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How to Clean Up a Malware-Infested WordPress Website

Have you just learned that your WordPress website is infested with malware?

Maybe you’ve noticed some of your pages have been hacked, or perhaps you’ve been given a warning from your hosting provider that your website is being used to deliver malicious payloads.

Regardless of what’s going on, you need to act fast.

The longer you allow your website to remain infested, the worse things can get.

Malware can do serious damage to your website, other websites on your hosting account, and can harm your visitors.

If left to linger, your host may even terminate your account without notice.

To avoid serious problems, this helpful guide will help you clean up malware quickly and efficiently.

7 Signs that your website might be infected

Although malware is malicious, it’s not always apparent when your site has become infected.

However, when you know what to look for, you can usually catch the problem before it becomes too damaging.

First, we’ll discuss the signs that indicate your website might be compromised.

Then, we’ll explore ways to resolve this problem.

Here are 7 subtle and not-so-subtle signs that your WordPress website has become infested with malware.

1. Your webpages have been changed/hijacked

web pages have been changed/hijacked

One of the more obvious signs that your website has been infected with malware is that your webpages have been hijacked and content has been altered, erased, or replaced.

For example, sometimes malware replaces entire pages with some kind of tag associated with a specific hacker organization or a foreign political cause.

You might also find random links, images, banners, or ads suddenly displaying on your web pages.

This might include demands for payment, warnings, or links to purchase illegal products.

If you see any kind of content that you didn’t create, your site could be infected.

Some hijacked sites look legitimate

One of the more sinister content altering attacks is when hackers use malware to present visitors with malicious content that looks like a discussion forum where people are talking about the exact topic the user just searched for in the search engine.

Often, the fake discussion forum conversation looks like someone has posted a link to download the information the user is looking for.

When the user clicks on the fake download link, malware is then installed on their computer.

This type of malware easily slips under the radar. As the website owner, you wouldn’t see this content; it’s spun up on demand through search engine queries and is only displayed to first-time visitors based on their IP address.

If any of your visitors fall for these kinds of tricks, they’re going to blame you for their losses, so act fast.

It’s not worth risking your reputation and good name.

2. A suspended hosting account

Webhosts don’t play around with malware. If your webhost realizes your account is hosting malware, they’ll shut down your account with a suspension at first – and then a permanent deletion if you don’t fix the problem in a certain timeframe.

However, it’s equally possible that a webhost might terminate your account without warning.

By the time a webhost realizes a website is infected with malware, the scheme has usually been going on for a while.

Generally, it takes several complaints for them to investigate and trace the malicious payloads to a given website, but when they do, they shut it down.

Most shared hosting providers will not give you the tools to fix your site and you’ll need to do it yourself.

However, if you have a cloud hosting account, you might have malware cleanup services included in your plan.

3. Data loss

Sometimes malware deletes files and information from your website, including information stored in your databases, along with images and PDF files.

Worse, some malware is designed to steal data for nefarious purposes, like identity theft.

If you notice missing data or you feel your customers’ sensitive information has been compromised, you could be at risk for lawsuits under data privacy laws.

This might result in fines and even jail time, depending on how the malware ended up on your WordPress website.

The moment you suspect something is off, get your site scanned for malware without hesitation. If you find anything, handle it immediately.

4. Your visitors are complaining

Sometimes visitors will give you a heads up that something isn’t right with your website.

Don’t brush off their concerns.

Early warnings from your visitors might be exactly what you need to solve the issue before it does serious damage.

Remember that you might not see the same pages they see, since some malware is designed to spin up new pages with unique content on the fly.

The best thing to do is trust your visitors and get your site scanned and then professionally cleaned.

5. Your site contains unauthorized redirects

unauthorized redirects

Are some of your web pages being redirected to other websites that you didn’t set up?

This is a common symptom of malware. Hackers that want to generate extra traffic will hijack web traffic by creating redirects from your pages to their pages.

They’re usually trying to capture victims for scams or gain ranking in the search engines.

Redirects don’t seem too malicious, considering most people would probably recognize what was happening.

However, consider that your visitors will be annoyed if they keep getting redirected.

Most people, including your regular visitors, probably won’t come back if it happens more than once.

6. You’ve been blacklisted from Google

If people encounter a safety warning after clicking through to your website from search engine results, they’re probably not going to continue through to your website.

There will always be some exceptions, but they will be few, and new visitors will bounce.

Whenever a search engine realizes there is suspicious or malicious activity taking place on a website, it will add the entire domain name to its blacklist.

Google notoriously adds more than 10,000 websites to its backlist every single day.

Although Google is the top search engine in terms of market share, most search engines have good algorithms that can detect malware based on unsafe attributes and activity.

7. Your website loads slowly

Google officially uses site speed and page speed in its algorithm for ranking sites in search results.

A slow website could push one of your competitors above you in search results, but that’s the least of your worries.

A slow-loading website can also indicate a malware infestation.

Usually, malware hides malicious code throughout your WordPress folders in order to remain undetected for as long as possible.

You may not realize that your site is running scripts 24/7 from these hidden files.

However, if your website is loading slower than usual, that’s a good indication that something might be hogging your hosting resources.

Why you need to handle malware immediately

Types of Malware

It’s critical to clean up a malware-infested site immediately because your reputation is on the line.

The longer you wait, the more consequences there will be for your site and your business.

For instance, if you wait too long, you’ll eventually get added to Google’s malicious site blacklist and you’ll have to go through a rigorous process to get it removed.

Before you do anything, scan your website

scan your website

The first thing you need to do is scan your website using software designed to identify malware.

You can’t resolve an issue until you know exactly what’s wrong and where the problem is located.

Scanning in the midst of a crisis is important.

However, it’s ideal to scan your website for malware on a regular basis; you’ll spot potential issues when they’re still small, before they become a major problem.

Your host may have recommended a malware scanning solution when you signed up for your account.

If you didn’t sign up for the service, consider getting the service as soon as possible.

It’s always easier when your host manages your malware scans for you.

This way, you won’t need to install any software or remember to run software on a particular schedule.

Hire a professional to resolve the malware infection

Unless you’re experienced with malware removal, it’s not wise to tackle a malware problem on your own because you’ll miss a lot of hidden files and code.

Many malware infestations are spread throughout multiple folders and subfolders, and malicious code is often inserted into important PHP files like wp-config.php and wp-load.php.

If you don’t know exactly what to look for, you’ll miss the malicious code.

Find a professional who specializes in cleaning up malware from WordPress websites.

You won’t regret the decision – you’ll be in good hands and your website will be restored faster than you could ever make happen on your own.

There are, however, several preventive measures you can take that will protect your site from future attacks.

  • Prohibit PHP file uploads to public directories.
  • Subscribe to a weekly malware scanning service.
  • Install a security plugin like MalCare to scan for malware. However, be aware that some security plugins have vulnerabilities that hackers have exploited in the past and no security plugin can provide 100% protection.
  • Clear your cache regularly.
  • Check your .htaccess file periodically for signs of malware.
  • Don’t use unnecessary WordPress plugins – when plugins are abandoned by the developer, they become a security risk. Plugins can also be a security risk even when they’re fully maintained.

Consider rebuilding your website from backup files

As a final option, consider rebuilding your website from your backup files or even your original files.

It’s possible that your backup files might be infected with malware if you created those backups after your site became infected, so scan everything before uploading.

If your backup files are just MS Word documents containing your original content, you should be fine.

Of course, this means you’ll need to copy and paste your content back into each page and post and format everything all over again.

However, if your site is too much of a mess, and it’s relatively small, it might be worth starting over.

In some cases, your host may have backup options that will allow you to revert to a previously updated version of WordPress.

Create a new disaster recovery plan

Create a new disaster recovery plan

For most people, the need to have a disaster recovery plan is prompted by their first experience with being hacked.

If this is the first time you’ve been compromised, you probably don’t have a solid disaster recovery plan yet, but you’ll want to get one as soon as possible.

Need help with WordPress malware cleanup?

If you’re struggling with a malware-infected WordPress website or simply require custom web design for your WordPress website, and you aren’t sure how to fix it, drop us a message and let us know what’s going on.

Our cybersecurity partners are always happy to help individuals and businesses regain their customers’ trust by cleaning up malware infestations so they can return to business as usual.

If you’re already considering redesigning and rebuilding your website, we’ll build you a brand-new website and set you up with a system to back up your files on a regular basis.

With a regular backup system in place, you’ll have an easier time restoring you content should you get hacked again in the future.

Ryan Nead
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