In today’s online environment, many consumers are aware that they should verify the source and credibility of the content they read and the websites they visit. Misinformation is a powerful weapon that threat actors can use maliciously, and consumers are more wary of online scams and false information than ever before.
The most recognizable online brands have the invaluable power to build instant credibility with their audience through years of consistency and good customer service. However, threat actors may attempt to use this credibility against your business by launching domain based cyber attacks.
Domain based attacks not only create a poor browsing experience – they can also be a legitimate cybersecurity threat with a high potential to damage your business’s reputation and bottom line.
Launching a website takedown is sometimes the best, or even the only, way to prevent this content from harming your audience and customers. Launching fast, accurate and effective website takedowns is key to maintaining a secure online environment, disrupting your adversary, and safeguarding your reputation.
Let’s take a closer look at initiating a website takedown to ensure data safety.
What Is A Website Takedown?
A website takedown is a formal process of closing access to a website for internet users because it contains malicious, plagiarized, or illegal information. Usually, the website takedown is necessary when the webmaster posts plagiarized content and uses the website for malicious purposes.
The takedown process involves requesting the hosting provider or the website owner to shut the site down. You would need to provide relevant evidence and follow up with the search engines to make sure that the malicious website doesn’t appear in the search results.
Common Reasons for Website Takedowns
Threat actors can make copies of your website to fool users into sharing their personal information and login credentials. Once they have this phishing website ready, they can generate a domain-based cyber attack that redirects your entire traffic to the new address.Without proper domain monitoring and protection tactics, you could be putting your audience at risk and facing serious reputational issues. By taking down the malicious website on time, you can prevent further losses and keep user data safe.
Protect Intellectual Property
The most common reason to initiate a website takedown is to protect intellectual property (IP). If you see your content plagiarized by another website owner without permission, you have the right to file a content removal request.
Theft or violation of IP can cause significant damage to retail companies that sell products online. Besides ruining the store’s reputation, IP theft could lead to lawsuits that many smaller businesses can’t handle without closing down.
Defamation or False Information
Another reason to file a takedown request is the presence of false or defamatory information. If this information damages the reputation of your organization, you can demand its removal.
Studies show that 83% of American consumers stop doing business with a company that experienced a security breach. These breaches affect the company’s reputation and often cause it to go out of business.
If the malicious website shares personal information without consent or breaches local data protection regulations, you can initiate a takedown.
Consumers are highly concerned with the safety of their personal information and misuse of their data. If your customers’ details appear on malicious websites, your business can suffer significant damaging consequences.
You can also launch a takedown if the website promotes or conducts illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, distribution of pornography to minors, hacking, fraud, obscenities, threats, and other criminal acts.
Hate Speech or Harassment
If a website is promoting hate speech, encouraging violence, or engaging in persistent harassment, it violates the law. These actions are a legitimate reason for a takedown action since they pose a threat to human rights.
Malware or Phishing
Phishing websites that mimic credible websites with the goal of stealing information, hurting a business’s reputation, or launching a cyberattack can be reported and taken down.
A website may be a candidate for the takedown procedure if it fails to comply with relevant legal or regulatory obligations, including accessibility standards, data protection regulations, or the terms of service of internet service providers or hosting platforms.
How To Initiate a Website Takedown?
Initiating a website takedown is a complex process that involves several steps to ensure successful removal. Taking a diligent approach and/or working with a website takedown service provider is key to ensuring that a malicious website stops posing a threat to your security and reputation.
Identifying the Hosting Provider
Keep in mind that hosting provider information may not be readily available online. While malicious actors rarely pay to protect the company’s domain name, big players could take advantage of this option.
To support your takedown claim, you need to provide evidence such as website screenshots and malicious URLs. If you become a victim of domain squatting, you can make a video of using the website from the visitor’s perspective to demonstrate how it demands sensitive information.
Reviewing Hosting Provider’s Policies
Read the hosting provider’s procedures for handling content infringements and other violations. You could find useful information about when, where, and how to file the takedown notice to stimulate a quick response.
Drafting a Takedown Notice
The approach to writing a takedown notice can make a difference between denial and a fast response. The notice should contain:
- Your name and contact information
- A concise request for the website takedown
- Description of the violation
- Deadline for the recipient’s response
- A short description of potential legal consequences that may occur if the website remains active.
- Physical or electronic signature
You can attach the evidence you collected to fortify your claim.
Sending a Takedown Request
Send the notice to the designated abuse or copyright infringement email or use the provider’s online reporting form if available. Make sure you use a system that provides proof of receipt, such as certified mail or email delivery confirmation. If you fill out a form and don’t get a confirmation, resend the request via email. You can also leverage a vendor to submit takedown requests on your behalf. Vendors like ZeroFox will package up all the needed materials to offer the best chance of having the malicious site removed.
Handling Unsuccessful Takedown Requests
If the hosting provider denies your claim or ignores it past the mentioned date in the letter, you have several options:
- Check for errors or missing data in the request (even if you omit one small detail, the provider has the right to deny the notice)
- Submit the request for reconsideration
Remember that ignoring takedown notices is illegal. You can seek legal assistance to take further action against the hosting provider or website owner.
What is a Cease and Desist Letter?
A Cease and Desist (C&D) letter is an official notice that details the recipient’s violation of the law, demands rectification of the issue, and sets a deadline for resolving the problem. The letter gives the offending party the opportunity to remove the content before facing legal action.
The C&D letter is usually the final warning before the victim pursues legal remedies. It demonstrates the seriousness of your intentions to the threat actor.
Since drafting a C&D letter requires legal knowledge, you may want to consider seeking legal counsel before sending it.
Other Approaches to Website Takedown
The C&D letter is only one of the options you have when trying to take down a malicious site. In many cases, you can achieve your goal without filing a lawsuit.
DMCA Takedown Notices
If you are in the U.S., filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice to the hosting provider is usually the first step to achieving your website takedown goals. The DMCA is specifically designed to address copyright violations and enforcement on the internet.
In the majority of cases, a correctly written DMCA notice backed by the right evidence can have the desired effect.
Court Orders and Injunctions
If DMCA and C&D notices don’t have the desired effect, you have the option of seeking legal remedies. You are likely to need professional legal advice to file all claims correctly and on time.
If the malicious website operates outside your jurisdiction, you would have to study international laws and regulations to develop an effective course of action.
Takedowns on Social Media Platforms
Malicious actors use social media platforms for their phishing attack purposes. They impersonate social media accounts, share personal content, and create fake login pages to steal credentials.
If you haven’t implemented safety tools, such as account takeover protection instruments, you would need to initiate the user or content takedown process on the platform. Understanding the differences between takedowns vs disruptions could help you design a comprehensive response strategy.
Considerations Before a Website Takedown
Depending on your situation, taking down a malicious website could be the only way to save your reputation and prevent financial losses. However, before doing this, you need to prepare for several challenges and nuances that may accompany the process.
The website owner can file a counterclaim or initiate legal action to challenge your takedown request. This rarely happens with phishing websites. However, owners of real websites could fight to keep their sites afloat.
Difficult-to-Trace Website Owners
The contact details that you need to initiate the takedown actions may be hidden. If the website owner is using privacy protection services, you could have a hard time locating them.
Non-Cooperative Hosting Providers
Hosting providers may be too busy to handle your requests or decide to pursue their own interests. These providers could continuously deny your claims and refuse to take the malicious website down.
Time and Cost Implications
Takedowns are rarely as easy as filing a DMCA notice. They may require significant time investments and legal expenses.
Public Relations and Reputation
If your takedown attempt isn’t successful on the first try, you may need to take legal action and publicly fight the website owner. This could lead to reputational issues, negative publicity, or public backlash.
Why Address Website Takedowns?
Websites that contain malicious, offensive, and illegal content have a negative effect on your audience and your business, not to mention the broader online environment. They don’t just make the internet an unsafe place for visitors, they can also cause significant harm to businesses.
By initiating a takedown of a malicious website, you are protecting personal data, promoting trust and confidence, and winning a battle against cybercriminals. Since website takedowns are complex, often lengthy processes, you may want to delegate the job to the cyber security experts at ZeroFox. At ZeroFox, our external cybersecurity platform includes comprehensive website takedown and adversary disruption tools and procedures to help our clients achieve their security goals and keep their clients safe online. To see how the ZeroFox platform works and how it can help reduce your business’s risk of falling victim to a domain based cyber attack, request a demo today and one of our representatives will contact you right away.