When An NGO Website Gets Hacked

Here’s a true story with a lesson behind it.

I was googling this regional NGO just this week because I couldn’t remember its website address. When Google showed me the results, I looked closer and surprise, surprise, saw that this NGO’s website had been compromised.

See screenshot below.

ngo website problem


As I knew one of the people within this NGO, I quickly emailed her and told her that her website had been compromised/hacked and had names of drugs inserted in the website.

Many times, a website is compromised because it is never maintained properly. As technology improves, your website must also keep up with the times. This is where a proper website maintenance and management comes into play.

Unfortunately, many NGOs and businesses disregard maintaining their websites much to their own detriment (or until it’s really too late and they come to us to help “save” their ailing and almost dying websites!).

When we talk about maintenance, it’s not merely updating the website content (though that is highly recommended too), it’s more important to check if your website has any security loopholes that need to be updated.

If you believe website maintenance is not needed, you shouldn’t even be getting a website. It’s like buying a car and refusing to pay for servicing and maintenance and yet cursing the vehicle each time it breaks down in the middle of traffic!

Anyway, in the case of this NGO website, it is most likely that their webmaster has not updated the website’s back-end technology or patched up security loopholes for a long time. It could also be that their webmaster used a free website template (sometimes, free isn’t as free as you think it is).

We see many web designers download and use free website templates for their customers. We know of a case where a web designer downloaded a free website template and installed it for his customer as it is. The customer, not knowing anything, paid through her nose for a free template.

What was worse, the web designer asked the customer’s staff to upload their own product images and description into the website template. Technically, he didn’t do any work except find, download and install the website template. When the customer needed some modification to the website, he refused to answer her calls. Eventually, the customer had no choice to come to us, begging for help!

Since I knew the NGO representative, I emailed her to alert her that her website was hacked. She emailed me back asking if I could give her a checklist.

Here’s what I wrote back to her:

“If we compare your website to a human body, it’s like having a deadly virus. Right now your website is hosting a deadly virus and that virus is sitting happily in your website sending out spam messages and ruining the professional image that your NGO has built up over the years of doing good work in the Asian region.

If you were sick, would you go to a doctor and ask for a checklist to check off the symptoms? The same goes for your website. Your website is “sick” and no amount of checklists can help. You need medicine and some strong ones too.

So what do you do next?

1. get your webmaster to find and destroy the “virus”

The reason the virus is happily sitting in your website means your website is not secure. How to secure it depends on the expertise of your webmaster. This is why good website management is crucial. Most people don’t like paying for website maintenance and try to do it on their own but they don’t have the technical expertise to undo what the scammers/spammers are doing inside their websites.


2. start over with a fresh website.

This means a fresh start. Not by “renovating” or “refurbishing” your existing and already compromised website. If your house is eaten by termites, you might as well build a new house elsewhere.”

The funny thing with online stuff is, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it won’t harm your reputation or undo the good work you’re known for.

Many NGOs have old websites without a proper maintenance programme. They don’t have a dedicated webmaster at hand either because they don’t prioritise website safety and security. A website is a lovely afterthought just to offer information.

It’s a pity that most NGOs take their websites lightly. They’d rather attend conferences, talk about their findings and research and mingle with other NGO reps. What they forget is this: most people, after the conference is over, will decide to check out the NGO website.

What would they think of you and your NGO if Google results show that “this site may be hacked”? This will undo all the excellent work that you did!

If you manage an NGO website and want to attract better quality funding, donors and volunteers, a Redbox Studio premium website is what you need.

Our premium websites are laser-focused, designed beautifully with marketing psychology to help you attract the people you need, professionally and ethically online.

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