it to access unauthorized information, exploit loopholes, and modify the features of a system. In our current time where the virtual world reigns supreme, hacking is a good avenue used by cybercriminals to access medical information, access to email account details, credit card details, and other personal information. Therefore, it is important to know some of the methods they use to gain unauthorized access.

1. Keyloggers

It is also known as keyboard capturing. A keylogger is a type of program that records the strokes and key sequences made by the keyboard into a file located on your device. This could even contain details about your personal IDs and passwords. It can either be hardware or software. Hardware devices normally target electromagnetic emissions, keyboards, and smartphone sensors to mention a few. On the other hand, software-based keyloggers aim for installed programs. 

2. Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping is a passive attack in nature unlike other types of attack. This is because a hacker only wants to monitor the networks and computer systems in order to get unwanted information. The motive is purely to get some information without being identified, not to harm the system. These types of attacks target emails, phone calls, web browsing, instant messaging services, and other modes of communication. 

What Are the Signs a Website Has Been Hacked?

3. Bait and Switch

For such an attack to take place, a cybercriminal may decide to buy advertising space on a website. Later on, a user might click on the ad and get redirected to a malware-infected page. This way, they can further extend their exploits by installing adware and other malware on your computer. The ads also look attractive in order to convince the user to click on them. In the event that you click on the link, the hacker will run a malicious program disguised as an authentic one, which further convinces the victim to install it. The moment it is installed, the hacker attains unprivileged access to your device. 

4. Denial of Service (DDoS\DoS)

A DDoS attack is used to take down a server or site by overpowering it with huge amounts of traffic to prevent it from processing requests adequately in real-time. This is a popular technique used to flood targeted devices with a large number of requests so that the resources are overwhelmed. This way, the actual requests are restricted from being fulfilled. DDoS attacks can even be deployed by zombie computers and botnets whose main aim is to flood a system with tons of request packets. 

Proactive Hacking Detection Methods

If you own a site, it is important to detect a hack before your customers or Google notice. This is important in so many ways; apart from keeping your reputation in check, you will be able to stop the damage before it starts or even gets worse. 

1. Source Code Scanner

To outside visitors, most infections are not visible and well hidden. To detect if your site has been compromised, employ a source code malware scanner. A good example is Wordfence and Quttera. By inspecting your source code, a malware scanner can detect malware patterns and alert you of malware. 

2. Monitor Site Traffic

A hacked site sees a suspicious spike in their traffic. If you notice this, you should immediately scan your source code and make sure that your website is safe. A traffic spike could be an indication that your site is being used for a spamvertizing campaign. Some site monitoring tools have live traffic features and charts with data on bandwidth usage and/or traffic. A good example is Wordfence and Google Analytics. 

3. Visit Your Site Often

If you notice strange texts on your site or any weird changes, immediately scan your site to ensure you are not infected. Another common sign that a site has been infected is PHP errors. These often appear at the top of the webpage. For sanity’s sake, make an attempt to visit your website’s own pages at least twice a day. 

Conclusion

A number of signs may be an indicator that your site is hacked. You may notice a spike in your web traffic, broken code, changed web content, or a change in web performance. If the correct security measures are not adhered to, any website or server can easily be hacked. If a site is hacked, it can destroy the reputation of the business, damage the site rankings and possibly be shut down. It is important to detect a hack before Google or any of your customers do.