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Hotlink Protection | How To Prevent Website From Hotlinking

Hotlink Protection is a topology that most CDNs offer webmasters to prevent other websites from hotlinking. This can reduce the bandwidth consumed by your origin server. When DNS receives an image request for your website, it will check to ensure the request did not originate from other website visitors. Visitors to your domain will still be able to act accordingly.

So, by any chance, have you ever heard of the term “hotlinking”? If not, don’t worry; you’re not alone! Hotlinking refers to the practice of using images or other media that are hosted on someone else’s website without their permission. This can have severe consequences for the website owner, so it’s essential to understand what hotlinking is and how to protect yourself.

As you’ll learn herein, hotlinking, or “inline linking,” is stealing someone’s bandwidth by linking directly to their website’s assets, such as downloading and viewing images. When this happens, the original website owner must cover and pay for these server resources each time a web browser wants to load and view the asset. This article will explain why you should avoid it.

We’ll also explain how to stop it. For webmasters and administrators, we’ll also provide the essential methods to protect your website from hotlinks: In this case, using cPanel, an FTP client, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) such as Cloudflare, and WordPress plugins as our point of reference. It must be remembered that Hotlink Protection does not impact crawling.

What Hotlinking And Hotlink Protection Means In Cloud Computing

In other words, Hotlinking is the act of linking to a file that is hosted on another website instead of downloading the file, hosting it on your own server, or providing a proper citation. The fact worth mentioning is that; even though website images are most frequently hotlinked, audio files, movies, flash animations, and other digital assets can also be hotlinked.

Regarding cloud computing, Hotlink Protection is a security-based topology that prevents other websites from using your images. And as a result, this can significantly reduce the bandwidth consumed by your origin server. For instance, when Cloudflare receives an image request for your website, it will check to ensure the request did not originate elsewhere.

More so from other website visitors. As mentioned, Hotlinking uses another website’s bandwidth by displaying its website asset – like an image, video, or audio file – on a different website through a direct website link. When this happens, the original website owner must cover and pay for these server resources each time a web browser wants to load and view the asset.

If you’re a website owner or a web user in general, you might have heard about hotlinking. Many webmasters consider it bad practice because it can disadvantage websites significantly. For such and other reasons, Hotlink Protection will deny access to requests when the HTTP referer does not include your website domain name (and is not blank).

A good example is as follows:

curl  -H ‘Referer:referesite.com’ -svo /dev/null
< HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden

As mentioned, Hotlink Protection does not impact crawling but will prevent the images from being displayed on websites such as Google Images, Pinterest, etc. Supported file extensions: gif, ico, jpg, jpeg, and png. For example, let’s say there is Website B’s owner who found a funny meme on Website A and decided to use it on their website.

But instead of saving the image on their computer and reuploading it, the owner of Website B links the website image directly from Website A to instantly show it on their site. Even though people can see the meme on Website B’s site, the origin server still stores it. In other words, server resources from Website A are used every time a user views the hot-linked image.

If Website B receives high traffic, many of Website A’s server resources will be used. Hotlinking someone’s website assets can have several negative implications for webmasters and website owners in the following ways.

1. Increased server costs

One of the elements of a great website is having a stable hosting solution. But when someone hotlinks to your website, they essentially use your server resources to display the media on their website. This can result in increased server costs for you, as you are now responsible for serving the content to your visitors and the website visitors that are hotlinking to you.

2. Slow website loading times

For one, you can track your website speed using the PageSpeed Insights (PSI) Tool, Google Lighthouse, GTmetrix, or other similar tools, right? If too many people are hotlinking to your website, it can slow down your site’s loading times. This can be especially problematic for websites needing fast loading times or business websites with a lot of multimedia content.

3. Copyright materials infringement

Of course, nothing can be more expensive and downgrading to a web-based business than having a legal action or notice for copyright infringement. In some cases, hotlinking can result in copyright infringement if the person hotlinking to your website is not permitted to use the media. This can result in legal action (DMCA) against the website business owner.

4. Lost website traffic and revenue

To hotlink an image, users can right-click it, copy the image address, and embed the URL onto their website. In this case, if your website is being hotlinked to by many websites, you may lose potential traffic and revenue. This is because the visitors viewing the media on the other websites are not visiting your website, which can result in lost ad revenue or sales.

5. Expensive website management cost

Even if it’s just A Simple WordPress Site Backup, it’s clear that maintaining and managing a website is not easy. For instance, to prevent hotlinking on your website, you may need to add a certain snippet of code to your hypertext access file to ensure that hotlinking is not possible. You can only access this file using an FTP client or File Manager, which is quite technical. Also, ensuring everything runs smoothly demands adequate time; it’s costly and requires sufficient skills.

Why Hotlink Protection Matters In Mitigating Website Hotlinking

To enumerate, as we mentioned, hotlinking is using another website’s bandwidth by displaying their website asset – like an image, video, or audio file – on a different website through a direct web link. When this happens, the original webmaster or website owner must cover and pay for these server resources each time a web browser wants to load and view the asset.

It’s worth mentioning that if you’re a website owner or a web user in general, you might have heard about hotlinking. Hotlinks, along with keyword stuffing, comment spam, and paid links are just a few mispractices committed by marketers on the internet. Known as black hat SEO, these techniques seek to game search engine algorithms in order to rank higher on SERPs.

Many webmasters consider it bad practice because it can disadvantage websites significantly. For example, let’s say the owner of a website A is hosting a particular image on their server. The owner of website B sees that image and wants it featured on his website. However, instead of downloading the image and hosting it on their server, the owner of website B links directly.

Especially to website A’s domain. Therefore, they will avoid connecting to the image through their business website domain.

How they avoid connecting to their domains:
They would be instead using website A’s domain:

Generally speaking, while this may seem convenient and harmless, it can have severe consequences for the website owner whose files are being hotlinked. While also bearing in mind, when it comes to the Core Web Vitals, one of the considerations for a website ranking high in search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex is having a high-performing (speed) website.

The Main Consequences To Avoid Hotlinking Other Websites Content

Since hotlinking requires the website hosting the file to use its bandwidth to load it on your website, it’s considered bad etiquette. Others go further; to call it theft because it eats up the bandwidth of the website you took it from without giving them the benefit of increased traffic. In other words, you’re essentially making that website pay for part of your hosting bill.

That’s how American cartoonist Matthew Inman felt when the Huffington Post UK Hotlinked one of his comics. Since he owned and hosted the multiple images that made up the comic, he replaced them with a note and a screenshot of his monthly hosting bill. It’s a fact that it negatively impacts website owners the most. For those who do it, it’s pretty straightforward.

It’s crystal clear that hotlinking might seem like an easy way to acquire website assets, but it can also harm them. As we mentioned, the drawbacks of hotlinking are many. And there are the main reasons why you should avoid hotlinking at all costs:

The main reasons to avoid hotlinking are as follows:
  • Unethical: Reusing content assets without authorization is theft. Unless the content is under the Creative Commons License, you must acquire permission and rights before using it on your website.
  • Illegal: Hotlinking can have legal repercussions. Hotlinking copyrighted content can lead to legal and monetary consequences. If the original owner sends the perpetrator a copyright infringement notice and the perpetrator fails to respond, the original owner can file a lawsuit.
  • Control: In most cases, you have no control over the hotlinked file. A hotlinked image is connected to the original website. If the original owner decides to modify or delete the content, the changes will also be shown on the target website.
  • Compliance: Hotlinking makes you appear unoriginal and unprofessional. Thus, this practice can poorly reflect on you due to the bad reputation of hotlinking. People may assume you lack originality and don’t respect other users’ rights.
  • Thievery: You are prone to theft because you would be leeching off another website owner’s resources and increasing their hosting costs. When someone views a hotlinked image, it eats up the origin server’s bandwidth. So, the perpetrator is not only stealing content but also stealing website resources from the original owner.

To avoid running into a similar situation as those website owners who fall victim, there are a few things that you can do to prevent websites from hotlinking files hosted on your website. Perse, we’ll try to dig a little deeper into this below.

Some Basic Hotlink Protection Steps Plus The Best Safety Measures

For your information, Hotlinking Protection is the practice of protecting a website’s content so that only authorized users have access to it. Not forgetting this practice is essential because hotlinking can be detrimental to websites, leading to excessive usage of server resources, slow page loading times, and increased hosting costs without any benefits to the site owner.

As we mentioned, hotlink protection prevents other websites from directly linking to files and pictures on your website. Other websites will only link to file types that you don’t specify. An example of hotlinking; Say we like the image on your website, and we want that image on our website. If we use the full URL of your image on our website, the downloading is from your website.

More so every time someone looks at ours. This means we are using your bandwidth for the image. When you enable Hotlink Protection, we cannot steal your bandwidth anymore. Use an image hosting service like Imgur or a related tool for images. This way, you will not steal bandwidth from the original website. What if, for any reason, you can’t acquire the image you want?

A few alternatives to try:
  • Find a similar replacement. You might still be able to deliver the same message with a different image. For example, if there’s a specific photo you can’t get, try acquiring a similar one from another source, such as a stock images service solution like UnsplashShutterstock, and Pexels.
  • Link the page, not the image. If you can’t replace the image with a similar alternative, consider adding a link to the image’s original web page. You might not be able to show the image exactly as you wanted, but your visitors will still have the opportunity to see it by clicking on the link you provided.

Be that as it may, there are some simple steps with various preventive and reactive measures to help stop users from hotlinking your website content files. Furthermore, doing so can help protect your bandwidth, optimize your website performance for speed, and create an optimal user experience. Whichever step you start in hotlink protection depends on your basic interest.

Consider the following simple safety steps:
  1. Use a CDN like Cloudflare with hotlink protection.
  2. Add code to your website .htaccess file to disable hotlinking.
  3. Disable right-click functionality (but this a controversial solution that needs more research).
  4. Use a tool like Watermarkly to add a watermark to your images and other assets.
  5. Issue a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice or takedown request.
  6. You can also Block IP Addresses or rename the hotlinked website files.

If you notice a spike in traffic on your website, you can use a tool such as Google Analytics 4 Property to help dig into your website analytics. If you discover that a large portion of your traffic is coming from only a few websites, they could be hotlinking images or other files on your website without you even knowing about it.

What Does A Website Image Hotlinking Entail?

In a nutshell, taking all the necessary steps to prevent hotlinking on your website can not only protect the integrity of your brand. Equally important, it can not ensure you get due credit over your images and other media objects — it can also save your bandwidth from accidental or intentional abuse and ensure you get the traffic you deserve.

Image hotlinking occurs when a marketer or website owner uses images from another website by referencing its URL. In other words, hotlinking images using someone else’s images on your website by directly linking to those images from your website. Hotlinking images without permission are unethical and can cause several problems for the website that owns them.

For instance, it can lead to excessive bandwidth usage, slow page loading speed, and increased server resources. Not only does this create additional expenses for the website owner, but it can also significantly impact their user experience. Consider hotlink prevention tools or code snippets to prevent others from hotlinking your images using popular image hotlinking tools.

Including;

The most popular method of preventing hotlinking is using .htaccess files to control access to your website’s content. With .htaccess, you can add specific rules that prevent others from hotlinking your website’s images while allowing access to authorized users. This ensures your users can access your content quickly and efficiently from the entry to the exit point level.

In particular, without harming or damaging your website’s speed or performance. Be that as it may, the user-based video tutorial guidelines below will offer additional valuable steps to help you integrate other hotlink protection measures.


HostGator HotLinking Guide — The Steps To Enable And Disable HotLink Protection 

A FEW WARNINGS TO NOTE:

On one side, if your images stop working, you may need to check your HTML source code for a common problem. Some website designers (or programs) may use absolute pathnames for your images. That means, instead of a relative path like “/images/pic.jpg,” it will use the entire URL like “.”

Conversely, you must have that exact protocol and domain name listed in your allowed URLs (“URLs to allow access”). If there is any slight difference in the protocol (https://) or the domain name (domain.com/) between the allowed list and the HTML source code, your images will be blocked.


How To Configure Your HotLink Protection Settings Using The Main Website cPanel

Educating your website users about the risks and consequences of hotlinking can also be an effective way to prevent it from occurring. Please encourage them to use images and other media hosted on their website servers rather than linking to content on other websites. Finally, it’s essential to regularly monitor your website to ensure that no one is hotlinking to your content.

Not without your permission. Several tools can help you identify when hotlinking is occurring and, at the same time, allow you to take action to prevent it from continuing or occurring in the future for optimal performance and user experience.

Some of the essential tools are:
  • Google Analytics Console: If you have Google Analytics on your website, you can monitor your traffic and see where your visitors are coming from. If you notice many visits coming from a single website, it may indicate that they are hotlinking.
  • Image Search Engines: You can use image search engines like TinEye to search for your images and see where they are being used. If they are being used on other websites without your permission, it may be a sign that they are being hotlinked.
  • Web Server Logs: Your web server logs can provide valuable data about who is accessing your website and how they are accessing it. If you notice a large number of requests for a specific file or image, it may be an indication of hotlinking.

That’s it! Following the above tutorial videos and guidelines, you have now protected your website images from being hot-linked. To be safe, ensure all your additional domains are on the Hotlink List and monitor them closely for further action.

Summary Notes:

When enabling or disabling your Hotlink Protection Settings, you should note that some firewalls (such as Symantec’s Norton Internet Security and ZoneAlarm) will block a particular referrer variable to add more user privacy. HotLink protection works with this variable to tell where the request originates. As such, HotLink isn’t the best solution to avoid bandwidth theft.

For one thing, it will eventually block legitimate requests from visitors using one of those firewalls. Unfortunately, this issue is not under our control, and we can do nothing to prevent it from blocking legitimate visitors. This means that you will use it at your own risk. Luckily, by investing in hotlinking prevention, you can save valuable bandwidth for your website.

Resource Reference: Website Security | Top #6 Steps To Secure Your Web Business

As well as increase the overall website speed and performance. Additionally, hotlinking prevention can safeguard your website from being associated with other less reputable sites that may be hotlinking to your content. Moreover, this tactic can help search engines recognize that your website is higher quality and more professional than those that allow hotlinking.

So, with that in mind, what is your take on website hotlinking? Do you think that other methods can help in Hotlink Protection for webmasters and web-based business owners? Please share your opinions, suggestions, recommendations, or contribution questions for Free FAQs & Answers in our comments section. Still, you can also Contact Us if you’ll need more support.

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