How to Recover a Stolen Domain and Prevent Domain Hijacking
Are you worried about your domain name being stolen?
Domain hijacking is extremely common and can happen to anyone. Attackers can make themselves the owner and then sell your domain leaving you with nothing.
They can also use your domain for malicious purposes and defraud your customer, all of which can damage your brand and business.
Thankfully, you can protect your domain name and prevent this from happening to you.
In this guide, we’ll help you understand how attackers steal your domain and what measures you can take to recover a stolen domain and prevent these attacks.
- What is Domain Hijacking?
- How Does a Domain Get Hijacked
- Consequences of Domain Hijacking
- How to Recover a Stolen Domain
- How to Prevent Domain Hijacking Attacks
What is Domain Hijacking?
Domain hijacking or domain theft is when an attacker takes control of a domain name by transferring the ownership without the current owner’s permission.
There are many ways attackers are able to steal domain names. The most common way is by using the owner’s username and password to log into the admin account where they can make the transfer.
But what’s in for them? Hijackers can be motivated by various reasons that include:
- Money: Domain names are valuable online real estate. They can be re-sold for a hefty sum or the attacker could demand a ransom to release the domain name back to you.
- Hacktivism: Attackers can hijack a website and use it to display content that is fuelled by political agenda, religious beliefs, and the like.
- Scams: Hackers use hijacked domains to use your trusted brand name to sell counterfeit products and defraud customers.
- Pharming: Customer data and payment information is a much sought after asset. Hackers can easily steal confidential and sensitive user data that can be sold on the black market.
- Competition: Malicious entities and competitors may want to disrupt your business and communication.
These are just a few instances of why attackers hijack domain names, though they could be motivated for other reasons. But now that you know what domain hijacking is and why attackers do it, we’ll help you understand how they are able to do it.
How Does a Domain Get Hijacked
Hackers are always trying new and improved methods to launch cyber attacks so it’s hard to determine every possible method a hacker may use to hijack a domain.
Below, we’ll explain the most common methods used:
- Stolen credentials: If a hacker is able to crack your username and passcode using brute force, they can simply log in to your control panel and change the ownership details. To the domain registrar, it will look like you, the original owner, are transferring the domain. Another way they can get your hands on your credentials is by buying leaked or stolen data on the black market.
- Phishing: Attackers dupe you or your employees into giving them your DNS (Domain Name System) details and login credentials by sending you fake emails or redirecting you to a fake login page.
- Malware: The hijacker may also attempt to infect your systems with malware such as a trojan or a keylogger lets the criminal obtain credentials for the domain control panel.
- Vulnerabilities: Although rare, sometimes, domain registrars could develop vulnerabilities in their system that allow hackers in. Depending on what kind of security vulnerability is present, hackers may be able to gain unauthorized control of user accounts and transfer domains.
Now, there are also cases where domains are hijacked as soon as they expire and go back on the market. If you miss renewing your domain name on time, someone else might snatch it, especially if it’s a valuable domain name. This is perfectly legal and you’re only way out might be to buy back the domain name from the new owner.
Consequences of Domain Hijacking
It goes without saying that if your domain is hijacked, you could lose your entire website, all of it!
Getting it back could cost a lot of your time and money in raising disputes and fighting your case.
Secondly, for every second you don’t have control over your domain, hijackers could be using it for malicious activity that will damage your brand reputation.
Hackers can redirect your traffic to illicit websites where users are duped into downloading malware, unknowingly giving away their personal information, or buying fraudulent products.
These attackers can also change your website’s content and display their own content on your site. They could even take over your SEO and stuff your website with keywords to sell illegal products through your site.
Furthermore, they can disrupt communications between you and your clients, customers, vendors, and any other third party involved.
Needless to say that all of these acts can dent your business and its revenue.
With so much at stake, it’s better to take preventive measures to protect your domain so that you don’t become a victim of domain hijacking. That said, if your domain has already been stolen, we’ll help you follow the right steps to get it back.
How to Recover a Stolen Domain
If you find that your domain name is no longer yours, you’ll need to take measures immediately to get it back.
All domain registrars are required to lock a domain for 60 days after registration, renewal, or transfer. This means that the person who hijacked your domain cannot resell it for 60 days, so it’s essential that you act fast.
Every domain registrar has different procedures in place so the steps may differ. Here’s what you’ll need to do across the board:
Step 1: Report the Theft to Your Domain Registrar
The first thing you need to do is contact your domain registrar support right away and inform them that your domain was stolen.
The domain registrar is the company from which you bought the domain such as Bluehost, GoDaddy, Namecheap, or Domain.com.
Some registrars may ask you to fill out a form or send an email while others will take the report over chat or phone.
The registrar will then open a domain name dispute for you stating that you are the rightful owner. More on that in the next step.
Step 2: File a Registrar Transfer Dispute
ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that governs the internet across the globe. They are the top authority that you’ll need to file your dispute with.
The registrar transfer dispute will have to be filed through your domain registrar that has been accredited by ICANN.
If your case isn’t progressing, you can also file a complaint on your own by accessing the ICANN complaint portal.
Keep in mind that ICANN has no contractual authority to address complaints involving country code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .us, .eu, .ac, and .UK. You’ll need to contact the relevant ccTLD manager.
You can browse through the ICANN Registrar Transfer Dispute Resolution Policy here.
Step 3: Provide Proof of Ownership
Once you raise a dispute, you’ll need to provide proof that the domain was registered in your name. You’ll also want to prove that it was hijacked and stolen to get the dispute ruled in your favor.
You can start gathering proof of ownership that includes:
- Bills and invoices
- Registration records with dates
- Trademarks and copyrights
- System or web logs
- Financial transactions associated with your domain
- Domain-related marketing material
- Renewal notices
- Notices of DNS change
- WHOIS reporting notice
- Telephone records
- Tax filing
- Correspondence from the hijacker, if any
- Website backup copies
You can add any other documents that will prove that you are the original domain owner.
You can also provide records of the history of the domain using the online tools like the WHOIS database, DomainIQ, and WayBack Machine. Learn more about that here: How to Check a Domain’s History.
Step 4: Check WHOIS Records
The next step would be to try and find out who has hijacked your domain name.
ICANN manages a database of all the domain owners along with their contact information. This database is called WHOIS and is publicly available which means you can access it right away.
You can type in your domain name and see who owns the domain name. Unfortunately, hackers may opt for domain privacy protection which means all personal information such as name and contact number will be hidden.
If you aren’t getting a quick resolution, then it may be time to lawyer up.
Step 5: Explore Legal Options
Though there are processes in place to dispute a domain transfer, registrar companies do not have the legal authority to transfer a domain name back to you.
We recommend finding a lawyer that has experience in dealing with these situations.
You can have them issue a court order to demand the transfer of your domain name back to you using the evidence you have to make your case.
Getting ownership of your domain back can take days to months. It all depends on the evidence you provide and how quickly you file the complaint from the time it was stolen.
we’ll show you the best ways to prevent this from happening to you.
How to Prevent Domain Hijacking Attacks
To prevent domain hijacking, ICANN already has measures in place. For instance, it imposes a 60-day waiting period between a change in the registration information and a transfer to another domain registrar.
This makes it harder for attackers to take over a domain and gives the original owner ample time to realize a transfer has been initiated.
Aside from that, here are the measures you can take on your own to prevent illegal and unwanted domain transfers:
1. Enable Domain Locking
Some domain registrars automatically enable domain locking to prevent unauthorized transfers. You can check with your registrar to see if they have locked your domain.
In case they don’t do it automatically, most registrars provide an option inside your account to enable domain locking.
If someone unlocks it, you’ll receive a notification that domain locking has been turned off.
2. Enable Domain Privacy Protection
When you register a domain name, your personal information is made public in the WHOIS database. Hackers can use these details such as your name and contact number to gain access into your account.
You can get domain privacy protection with your domain registrar or web host. Learn more about that here: Domain Name Privacy: Why You Need It and Where to Buy
3. Change your passwords regularly: It’s a recommended security practice to change your password regularly. We live in a world where passwords are leaked quite often.
If you’re using the same password on multiple websites, it might be easy for a hacker to track your account down and use the stolen password to access it.
4. Set up 2-factor authentication: Hackers use multiple methods to hack your password. Bruteforce attacks are one of them where they use bots to attempt to log into your account using thousands of username and password combinations.
You can prevent this from happening by opting for 2FA (2-factor authentication) on your domain account. This will require you to enter a real-time passcode when signing into your account.
With this step, even if hackers get their hands on your login credentials, they won’t be able to access your account without the real-time passcode.
5. Set up renewal reminders or auto-renew:
You can enable the auto-renew option which means the registrar will renew your domain for a new term before it reached the expiry date.
Added to that, domain registrars also let you enable renewal reminders.
That means they’ll send you emails and notifications that your domain is about to expire. So you won’t lose your domain because you missed the expiry date.
6. Register a trademark: By registering a trademark for your business and related domain name, you will be the one who can legally use it. If someone hijacks your domain, you can always use the copyright to get it back and prevent it from being used by anyone else.
7. Use a reliable domain registrar: Popular and trusted registrars like Bluehost and GoDaddy make accidental or malicious transfers virtually impossible. They also give you the ability to rescue your domain name in case you lose it.
8. Train employees to recognize phishing scams: Whether you own a small business or large corporation, you must train your team to spot phishing emails and spurious websites that can steal credentials and other sensitive data. This will prevent them from unknowingly giving hackers access to your website.
With that, you know how to recover a stolen domain name and also how to prevent a domain hijacking attack. We hope you found this post helpful, and if so, you may also want to read: What is Domain Squatting? (And How to Stop It)
You may also want to hire a domain management service to buy, manage, and secure multiple domains for you.
Next, we’ve handpicked these guides for you:
- 5 Things You Need to Do Before Buying a Domain Name
- 3 Legit Ways to Get a Free Domain Name
- How to Check a Domain’s History Before Buying it (Steps + Tips)
These posts have all the info you need to research a domain name’s history. That way, you can be sure you’re investing in a domain name that isn’t stolen and will work well in setting up a successful website.
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