6 Common Reasons Why Customers Get Hacked

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6 Common Reasons Why Customers Get Hacked

6 Common Reasons Why Customers Get Hacked

Website hacks remain an ever-present threat, with over 1 million sites attacked daily. Yet most incidents stem from common oversights website owners can control. This article explores the top vulnerabilities frequently exploited by hackers to infiltrate sites undetected, including outdated software, weak passwords, social engineering tricks, malware infections, automated bots, and insecure hosting. Packed with real-world case studies and actionable precautions empowering readers to close dangerous security gaps, it provides invaluable perspective helping websites lock the front door against persistent digital threats hunting for openings. 

Common Security Gaps in Website Security:

Security Gap Description Prevention Measures
Outdated Software and Systems Neglecting updates for CMS and plugins leads to unpatched vulnerabilities. Regular, automated updates; monitoring for compliance.
Weak Passwords Simple, reused passwords are easy targets for brute force and other attacks. Strong password policies; Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA); password managers.
Phishing and Social Engineering Deceptive tactics to gain sensitive information or access credentials. Staff training; email verification; tech tools like DMARC and spam filters.
Malware Various forms like viruses, worms, and Trojans infiltrate systems. Antivirus software; web application firewalls; regular manual scans.
Automated Bots Malicious scripts for mass-scale attacks like DDoS, scraping, and fraud. Traffic pattern analysis; CAPTCHAs; web application firewalls; rate limiting.
Insecure Web Hosting Shared hosting vulnerabilities, weak security controls, limited support. Secure hosting solutions with robust security features and reliable backups.

1. The Perils of Outdated Software and Systems

Risks of Outdated CMS and Plugins

Outdated content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla and unused plugins can leave websites vulnerable to attacks. These systems often contain unpatched security flaws that hackers can exploit to break in, especially if updates are neglected over long periods. 

For example, the popular WordPress CMS powers over 30% of all websites, yet many fail to upgrade older installations. This leads to preventable security incidents – in 2021, 97% of compromised WordPress sites were running outdated versions. 

Outdated plugins also pose major risks, like in the case of the Zero Day exploit in 2015 which affected over 1 million WordPress sites before being patched. Regular CMS and plugin updates are thus critical to stay ahead of emerging threats targeting known vulnerabilities in legacy software.

The Importance of Regular Software Updates

Installing timely software updates is one of the most effective ways to keep hacks at bay. Updates patch security holes, fix bugs, and improve functionality in apps and operating systems. 

Each passing day increases exposure to new threats searching for openings, so closing these gaps quickly is key. Yet organizations often delay or avoid updates due to perceived disruption, compatibility issues, or lack of resources and testing. 

This negligent stance leads to preventable breaches down the road. Mandating regular, automated updates across all systems, even minor point releases containing vital security enhancements greatly reduces these risks. Establishing such updated protocols and monitoring systems for compliance is essential today.

Case Studies of Hacks Due to Outdated Systems

High-profile hacking incidents often result directly from failure to patch known flaws promptly. In 2017, the catastrophic Equifax breach exposing data of 143 million customers globally stemmed from an unpatched vulnerability in Apache Struts dating back to March of that year. The outdated web framework enabled hackers to steal customer information over months, despite warnings and a fixed update being available for months before detection.

Similarly, the 2014 eBay hack compromised 145 million user records resulting from neglected updates to servers and apps over the years. Attackers could enter their network through compromised employee logins, traversing internal systems with outdated security far too easily. Had robust updating practices been followed, hardened systems would have detected the intruders much sooner.

Such case studies showcase that while hacking tools and techniques constantly evolve, most successful attacks target the lowest-hanging fruit – outdated technology full of fixed flaws. Regular system updates are thus the most basic yet critical best practice in modern cybersecurity. Technical solutions alone cannot protect ageing technology stacks from the patient and persistent threats. Organizations must invest in updating protocols, testing resources, and cultural change around software lifecycle management to manage attack surfaces proactively.

Case Studies of Hacks Due to Security Gaps:

Security Gap Incident Impact Key Lesson
Outdated Software Equifax Breach (2017) Data of 143 million customers exposed. Importance of timely patching known vulnerabilities.
Weak Passwords iCloud Celebrity Photo Hack (2014) Celebrities’ private photos leaked. Need for strong passwords and better authentication systems.
Phishing Quora Breach (2018) 100 million users’ data exposed. Robust verification and access controls are crucial.
Malware Target Retailer Breach (2013) 40 million payment card details leaked. Necessity of internal security tools and monitoring.
Automated Bots Dyn DNS DDoS Attack (2016) Major sites like Twitter and Netflix downed. Importance of securing IoT devices and botnet mitigation.
Insecure Hosting JBS Ransomware Attack (2021) Disruption in North American operations. Significance of secure hosting environments and proactive security measures.

2. Weak Passwords: A Gateway for Hackers

Common Password Vulnerabilities

Using weak passwords remains one of the easiest vectors for hackers to compromise accounts and systems. Common password-related mistakes like using simple dictionary words, default logins, and repeating the same credentials across multiple sites hand over the keys to the kingdom. 

Brute force attacks can churn through lists of common terms to crack weak passwords in hours or minutes. Even more complex passwords fail against rainbow table attacks referencing databases of leaked hashes. 

Password spray attacks also exploit users’ tendency to reuse the same passwords by trying a single common password against many accounts. Such vulnerabilities allow intruders’ initial access to perpetrate wider damage through compromised accounts.

Implementing Strong Password Policies

Organizations can close simple password loopholes through strong policies and controls. Mandating password complexity standards prevents easily guessed credentials. Forcing regular password changes also reduces exposure to inevitable leaks. 

Strict login attempt thresholds foil brute force attacks. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) blocks access with stolen passwords alone, while password managers encourage unique, complex passwords for each account. 

Security awareness further helps users understand risks and follow best practices themselves. Scandinavian bank Nordea implemented such comprehensive policies and saw online banking fraud drop by around 90% as a result.

Real-Life Incidents of Hacks Due to Weak Passwords

High-profile breaches routinely stem from weak passwords guarding sensitive systems and data. In 2014, hackers leveraged lists of common passwords and Apple ID reset schemes to access celebrities’ iCloud accounts. They obtained nude photos and videos to leak online in the iCloud Celebrity Photo Hack scandal. Aside from public embarrassment, such incidents highlight password weaknesses even at major tech providers.

Similarly, in 2021 threat actors exploited weak authentication protections in LinkedIn to scrape and sell data of over 700 million users online. The sheer scale of this breach exacerbated by simple password systems underscores the need for multifactor controls before access to sensitive platforms and APIs. Investing in strong identity and access management is non-negotiable for modern applications. Legacy thinking around passwords being sufficient is dangerous without more robust mechanisms to verify identity and manage privileged access.

While passwords may be convenient, depending solely on them leaves site owners and users exposed to even basic attacks. Implementing strong policies, upgrading authentication mechanisms, using managers, and training personnel reduces this expansive digital attack surface significantly. Blending these technical and human controls provides layered security able to effectively repel most password-focused hacking attempts.

3. The Threat of Phishing and Social Engineering

Understanding Phishing Techniques

Phishing employs social engineering tricks to manipulate victims into handing over sensitive information or access credentials. Tactics like spoofed emails pretending to be trusted sources are common phishing techniques. 

Spear phishing targets specific individuals with personalized messages to improve credibility. Scam emails often urge urgent action to encourage mistakes or feature malicious attachments or links that install malware. Well-crafted phishing emails can fool even savvy users through emotional triggers like curiosity, fear, or a sense of obligation. 

Attackers can then use compromised accounts or malware to traverse systems and escalate privileges. Website admins are prime targets for such deception, providing keys to the entire site infrastructure.

Preventing Phishing Attacks

While clever social engineering schemes grow more sophisticated, education and awareness provide a strong defence. Training staff to identify subtle email anomalies like odd links, domains, logos, and urgency cues makes them less prone to manipulation. 

Instilling a culture of verifying unexpected messages before acting limits risk. Tech tools like DMARC, spam filters, link checkers, and email authentication help stop phishing attempts upstream.  Mandating strong two-factor authentication also ensures attackers cannot capitalize on stolen passwords alone. Keeping software patched and restricting excessive user permissions further hampers damage from potential infections. 

Promoting transparency around past incidents and response practices builds confidence in internal security. With vigilance and some precaution, organizations can defend against even advanced phishing efforts.

Real-Life Incidents of Hacks Due to Phishing

Too often website owners underestimate phishing risks until disaster strikes. In 2018, Quora suffered a breach exposing 100 million users’ data after engineers were socially engineered into compromising internal systems. Without robust verification and access controls to halt unauthorized changes, the site saw private content made public and user data stolen for months undetected.

Similarly, in the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s API access settings allowed external developers excessive privileges without oversight. Attackers leveraged quiz apps’ permission to collect friend data to scrape profiles of 87 million unwitting Facebook users for psychological profiling and political ad targeting by Cambridge Analytica.

Both incidents underline the expansive damage from phishing just one admin or engineer without enough checkpoints. Multi-layered access controls, monitoring, verification procedures, and staff training help prevent blind spots attackers rely on to infiltrate trusted networks through deception alone.

4. The Role of Malware in Website Hacking

Types of Malware Exploited by Hackers

Hackers leverage various forms of malware to infiltrate networks and websites. Viruses self-replicate through systems, while worms spread themselves automatically through networks. Trojans masquerade as valid programs to trick users, allowing remote access. 

Spyware and adware covertly extract data. Rootkits burrow administrative access. Keyloggers record keystrokes such as passwords. Together, these threats infiltrate websites through unpatched vulnerabilities or deceit, extracting data, destroying files, slowing servers with crypto-jacking scripts, and more. 

Without robust scanning tools and filters, malware can dismantle site security from within while avoiding detection.

Protecting Your Website from Malware

Website owners can harden defences against malware using layers of security tools and practices:

  • Web application firewalls block known attacks and anomalies
  • Antivirus software scans uploads and executes threat detection routines
  • File integrity monitoring flags unauthorized changes
  • Rate-limiting defences obstruct malicious bots
  • Strong access controls limit privilege escalation
  • Security plugins extend platforms with protective measures
  • Regular manual scans validate all defences

Training staff in secure web practices is equally key. Simple awareness around phishing links, questionable downloads, and hygiene around permissions can prevent many attacks. Promoting a culture focused on security and monitoring will further help site integrity against rapidly evolving malware threats.

Real-Life Incidents of Hacks Involving Malware

Large-scale data breaches often feature malware as the attack vector, highlighting website security gaps. In 2013, the Target retailer breach resulted in 40 million payment card details leaked after hackers accessed its payment network using malware on a misconfigured internal system. The entry point remained undetected for weeks despite highlighting vulnerabilities for the multi-month malware campaign stealing customer data.

The 2014 UCLA Health data breach also stemmed from malware installed through a vulnerable database server, exposing the personal and medical data of 4.5 million patients over weeks. Aside from reputational damage and legal liabilities, UCLA had to undertake considerable efforts to trace and prevent the infection from spreading.

Such incidents exemplify malware’s ability to penetrate deep into trusted networks unnoticed over extended periods when unchecked by robust internal security tools, access controls, and monitoring. Website owners cannot depend solely on perimeter defenses given the craftiness of modern malware attacks. Constant vigilance of internal systems is essential.

5. Automated Bots and Their Role in Website Hacking

Understanding Automated Bot Attacks

Automated bots refer to malicious scripts or software designed to scan, probe, and attack systems rapidly without human intervention. Attackers employ botnets, networks of compromised devices infected with bot malware to conduct mass-scale website hacking at unprecedented speeds. 

Common bot-led tactics include scraping content, account takeovers through credential stuffing, carding fraud using stolen payment data, distributed denial of service (DDoS) floods overwhelming sites by consuming bandwidth, spidering infrastructure for vulnerabilities, ad fraud through fake clicks, and more. 

Such attacks allow malicious actors to make money or further infiltration objectives indirectly. Without proper bot detection and mitigation, sites suffer data loss, performance issues, reputational damage, and legal penalties resulting from bots raiding vulnerabilities.

Identifying and Mitigating Bot Attacks

While sophisticated bots mimic human patterns ever more closely, sites can employ some key defences:

  • Analyze traffic patterns to uncover non-human behaviour
  • Implement CAPTCHAs, reCAPTCHAs, or other challenges verifying users
  • Use web application firewalls to filter known bot IP addresses and block common scripts
  • Enable rate-limiting mechanisms on forms and pages prone to scripts
  • Continuously patch and upgrade apps and plugins to close vulnerabilities
  • Monitor server loads to identify resource strain from bots

However, the most effective approach blends advanced security controls with vigilant staff inspecting system integrity, logs, anomalies, etc. Complacency around bot threats invites disaster.

Examples of Bot-Induced Website Hacks

Prominent botnet strikes affirm the expanding scale and threat automated attackers pose. The sweeping 2016 Dyn DNS DDoS attack leveraged the potent Mirai botnet of compromised IoT devices to overwhelm infrastructure, downing major sites including Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, and CNN. The attack exploited simple hard-coded device passwords to build a 100,000+ node botnet flooding at 1.2Tbps, highlighting severe gaps securing underlying internet systems from endless bot probes.

In 2018, a massive DDoS assault crashed GitHub servers with the highest known traffic volume ever recorded – 1.3Tbps. The Memcached reflection attack relied on unprotected Memcached databases to amplify small requests into an epic data flood. The incident showcased both the lack of IoT device security and botnet controllers capitalizing on this low-hanging fruit with ease.

Such attacks will only grow more extreme as billions of insecure devices connect online unless fundamental improvements are made to secure software supply chains and infrastructure. Website owners too must implement proportionate controls and monitoring to face this automated threat landscape.

6. Insecure Web Hosting and Its Implications

Risks Associated with Insecure Hosting

Choosing an unreliable or insecure web host introduces unnecessary risk for websites through factors like:

  • Shared Hosting Vulnerabilities: Budget hosts often use shared infrastructure exposed to noisy neighbours, with attacks on one site impacting all others on the same server.
  • Weak Security Controls: Low-quality hosting environments tend to lack robust security tools like WAFs, VPNs, backups, and encryption that are now hosting standards.
  • Limited Support: Cheaper hosts provide little assistance with security management, monitoring, threat detection, and incident response. Limited in-house expertise also hinders risk awareness.
  • Non-Compliance: Smaller hosting providers may lack formal compliance with security standards like ISO 27001 or even basic norms around security best practices.

Such gaps leave sites defenceless against even common threats, with website owners often realizing the implications once serious incidents occur.

Choosing a Secure Hosting Solution

Evaluating hosting environments on security capabilities minimizes exposure to ubiquitous cyber threats:

  • Ask About Security Features: Specifically probe components like firewalls, VPN accessibility, encryption protocols, resilience against DDoS attacks, and compliance with recognized security standards.
  • Review Incident History: Ask about recent attacks experienced by the provider, how they responded, and what improvements were implemented afterwards. Transparency here builds trust.
  • Validate Backups and Redundancies: Site reliability features like reliable backups across regions, load balancing, auto-scaling capabilities, and multi-layered redundancies prevent severe downtime.
  • Check Responsiveness SLOs: While unseen, prompt human assistance is vital when issues inevitably occur, especially regarding security. Poorly staffed providers fail here.

Taking time to validate such parameters helps find hosting services that fit both budget and security needs.

Case Studies of Hacks Due to Insecure Hosting

Hacking incidents often directly tie back to hosting environment oversights giving attackers easy initial access. The high-profile 2021 JBS ransomware attack was traced back to an unsecured remote access server in a Canadian facility the Brazil-based company had acquired. Lateral movement thereafter compromised its broader North American operations.

Similarly, the 2021 Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack leveraged a legacy VPN system to enter its infrastructure. Despite early warnings, Colonial failed to act on known vulnerabilities in their segmentation and authentication controls that enabled system-wide encryption. The fuel transport disruptions along the US East Coast for days after emphasized glaring oversights.

Both cases underscore security gaps that likely persisted unchecked for long periods beforehand. Robust hosting environments would have detected and closed such openings using various protocols standard in mature providers. Yet, ownership infinitives often focus excessively on cost over security in hosting selections. Suffering incidents like those above generally shift mindsets to balance both priorities more judiciously.