Case Study: Recovering a Website from a Devastating Hack Attack

This case study explores the successful restoration of a client’s website following a significant hack attack. The attack involved the unauthorized upload of a massive number of irrelevant pages, negatively impacting the website’s search engine visibility and user experience.

The Challenge

Our client, a business owner managing their own website, encountered a serious security breach. Hackers gained access to the website’s File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and uploaded approximately 375,000 irrelevant pages. This malicious activity aimed to manipulate search engine algorithms by:

  • Indexing millions of irrelevant pages: The hackers inserted a Google Search Console verification tag, tricking search engines into indexing the vast number of newly uploaded pages.
  • Reducing crawl rate for original pages: The sheer volume of irrelevant content significantly reduced the crawl rate for the website’s actual, valuable pages. This meant search engines were prioritizing the hacked content over the legitimate website content.
  • Exploiting canonical tags: The hackers further manipulated search engines by using canonical tags to redirect traffic from the original website content to the newly uploaded pages.

The Impact

The combined effect of these actions was disastrous. The website’s search engine ranking plummeted due to the focus on irrelevant content. Additionally, the user experience suffered as visitors encountered a website flooded with meaningless pages.

The Solution

Cybertooth India’s SEO specialists undertook a comprehensive recovery plan:

  1. Website Cleanup: Our team meticulously identified and removed all the irrelevant pages uploaded by the hackers.
  2. Reindexing Request: We requested search engines to re-index the website’s legitimate pages, ensuring they were prioritized again.
  3. 404 Error Resolution: Any broken links or pages leading to 404 errors were identified and resolved to improve user experience.
  4. Redirect Problem Fix: The malicious redirects implemented by the hackers using canonical tags were addressed to ensure traffic reached the intended pages.
  5. Regex Cleanup (410 Redirects): We employed regular expressions (regex) to efficiently locate and permanently redirect (410) the remaining hacked pages, informing search engines that this content was no longer available.

The Outcome

Restoring the website to its pre-attack state required a dedicated effort spanning four months. This extended timeframe was primarily due to the low crawl rate caused by the initial attack. However, through meticulous work and persistence, Cybertooth India successfully achieved the following:

  • Eliminated irrelevant pages: The website was completely cleared of the malicious content uploaded by the hackers.
  • Improved crawl rate: Search engines resumed normal crawling activity, focusing on the website’s genuine content.
  • Recovered search engine ranking: The website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) began to improve steadily.

The Takeaway

This case study highlights the importance of website security and the devastating consequences of a successful hack attack. It also demonstrates the expertise of Cybertooth India’s SEO team in tackling complex website issues and restoring a website’s health and search engine performance.