What is defacement?
Website defacement is the equivalent of drawing virtual graffiti on a website. An attacker must gain access to the website backend, at which point they will make cosmetic changes to the website, resulting in defacement.
How does defacement work?
Most defacements are motivated by a desire to spread a message, usually political. Hacktivists, an amalgamation of hackers and activists, are often behind such attacks.
Most attacks, although certainly not all, are directed towards websites that either carry a particular message the hacktivist does not agree with or websites associated with people who have been embroiled in some scandal.
Why are defacements dangerous?
Website defacement is not an attack, but rather the payload of an attack. As such, website defacement is not dangerous in and of itself from an IT security standpoint. Nevertheless, the impact of website defacement is very serious and can provide for operational danger.
One of the biggest costs of website defacement is loss of reputation. Website visitors and customers will be able to see your website defaced, which can lead to loss of reputation. This can be exuberated if the defacement features any type of inappropriate content.
Website defacement can also be very costly to repair. Aside from the changes to the aesthetics of the website, you will need to make sure that the attacker did not steal any data or make any other changes that might not be overwritten through a backup restore – such as installing a backdoor for continued access.
Defaced websites often end up on search engine black lists, losing their ranking in the Search Engine Result Pages. Getting off a blacklist is often a costly and time-consuming process. Regaining a position in the SERPs can also take a very long time.
How to protect your WordPress website from defacement
Since website defacement can be the result of different types of attacks, a comprehensive WordPress security policy is going to be your best bet to ensure all-around protection.
Protections such as WordPress 2FA and WordPress user activity logging can also help you make sure that your risks are lower to begin with while having a tracking system in place should things go awry.