Hackers Exploiting Legitimate Websites

Hackers are always finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities. Recently, a troubling trend has emerged where cybercriminals are hiding their attacks inside legitimate websites.  Hackers are exploiting legitimate websites making it hard for users to distinguish between safe and unsafe or malicious websites. Let’s break down what’s happening and how you can protect yourself.

How are Hackers Exploiting Legitimate Websites?

Hackers are taking advantage of legitimate websites by injecting malicious code into them. This tactic is particularly sneaky because it leverages the credibility of well-known sites to spread malware, phish for credentials, or perform other malicious activities. Users who visit these compromised sites think they’re safe but end up being targets of cyberattacks.

They use a complicated, multi-step process to attack your system. First, they compromise a legitimate website to infect visitors. Then, they use a control server to manage the attack. Sometimes, they trick users into downloading a fake browser update. Finally, they use a JScript downloader to secretly install a backdoor program (BadSpace) on the victim’s computer, giving them access to the system. The code gathers details about the device, including its IP address, user-agent, and location.

How Do These Attacks Work?

Here’s a simplified explanation of the process:

  1. Compromising the Website: Hackers find vulnerabilities in legitimate websites, often through outdated software, weak passwords, or unsecured entry points.
  2. Injecting Malicious Code: Once they gain access, they inject malicious scripts or code into the site. This code can do various harmful things, like redirecting visitors to phishing sites or downloading malware onto their devices.
  3. Exploiting Trust: Since users trust these legitimate websites, they are less likely to suspect foul play. This trust makes it easier for hackers to steal information or compromise devices.

Why Is This Concerning?

This method of attack is particularly concerning for several reasons:

  1. Widespread Impact: Trusted websites have a large number of visitors, meaning a single compromised site can affect thousands or even millions of users.
  2. Stealth: These attacks are hard to detect because they blend in with the legitimate content of the site.
  3. Eroding Trust: If users can’t trust well-known websites, it undermines the overall confidence in online safety and security.

Protecting Yourself

While it might seem daunting to defend against such sophisticated attacks, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself:

  1. Secure Domain Name System (DNS) Providers: the entire internet works like a phone book.  You type in a name of a website, and DNS returns an IP to connect to.  Secure DNS providers monitor for attacks like this.  In some cases, they learn of a malicious website first, before even the website owner, and will block access to the malicious website for you.  Until the owners clean up their mess.  This can be a very powerful line of protection for attacks like this one.
  2. Keep Software Updated: Ensure your browser and security software are always up to date to defend against known vulnerabilities.
  3. Use Security Extensions: Browser extensions like ad blockers and script blockers can prevent malicious code from running.
  4. Enable Two-Factor Authentication: For any online accounts that offer it, enabling two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security.
  5. Be Cautious with Links and Downloads: Even when visiting trusted websites, be cautious about clicking on links or downloading files.
  6. Train your users: help users understand social engineering and phishing attacks that create urgency and emotional tie-ins to convince users to react to email content and click. 
  7. Regularly Scan for Malware: Use reputable antivirus software to scan your devices regularly for any signs of malware.

What Website Owners Can Do

If you manage a website, you play a crucial role in preventing these attacks. Here are some steps to take:

  1. Regular Security Audits: Conduct regular security audits to identify and fix vulnerabilities.
  2. Update Software: Keep all software, including plugins and frameworks, up to date with the latest security patches.
  3. Strong Passwords and Access Controls: Use strong, unique passwords and implement access controls to limit who can make changes to your site.
  4. Monitor for Suspicious Activity: Set up monitoring tools to alert you to unusual activity on your site.  This can include connection averages such that any spikes in connections will alert you to the additional traffic whether wanted or unwanted.


Hackers exploiting legitimate websites is really not new.  However, the recent emergence  of high-profile sites being exploited makes this threat an important one to keep top of mind. By understanding how these attacks work and taking the recommended proactive steps to protect yourself (secure DNS), you can reduce the risk of falling victim to these sophisticated schemes. Remember, staying informed and aware is your best defense online, period.

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