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Oops, You've Been Hacked! 6 December 2001 Edition
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What do you do if you find that your, or your customer's websites have been hacked?

While it might be tempting to curses and swear, then hope that nobody has noticed -- that's probably not going to save the day.

Of course if you act very quickly, and have superb recovery systems in place, you might just get things back to normal before anyone notices -- but this is unlikely. Hackers tend to strike in the middle of the night when you and your support team are tucked away in their beds. Unfortunately the rest of the world is wide awake and probably spreading the word before you've even thrown the alarm clock across the room.

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Here are my tips to handling the situation, should you be faced with having your site, or sites you are responsible for, hacked.

First up -- if news has already gotten out -- don't bother denying it. If you say "no, we haven't been hacked" then the clever people will wonder if you can even recognise a hack when you see one and such a statement will reduce the credibility of any further claims you might make.

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    Secondly, remind yourself, your customers, and anyone else who is interested that there is no such thing as an "unhackable" website.

    If you've been hacked then you're in damned fine company. The New York Times, The Pentagon, Nasa, The FBI, Yahoo, and even Microsoft (on numerous occasions) have all fallen victim to hackers that have defaced their websites.

    The reality is that no matter how much time and effort you spend in shuring up your defenses against hackers, there's no guarantee that your (or anyone's) site won't get hit if you're unlucky enough to be the victim of a persistent and well-equipped cracker.

    Don't get me wrong -- of course you owe it to yourself and your customers to make absolutely sure that any website you administer is as bullet-proof as possible. All the available security patches should be applied, regular password qualification and updating regimes must be in place, and even the physical security of your installation should be considered.

    While it might seem like a total disaster that some pimple-faced geek-kid half a world away has turned your website into his own personal graffiti zone, such an event need not be a total loss.

    If your backup and contingency systems are up to scratch, you will have the chance to impress your customers by restoring things back to normal in a very efficient and professional manner.

    There's also the chance to get a good dose of free publicity.

    Tell the media how you were able to put things right in the blink of an eye (assuming this is the case) and make it clear that the attack has allowed you to further strengthen your defenses.

    When some websites operated by a local developer were hacked yesterday, I doubt that any other website operators or hosting companies were rubbing their hands with glee -- because they know that if the hackers had picked on their machines, they might have found themselves in the same boat.

    Remember -- even if all the known bugs in your OS and webserver are patched -- you don't know how many "yet to be discovered" security holes are lurking, just waiting to be exploited by some dork who wants to show off.

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