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How small businesses fought against hackers…and won

Posted at 10:02 PM, Feb 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-08 08:04:27-05

LAKE WORTH, Fla. — Surrounded by computer monitors, video feeds and whiteboards filled with scribbled messages, Shane Stebner is able to work from his Lake Worth home thanks to his pool-house-turned-office.

“I wanted to spend more time with my kids,” Stebner said.

Known to his friends and colleagues at the HTML Guy, Stebner turned his love for coding into a small business. But he remembers the first time someone almost wiped out that dream.

“My heart sunk. I stopped. I panicked. I didn't know what to think. I’m like, ‘Okay, is this a personal attack?’” Hackers attacked one of Stebner’s website. “[There were] tons of comments that were advertising Viagra, pills…Islamic writing and symbols, and stuff.

“There are so many emotions that go through your head because you are embarrassed by it. You are nervous. Who saw it? Did it negatively affect our business or my client’s business?”

Fortunately, website hacks are a little easier to fight off, according to Joe Russo with Palm Beach Tech. “Companies like Wix and Squarespace have the customer support that can at least get you back to square one.”

Social media hacks, however, could cost you.

“If I lose access to my Facebook if I get locked out of it … I have to hire somebody to try and help me find it,” said Russo. "And if I'm lucky, maybe it works."

It’s a lesson in business Liz Ross learned first-hand when it happened to her. “It was literally like a tornado went through our company,” Ross told Contact 5 Investigator Merris Badcock during a FaceTime interview.

Ross founded a Southern Fired Chics, a women-run, online clothing boutique in 2012. “It’s all about empowering women,” she said. “It has just kind of been our business model the whole time.”

Today, Ross has over 1.5 million followers on Facebook, but two days before Cyber Monday in 2016, hackers locked her out of her company’s Facebook page. Instead, they put up pornography. A lot of pornography.

“Cyber Monday is our biggest day of the year,” Ross said. “You feel helpless…and the bad part about this was that I could not call the cops.”

Contact 5 reached out to the FBI, who monitors internet crime complaints. They released the following statement:

“While the FBI does not conduct remediation, we often have specific information about the vectors, tactics and lateral movements of criminal actors through computer systems that can be provided to the victim which is tremendously helpful in the remediation process.”

On average,800 people a day file internet crime complaints with the FBI. That is about one person every two minutes. Those same reports show cybercrime is costing Americans more than a billion dollars.

Ross says she tried to reach Facebook. When that didn’t work, she decided to hire a private company.

“You work, you know, ten to 15 years for something every single day of your life, and then for somebody to be able to take it away from you in an instant?

“Not only did it affect me,” Ross said. “It affected all of my employees.”

Ross went from 22 employees to six after the hack, and it took her two years to rebuild that 1.5 million following.

Thanks to his coding background, HTML Guy was able to kick out his own hackers.

“My initial thought was, ‘Oh my God. This happened.’ Then it was, ‘What am I going to do to take action on this?’”

Still, he urges other to use a password manager to help generate complex, unique passwords for each site. "Any password that you are using, that is the starting point of a hack almost all the time."