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Domain Hijacking: What Is It and How to Protect Yourself

When most people purchase a domain, they often think about the brand they’re trying to build or the return on the investment they may get. The possibility of that domain being stolen or manipulated by cyber criminals is often an afterthought. Unfortunately, that’s a mistake that many have paid for because domain hijacking is real.

It’s a serious threat to both big and small businesses and brands. And it’s a threat that you can’t ignore.

Below, we’ll dive deeper 🤿 into what domain hijacking is and how to protect your domains from cyber criminals.

Let’s begin.

📚 Table of contents:

What is domain hijacking? 🕵️

Domain hijacking is when unauthorized parties (aka cyber criminals or hackers) take control of a domain without the owner’s consent. This results in the owner not having administrative access over their domain anymore, while the cyber criminals gain the ability to use it for any purpose they wish.

When most people think about a domain hijacking attack, they may assume that it’s just about having your domain stolen. But this issue goes way beyond just losing access to your domain; it can result in both a financial loss and damage to your reputation.

For example, the hackers may use the domain to redirect users to a new (often a scam) website or they may use it to acquire and manipulate the owner’s personal data. If it’s a really popular website or brand, they may even ask for a ransom.

These are just some of the many ways that cyber criminals may have their way with your domain if they manage to hijack it.

One of the most concerning things about these attacks is that even though they are very prevalent in the US (with 46% of cyberattacks in 2020 happening in the US), most Americans (64%) don’t know what to do after a data breach [1, 2].

But before you can know which steps to take, it’s first important to understand the different methods used to hijack a domain.

Different ways a domain can get hijacked

1. Social engineering and phishing attacks

This is when cyber criminals trick domain owners into giving them the login details of their domain. They can pretend to be someone from the domain registrar over the phone or email and ask the domain owner to fill in or verify their login details.

The hijacker will then transfer the domain to a different domain provider that they have control over.

2. Expired domain snatching

Sometimes domain owners take time to renew their domains. Unfortunately, this might allow hackers the opportunity to get control over the domain.

Once they have control over the expired domain hijackers can exploit its established reputation, redirect traffic, or demand a hefty ransom for its return.

3. Malware attack

This is where hijackers infect the domain owner’s computer with malware. They can then gain personal data, including domain login details.

4. Weak password or login details

If a domain owner uses a weak password, a cyber criminal may guess it correctly and then gain access to the domain admin panel. There are also password cracking programs that can crack weak passwords in seconds.

How does this impact a business? 💼

There are different ways in which a domain hijacking attack can affect a business. In a nutshell, this attack affects a company’s digital existence, reputation, trust, and finances.

What do we mean? 🤷‍♂️

When cyber criminals gain control of a domain they can manipulate content, send false information, redirect users to harmful websites, or engage in illegal activities, all under the company’s banner. As you can imagine, this can really tarnish the company’s reputation.

It’s also important to remember that online trust takes time to build. Some studies have shown that it can take up to two years for your customers to trust your brand or view it as a company they can rely on.

During these two years, you may have shown consistency by providing quality products or services, informative blogs, engaging emails, and social content. But all this could be lost if the hijackers send your customers malicious content.

A hijacked domain can also disrupt online services and ecommerce transactions, leading to direct revenue losses.

Now that you understand some of the repercussions of domain hijacking, let’s get into how you can protect your brand and reputation.

Four key steps to protect your domain 🛡️

Step 1: Choose the right domain registrar

GoDaddy homepage.

Choosing the right domain registrar is an important part of protecting your domain from potential hijacking threats.

Not all registrars are created equal, and the level of security measures they employ varies.

👉 Here are a few things to consider when choosing a registrar:

  • Pay attention to the security features. For example, registrars like Namecheap and GoDaddy offer 2FA as a standard security feature.
  • Evaluate the registrar’s Domain Name System (DNS) security. A registrar that implements DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) adds an extra layer of protection against DNS hijacking.
  • Privacy protection. Opt for registrars that provide domain privacy protection services, masking your personal information from public domain databases.
  • Good reviews. Look for registrars with positive reviews and a history of promptly addressing security concerns.

Step 2: Set up 2FA

Microsoft describes Two-factor authentication (2FA) as “an identity and access management security method that requires two forms of identification to access resources and data”.

So, instead of just putting in your login details and immediately having access to your domain, there will be an additional step to the verification process. This helps to add another layer of security.

👉 Some of the most common forms of 2FA are:

  • SMS verification – where you receive a text message to verify your identity.
  • Push notification – this is where a signal is sent to your phone and you can either accept or deny permission to log into your domain.
  • Voice authentication – similar to a push notification, this option will call your phone and ask you to press a specific key or state your name.
  • Hardware tokens – this is an old form of 2FA where a business will send hardware tokens to employees in the form of a key fob. These tokens will produce login codes.

It’s best to choose the 2FA method that is most convenient for you and your team.

Step 3: Get domain protection

Domain protection helps to shield the personal information you use when registering your domain.

Remember that when you register a new domain, you provide your name, address, email, and phone number. Without domain protection, this information would be easily accessible through the WHOIS public database. On the other hand, with protection, you’ll be able to substitute your personal data with generic information supplied by the registrar.

Step 4: Regularly update and strengthen your login details

Regularly updating and strengthening your login details is an important part of keeping your domain safe from cyber criminals. This proactive approach addresses vulnerabilities and reduces the risk of unauthorized access.

🔑 But what makes a strong password? Here are a few tips:

  • Your password should include a combination of at least eight letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • The characters you choose should also be unrelated. This makes it more challenging for hackers to guess your password.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts. If you use the same password and a hacker manages to gain access to one account, they’ll be able to gain access to all of them.
  • Don’t use your birth date, pet’s name, your name, or a family member’s name.
  • Don’t use sequential letters or numbers. For example, 1234 or asdf.
  • Don’t reuse your old passwords.

These days, every device, app, or program we use needs a strong password. And it’s challenging to be able to remember all these passwords we create.

To help you remember all these passwords, you can use a reliable password manager to store all your passwords securely, instead of writing them down on a piece of paper or on a document in your computer.

Can you recover a hijacked domain? 🔄

Discovering that your domain has been hijacked can be a stressful situation. But if it happens, there are a few steps you can take to help you deal with the situation:

Contact your registrar

Reach out to your domain registrar as soon as possible. Inform them of the situation and provide any relevant details. A reputable registrar will have a support team that can guide you through the recovery process.

Consider legal action

If necessary, you can consult with legal professionals specializing in cyber law. They can guide you on any potential legal actions or steps to take against the hijacker.

Communicate with your website visitors

If your domain has been hijacked, it’s crucial to communicate the situation to your website visitors in a timely and transparent manner. Failing to do so may result in confusion, mistrust, and potential harm to your reputation.

But what do you say? How much do you divulge?

🛠️ While there’s no blueprint on how you should communicate with your customers and website visitors in this situation, here are a few tips that can help:

  • Be transparent. Transparency builds trust, and your visitors will appreciate your openness. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll give them every detail of what happened. However, just a general overview of the situation can help your website visitors be both aware and more understanding.
  • Apologize for the inconvenience. Show empathy and apologize for any inconvenience your visitors may experience due to the domain hijacking.
  • Give reassurance. Reassure your visitors that you are taking immediate steps to secure the website and prevent such incidents in the future. For this, you can simply highlight any additional security measures you are implementing.
  • Give updates. This helps in keeping your audience informed and shows that you are actively working to resolve the issue.

Protect yourself from domain hijacking 🔒

Domains are an important part of our online presence and brands. We work hard to acquire them, drive traffic to them, and use them to build trust with our audience.

But cyber criminals don’t care. In just a moment, all this time, money, and energy spent can be jeopardized.

💡 This is why it’s important to protect yourself from domain hijacking. As highlighted above, there are a few proactive steps you can take:

  • Choose a reputable domain registrar that takes security seriously
  • Set up 2FA to give your domain an extra layer of security
  • Get domain protection to shield your personal information from the public
  • Regularly update and strengthen your login details to help reduce the chances of a security breach

Since domain registrars are an important part of keeping your domain safe, you might want to check out our list of the best domain registrars.