Search engine optimization (SEO) is well known among marketing gurus, webmasters, and everyone in between to get websites a bit more notice on Google’s search engine results pages. But SEO is also gaining popularity amongst cybercriminals as a means to the nefarious end of spreading financial malware, exploitative tools, and dangerous ransomware.
It’s becoming easier for these threat actors to instigate what you may call “deoptimization” to inject malware into innocent websites by taking advantage of the legitimacy of a site in order to fool other users into handing over sensitive information, sharing credentials, and even downloading harmful files.
Fortunately, with increasingly complex methods to exploit SEO strategies come more effective ways to protect websites from hackers. After all, the fact that you’re in control of your website and have access to its content management system (CMS) can give you the upper hand in keeping attackers from abusing how it works in the backend as well as all of its configurations.
To that end, let’s dive into the most common ways that threat actors try to tamper with a website’s SEO to dish out financial malware and ransomware, and how you can best protect your website from hackers looking to exploit your SEO strategies:
Monitor traffic to and from web applications
Among the primary goals of SEO spam techniques is the objective to intercept and replicate sensitive data such as those found in personally identifiable information such as email addresses and private contact information.
If you’re interested in mitigating SEO risks to your site and strengthening its security posture, a wise place to start is with any web applications you’re running regularly. Web applications are the center of a high volume of traffic that you should filter, monitor, and block using a firewall to stay secure against malware and compromising ransomware.
Web applications can organically increase a site’s SEO ranking and help move it up higher among Google’s and other search engines’ search results, which make them attractive to threat actors who want to carry out data exfiltration from your site to their servers.
According to cybersecurity expert Mark Preston of Cloud Defense, “Web applications are often very complex. While this has allowed web applications to serve a variety of important purposes in business and entertainment, it also means that web attackers have a wide range of ways in which they can harm your organization….Web applications are more at-risk now than ever before, so it’s imperative that executives and managers take the right steps necessary to secure their web applications against new threats.”
As you focus on your web application security, be mindful as well of the way in which your users interact with your apps themselves. The mitigation of threats to your site’s application layer requires that you focus on the end-user as well as on stack-based approaches to threat mitigation like hardening your backup systems and making greater use of threat intelligence software. More specifically, collaborate with your site’s security team to control your user input insofar as they’re able, such as locking down session security and user access.
Increase site security with a SaaS-based CMS
Webmasters are likely familiar with how arduous the task of maintaining security compliance across a whole site is if you do it manually and by yourself. With a SaaS-based CMS, you can instead outsource the security of your site’s data to a qualified third-party that takes care of automated security compliance for you.
If you’re skeptical of relinquishing your data to a third-party company, take heart in the fact that SaaS companies are communally held to a high standard in order to deliver flawless security software.
Simply put, website owners can spend less time worrying about site security measures and more time on operational tasks. To aid in their cost-effectiveness, SaaS CMS platforms often provide pre-built templates as well as drag-and-drop elements for webpage creation all available as part of a monthly subscription plan that lets users access their site whenever and from any internet-connected device.
On top of their affordability and efficiency, SaaS-based CMS platforms can even improve the SEO strategy, usability, and responsiveness of your site. This is possible through animation widgets, graphics, and optimization tools via SaaS platforms to cultivate a consistent and competitive visual brand across different platforms.
Prevent backend manipulation with secure hosting
As we briefly alluded to, the content management system that you use to control your website’s backend can unintentionally provide threat actors access to your site configurations.
Site developers and administrators must be cognizant of how the content on your site loads on a user’s client such as their web browser and ensure that your hosting environment is secure. Otherwise, it can be all too easy for cybercriminals to take advantage of your security vulnerabilities and manipulate your CMS at their discretion.
The importance of secure website hosting for SEO purposes has been wrongfully underestimated for far too long. It’s just as important to Google as it is to you and your visitors that you have a website hosting provider that can ensure at least 99.9% uptime via proactive maintenance and automated notifications that remind you to update outdated components of your site.
According to Toronto-based web developer Gary Stevens of Hosting Canada, you don’t have to go with an expensive web host to ensure fast uptime speeds either saying “What constitutes a ‘best’ cheap web hosting option, besides affordability? You’ll want all the things which every hosting company should provide: speedy load times, close to 100% uptime, and reliable customer support that can help you if needed.“
With impeccable website security and constant uptime, you enjoy the benefits of genuine security for your site on a number of levels to discourage entry points into your site’s backend and CMS.
Webmasters and web gurus can take their hosting security a step further by investing in cloud-enabled site hosting that’s protected by the HTTPS protocol and isolated software components. Data hosting options such as those in Google’s cloud can guarantee comprehensive data security for websites that need to stand up to threats that attempt to penetrate into their backend.
Secure cloud-hosting for websites can prevent data exfiltration via the SEO strategies you have in place and benefits from extra protection from software stacks that are automatically updated in real-time.
At this point in time, there is no keeping cyberattackers away from exploiting SEO techniques to deploy malware payloads to as many victims as they can. But with the right tools to monitor traffic to and from your site’s web applications as well as secure and robust web hosting solutions and SaaS-based CMS platforms, you can reliably repel nefarious cyber assaults against your site’s SEO strategies and ultimately its most sensitive data assets.