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7 Common Ways Websites Are Hacked

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All websites are popular targets for cybercriminals. Social media outlets, online retailers, file-sharing services, and various other kinds of online services can be compromised for data theft, remote access, or malware distribution. But how exactly is this done? What methods do cybercriminals use to infiltrate websites?


1. Brute Force Attacks

laptop with green matrix code on screen

Brute force attacks involve the use of a trial-and-error method via cryptography which allows hackers to force their way into a site. Cryptography allows for data to be stored safely, but also involves the process of code solving, and it’s this element that cybercriminals are focused on. Using cryptography, a hacker can attempt to guess passwords, login credentials, and decryption keys. This method can even be used to find hidden web pages.

If a given password is particularly simple, and therefore weak, it can take mere minutes for an attacker to use brute force to crack it successfully. This is why it’s better to have more complex login credentials to make the cracking process that much harder.

2. Social Engineering

criminal using phishing hook to steal from laptop

Social engineering is a term that spans a wide range of cyberattacks, including phishing, pretexting, and baiting.

Phishing is a particularly popular form of cybercrime that involves the theft of data or the spread of malware via malicious links and attachments. So how does it work? Let’s say Anna gets an email from Instagram stating that she needs to log into her account for an important reason. Maybe she’s been mysteriously signed out or received some kind of suspension. The email will often state what the issue is, usually with a sense of urgency to expedite the scam.

In the email, Anna will be provided with a link that she’s told to click on to head to the login page. Here, she can enter her credentials to sign in. However, this is not the official Instagram login page, but a malicious phishing site designed to steal any data Anna enters. Once she provides her login credentials, the attacker can use them to log into her account and do with it whatever they wish.

Phishing scams are often used to hack financial accounts, social media, and corporate websites. For example, the attacker may target an employee of a given organization to steal their work credentials and access professional accounts.

3. SQL Injections

syringe containing green liquid

As the name suggests, SQL injections (SQLIs) allow cybercriminals to execute a malicious SQL command and compromise backend databases containing private information. Such attacks can be incredibly damaging and are worryingly popular.

There are three main kinds of SQL injections out there: blind, in-band, and out-of-band.

A blind SQL injection doesn’t give the attacker direct access to private data but does allow them to analyze certain details, such as HTTP responses, by asking the server true and false questions. This can give the attacker an idea of the server’s structure.

In-band SQL injections are the most popular of the three kinds because they’re the easiest to carry out successfully. In this kind of attack, the threat actor will use the same channel of communication to execute the attack and retrieve the targeted data.

In out-of-band SQL injection attacks, the attacker cannot use the same channel to launch and execute the crime. Instead, the server sends the targeted data to a physical endpoint device that the attacker has control of via HTTPS or DNS requests.

4. Keyloggers and Spyware

close up shot of mac keyboard

Using a keylogger, an attacker can log all the keystrokes made on an infected device or server. It is a kind of monitoring software program that’s very popular in data theft. For example, if someone enters their payment card details when a keylogger is active, the malicious operator will be able to use that data to spend money without the card owner’s permission. In terms of websites, the attacker may be able to harbor the credentials needed to log in and gain access by monitoring a website admin with a keylogger.

Keyloggers are a kind of spyware, and spyware itself can come in many forms, including adware and Trojans.

5. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

black and white photo of man signalling hush

In a Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack, a malicious actor eavesdrops on private sessions. The attacker will place themselves between a user and an application to access valuable data which they can use to their advantage. Alternatively, the attacker may pretend to be a legitimate party instead of simply eavesdropping.

Because a lot of this intercepted data may be encrypted via an SSL or TLS connection, the attacker will then need to find a way to break this connection in order to make said data interpretable. If the malicious actor manages to make this data readable, say through SSL stripping, they can use it to hack websites, accounts, applications, and more.

6. Remote Code Execution

lines of code on computer screen

The term Remote Code Execution (RCE) is pretty self-explanatory. It involves the execution of malicious computer code from a remote location via a security vulnerability. Remote code execution can be carried out via a local network or over the internet. This allows the attacker to infiltrate the targeted device without having physical access to it.

By exploiting an RCE vulnerability, an attacker can steal sensitive data and perform unauthorized functions on a victim’s computer. This kind of attack can have severe consequences, which is why RCE vulnerabilities are (or at least should be) taken very seriously.

7. Third-Party Exploits

app icons on blue grid screen

Third-party vendors are used by thousands of companies worldwide, especially in the digital realm. Many applications serve as third parties to online businesses, be it to process payments, authenticate logins, or provide security tools. But third-party vendors can be exploited to access their client websites.

If a third-party vendor has some kind of security vulnerability, such as a bug, attackers can take advantage of that. Some third-party applications and services have very lackluster security measures, meaning they’re an open door to hackers. Through this, a website’s sensitive data can become exposed to the attacker for retrieval. Even if the website employs high-end security features, its use of third-party vendors can still act as a weak spot.

Hackers Can Exploit Websites in Various Ways

Unfortunately, websites and accounts are still exposed to attacks, even when we maintain the correct security measures. As cybercriminals develop their methods, it becomes harder to pick up on the red flags and stop an attack in its tracks. But it’s important to be aware of the tactics cybercriminals use, and employ the correct security practices to protect yourself as much as possible.

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