Skip to main content

Defacement Attacks: Understanding and Prevention

What is Defacement Attacks?

Defacement attacks occur when malicious actors infiltrate a website online or a digital advertising panel device hardware, and replace its content with their own messages. These messages can range from political or religious statements to offensive language or embarrassing content.

Release Date: 20 Mar 2024 7645 Views

Here are some common causes of defacement attacks:

1. Unauthorized Access: Attackers gain unauthorized entry to the content management console of websites or digital advertising display panel devices, altering its appearance and content.


2. SQL Injection: Exploiting vulnerabilities in the website’s database or device storage to manipulate content. Some of the digital advertising display panel devices are also based on web protocols.


3. DNS Hijacking: Redirecting users to a different server by falsifying DNS responses.


4. Malware Infection: Malicious software modifies website content or infects the operating systems to take control of digital advertising display panel devices.


5. Cloud Resources Attack: Attackers compromise cloud services’ account credentials and take control of the cloud resources, in which to alter, delete or replace the website storage or cloud managed devices with malicious contents.



Real-World Examples of Defacement Attacks:

  1. Smart Billboards in Israel Defacement Attack Incident (2023)[1]:
    • The hacker managed to hijack the smart billboards that switched commercials to anti-Israel, pro-Hamas footage.
    • Investigation shows the network of the smart billboard was opened to public for only few minutes, the hackers had immediately hijacked the devices.
  2. Ukrainian Government Websites Defacement Attack Incident (2022)[2]:
    • The hacker managed to hijack a number of Ukrainian government websites and display posted provocative messages on the main pages.
    • Ukrainian CERT claimed that the attackers may have exploited the vulnerability in Laravel-based October CMS.
  3. Georgia’s Largest Cyber Attack Incident (2019)[3]:
    • 15,000 Georgian websites were defaced and knocked offline.
    • Government sites, banks, and media outlets were targeted.
  4. NHS Defacement Attack Incident (2018)[4]:
    • The UK National Health Service (NHS) website was defaced by hackers, raising concerns about medical data safety.
    • The defacement message was removed, but the damage to the NHS’s reputation persisted.
  5. and Defacement Attack Incident (2012)[5]:
    • DNS hijacking led users to a defaced webpage instead of Google Romania’s website.
    • The same attack affected the domain



Impact of Defacement Attacks

1. Loss of Credibility: Defacement undermines a website’s trustworthiness, affecting the company’s or organisation’s reputation.


2. Data Breach Risk: Vulnerabilities exploited during defacement attacks may lead to unauthorized access and data breaches.


3. Service Interruption: Defacement causes the website or digital advertising display services not functioning normally and thus affecting the online services and interrupt the normal operation.



Preventing Website Defacement

  1. Principle of Least Privilege
    • Limit user permissions to the minimum necessary for their tasks
    • Regularly review and revoke unnecessary privileges
  2. Regular Vulnerability Scans
    • Scan your website for vulnerabilities frequently
    • Address identified issues promptly
  3. Secure Coding Practices
    • Follow secure coding guidelines to prevent common vulnerabilities
    • Validate user input and sanitize data
    • Develop with trusted coding libraries, avoid to end-of-support libraries.
  4. Web Application Firewall (WAF)
    • Implement a WAF to filter out malicious traffic
    • Block suspicious requests and protect against attacks
  5. Perform Software Update
    • Deploy latest software patch update to fix vulnerabilities
    • Schedule to check software updates regularly



Securing Digital Advertising Display Panel Devices

  1. Physical Security
    • Install panels in secure locations
    • Use tamper-resistant enclosures
    • Restrict physical access to administrative connection ports
  2. Network Security
    • Isolate display panels from internal or corporate networks
    • Allow only corporate IPs to access the management panel
  3. Authentication and Authorization
    • Restrict access to allow only authorized personnel
    • Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication
  4. Monitoring and Alerts
    • Monitor display panels for anomalies
    • Set up alerts for unauthorized changes
  5. Perform Firmware and Software Update
    • Deploy latest software patch update to fix vulnerabilities
    • Schedule to check software updates regularly



Organisations should take a proactive approach to cyber security to mitigate the risks associate with public materials, explicitly focusing on mitigating defacement attacks. HKCERT urges any organisations to stay vigilant to such cyber attacks and adopt the above security best practices.