Can Hackers Ruin Your Online Reputation?
Remember earlier this month when the Fox News website went temporarily nuts? How about when PBS’s website was changed to feature the top story “Tupac still alive in New Zealand?” What about earlier this year when Burger King’s Twitter account got hacked?
It seems like every few months there’s a new case of high-profile hacking. Even in the case of Fox News, which claimed an “internal production problem” during routine site maintenance, a single misstep in security and oversight made it the temporary laughingstock of the internet. All it takes is one weak point — a cracked password, a backdoor vulnerability, a website glitch — and your company’s brand is suddenly out of your control.
Luckily for Fox, PBS, and Burger King, these trusted brands are unlikely to suffer any permanent reputation damage. How about you? For many small businesses, a single mistake is enough to sink them permanently.
Many hacks are invisible to the outside observer
Consider the recent WordPress Pharma Hack, which affected many businesses that had custom WordPress.org websites. This hack was designed to remain invisible, both by disguising its code to make it difficult to locate, and also by only appearing via search engine. When you pull up your company’s website, it looks great. When a potential customer finds you via Google, your website turns into a pharmaceutical ad. Do you have any idea you just lost a customer? Probably not. Is your potential customer going to trust your brand in the future? Absolutely not.
The Pharma Hack isn’t the only hack that’s designed to be invisible to the website owner. Other hackers exploit vulnerabilities and then lie in wait, choosing to eschew basic games like turning your website into a pharmaceutical ad in favor of tracking your — and your customers’ — valuable personal information.
Social networks make businesses even more vulnerable to hackers
Even if your website is completely secure, hackers still have access to your brand via social networking programs. More and more threats are coming in through social networking systems such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. If your business’s Twitter password got compromised through a twishing attack, would you know? What would you do if you woke up to find your Facebook account spamming your fans, or promoting incendiary material? At best, you’ll become that day’s internet joke; at worst, you’ll lose all of the brand loyalty you’ve worked so hard to gain.
Prevention requires constant vigilance
How do you stop hackers from turning your business into their own personal playground? If PBS and Burger King can’t prevent hackers, how can you? Well, you start with a good defense: an internet security program like Trend Micro, a well-built website hosted on a secure server, additional plugins such as Akismet to deflect spam comments and potentially malicious links. (Nothing says “don’t take my brand seriously” like a blog section where all the comments are spammers chatting about someone’s sister’s friend making $600 an hour working online.)
Then, you apply constant vigilance. If your business is large enough, hire an IT team to monitor your server or your website for unusual usage spikes. (Many hackers live overseas, meaning that a savvy IT team is able to notice that people are manipulating your website during odd hours.) You keep track of the latest hacks, the latest phishing threats, and the latest social networking compromises, so you can avoid them. You also develop a plan for contacting customers and clients if you do become hacked, to explain the situation, reassure them that their personal information is safe, and maintain the integrity of your brand.
Will hackers continue to find ways of sneaking onto websites? Undoubtedly. But you’re the only one who can make sure they don’t destroy your business. Don’t let the hackers take control; whether or not your site gets hacked, you are always responsible for your business’s online reputation.