Malware is one of those things that lurks in the underbelly of the web – no one really knows where it comes from and everyone hopes it won’t happen to their website. Unfortunately, if it does happen to your site, the whole world will know it thanks to Google’s flagging it up by the side of your search result. This will clearly have a massive impact on traffic to the website as most visitors will be immediately dissuaded from clicking. It will also impact on your brand and visitor trust, leaving you with a lot of work to do when the Malware sign goes away. But, how do you get rid of it in the first place?
1. Know Your Enemy
Google has built automated scanners as part of its online security detail. These scanners flag up sites hosting potential threats during the index process. A warning will then accompany the website in its search listings and through certain browsers such as Google Chrome when a user attempts to navigate directly to the domain.
2. Act Quickly
If your site has been flagged up as one that may harm a visitor’s computer, it’s important to act as quickly as possible in order to minimize long term damage to your site’s reputation. Being vigilant is the first step – simply logging in to your Google Webmaster Tools interface every so often will ensure you are notified sooner rather than later. When you log in to the dashboard, a large red notice will alert you to the fact that your site may have been hacked and is potentially distributing malware.
As soon as you see this notice, try and find the malware within the source code of your site. This is a laborious task, particularly for large sites as you will literally have you go through the source code of each page with a fine toothcomb.
Be very careful when browsing through your site for malware or badware as there is still the potential for your computer to be infected. Make sure that you have the latest version of your browser of choice installed and completely up to date anti-virus protection before setting off to clean the site. Google also recommends that you post to the Webmaster Help Forum if you’re having trouble finding the malware so that other community users can assist.
3. Request A Rethink
When you are sure that you have removed the code, you can request that Google recheck your site. Be proactive about requesting this, as the sooner your site is unflagged in the search results or browser navigation, the better it is for you. The evaluation of your site can only take place after source code cleaning has taken place so be very sure that you have got all of the problem code out before requesting a review. To file the request, simply log back in to your Google Webmaster Tools account and click on the overview page link.
4. Consider if a Reconsideration Request Is Also Necessary
If some of your content has been compromised by malware, it may be that your rankings are directly attacked. Placement of links for pharmaceutical products within your content pages, for example, could result in some indexed pages being dropped and rankings falling. If you believe this to be the case, you’ll also need to file a index reconsideration request to recoup lost visibility.
5. Review Your Security
Just as you would ramp up your home security after a break in, take the time to sit down and figure out how you can prevent your website being victimized by malware in future. To do this effectively, you must know the shape the malware took and how your site was exploited – was it SQL injection for example, where the database powering your site is attacked in order to change site behavior? Or was cross site scripting to blame? This is where a form becomes the ‘virus’ carrier.
It can be very difficult to know exactly how your site fell victim to malware. Where the problem manifests itself quite obviously – such as when the home page has been defaced or if content has been changed, you can often trace the footsteps of the hack and then take sufficient remedial action. If it is less obvious, such as hiding links behind the background of your site to spammy websites (ads for pills or gambling), it can take longer to get to the root cause. In these cases, follow good practice guidelines such as always using the latest available versions of applications and software integrated with your website, routinely review your source code for alien snippets, and use Google Search site: query to trawl through your site for inserted, spammy keywords.
Follow this five-step process and protect your website from malware attacks and their consequences.