The internet has brought with it amazing opportunities, but it also has a darker side and one of the biggest issues is anonymity. We all want the right to privacy online, but that same anonymity can also hide the actions of malicious people online.
If you are a small start-up and you’re competing in a niche area you may find your content under attack at some point. Without the resources of large, well-established businesses your options to counter it may be limited but there are some things you can do.
1. Data Theft
The theft of data is big business these days. The more complex our websites become, the more vulnerable they are. Sometimes attackers will try to hijack the data to ransom the business; other times they try to sell it online.
To counter this, you must ensure that your host server is configured correctly and that all patches are applied. It’s usually easier to rely on hosts with solid reputations as it is a highly technical field. All personal data should be encrypted. If data is stolen, you should contact the police as it is a criminal matter.
All sites ideally should be https:// rather than http for this reason as http:// is less secure.
2. Website Defacing
Sometimes it can be very difficult to detect when someone has changed content on your site. You need to do regular checks of each page. If you have a lot of content you can automate checking with scripts. Extreme version of website defacing are when an attacker takes your website offline and deletes all your files. While most hosts will do automated back-ups, you should always keep local copies too so that if this happens you can get back up and running as quickly as possible.
Anonymity tools like VPNs tend to hide the true identity of attackers so you may never know who is targeting you, so the best strategy is to focus on prevention and quick resolution. If you discover your content has been changed contact your host immediately as they may have server issues to resolve.
3. Content Theft
If you’ve created awesome content, it is not surprising that competitors will notice it. Some may be tempted to copy it. Not only is that malicious, it can also lead to your hard work being penalised in search results because duplicate content isn’t encouraged. Each time you update your content, it will get re-crawled by search bots but if the content is scraped before it is indexed it could be difficult to prove who the original author is.
The best course of action is to contact the host who is serving your content and ask them to remove it. You can use tools like BrandMentions to help you identify your content online. You should also request content removal from search engines like Google but they are so swamped by so many takedown notices under the DMCA that it’s unlikely you’ll get the resolution you want.
Content theft is also rife on social media e.g. Facebook and Instagram. A simple way to discourage content theft of any photo or video content is to apply a visually prominent watermark with copyright details to the images you use before you publish them.
4. Negative Reviews
Some people love to hate so there’s no shortage of negative reviews or spam comments promoting other businesses or products including those of dubious nature e.g. links to porn sites or online pharmaceutical sales. If someone posts these on your own site you can just remove them, or better still you can change your settings so that all comments have to be moderated or approved before going live.
But negative reviews and spam comments can become a problem when they are on a site owned by a third party e.g. TripAdvisor, Facebook etc. Even though you have a Facebook page for your business, it is important to note that Facebook still owns the platform so you cannot remove negative reviews on there. You can, however, report the review if it is, clearly malicious (e.g. fake reviews) or features racist, vulgar language etc.
If you receive negative reviews which are not malicious your best course of action might be to reply to the user (if the platform allows it) and address the concerns. You can do this by apologising for their bad experience and commenting on what you have done to improve processes so it doesn’t happen again. Signing up to automatic alerts e.g. Google Trends or BrandMentions can be your best defence against negative reviews because they will help you these reviews online straight away so you can deal with them before they get out of hand.
5. Pay Per Click (PPC) Attacks
Advertising through PPC schemes can get expensive. The last thing you want is a competitor maliciously attacking your budget with fake clicks. Attacks will often be automated so your budget can be exhausted very quickly.
Countering this involves keeping an eye on your website’s metrics. That means investing time to ensure everything is running smoothly. You can contact the ad service you are using if you suspect malicious behaviour or employ a third-party service like ClickCease to help you monitor activity.
6. Reputation Attacks
One of the ways search bots determine the quality and relevance of your content is by analysing the links pointing to it. That’s because we inherit authority when links come from reputable, relevant origins. But your reputation can be damaged if a malicious person sets up links to your content from dubious, low authority sites. Imagine the effect of thousands of links to your content originating from porn sites, online gambling sites, and online piracy sites.
To reduce risk from this type of attack you’ll need to regularly monitor the inbound links to your content. There are lots of free tools to help with this, such as Backlink Checker. You can also use BrandMentions because if your product is mentioned there will probably be a link included with it.