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Russian Hackers Stole my Website But I Got it Back

Posted by Rose on

Why would anyone steal my site, you ask? Probably so that they could resell the url to some unsuspecting buyer. Fraudsters sometimes set up imitation sites, but that is unlikely because of the unique nature of my products.

It was Christmas day, the day I left for the Far East for a highly anticipated month-long vacation. I was waiting for a delayed flight on the first air leg of the trip when I noticed my website wasn't loading. The wifi wasn't working very well at the airport that day, so I didn't worry about it. Forty eight hours later when we finally arrived at our destination in Indonesia, I checked my site again using my new Indonesian sim card. Again, it wasn't loading. I began to worry.

With help from my web designer in LA, I discovered that hackers had stolen my site, and the url was now registered in Moscow. I notified Domain Guru, from whom I bought the domain, but until I cited a rule from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) who regulates the ownership of domain names, they weren't very helpful.

ICANN’s policy on Domain Name Dispute Resolution states that in the case of a domain dispute, the Losing Registrar (the registrar that maintained possession of the domain name pre-transfer, as opposed to the “Winning Registrar”, who maintains possession of the domain name post-transfer). must immediately establish a Transfer Emergency Action Contact (“TEAC“) to resolve the issue.

Once I had stated this in an email to Domain Guru, I received a meaningful response with only a couple incorrect suggestions about how to get my domain back.

I took ineffective actions like filing an FBI report (never heard back), writing directly to ICANN (wrong place to file a TEAC) and buying another domain to set up my site in case I never got my original url back. (The confirmation pages on that site were in Indonesian since I was using an Indonesian sim card, so it was tough to confirm!)

What did work, though, was contacting the company that sold my domain name to Domain Guru. They asked me to provide my sign-in at Domain Guru (found in a file folder by my helpful housesitter), prove my identity (copy of passport and drivers license, easy!) and send copies of my business license. (I couldn't access the Oregon information base from Indonesia, and so my son did so and sent me PDFs.)

It turns out that there is a 2-month waiting period when domain names are transferred, after which the new owner is free to sell or use the domain. Fortunately, that was in effect on my account. (If you own a url, be sure you've activated that feature!)

I got my site back a few days after sending the required information, and my web designer loaded my back-up site. We were back in business with apologies to anyone who tried to find us during the 10 days or so the site was down!

I’m really glad I had my entire site encrypted and thus my customer information is protected. I have learned to be more diligent about selecting and frequently changing truly complex passwords. I am grateful that I was able to defeat the hackers who stole my url! I wish they would find a way to use their programming skills in a more constructive and honest way!  Are there Russian hackers in your life?

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