Cyberthreats will continue to grow as technology and big data evolve. Whether the motive is to steal money and data or simply wreak havoc, cybercriminals often have a solid return on investment of their time when they attack unprotected and vulnerable websites. They target websites with software that has a malicious intention – also known as malware – and they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
Malware can change the appearance of your website, files, and even alter your computer operating system entirely. Cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to these systems by exploiting vulnerabilities found in weak entry points within system software. In fact, malware can cause your website to be flagged and removed from search engines, ultimately resulting in loss of traffic, decreased trust from your consumers or visitors, and a potential negative impact on your bottom line.
The impacts of malware can often depend on the overall goal of the attacker. Cyber-attacks can range from site defacements to a phishing email, and each has a different agenda. For example, a website defacement can be thought of as online graffiti, and the intention could simply be to make a statement of some kind. If you have an online business or simply have an online presence, there is a good chance you could be faced with malware on your website. To help you prepare, we’ve provided the following simple steps on how to remove malware from your website.
How to Determine if Your Website Has Been Infected By Malware
Cleaning your website of malware first requires identifying whether the site has been infected. An infected website has the following characteristics:
● Slow loading pages, or slow downloads
● Advertisements that pop up on the page, and re-pop up or do not go away even after attempting to close them
● Changes in your website theme or general appearance
● Spam email flooding your inbox
● Website comments full of comment spam or advertisements
● Traffic redirection to other websites resulting in low site traffic on your own page
● Removal from the general search results on various search engines
How to Clean Your Website
Step 1: Back up your site content
Before starting the malware removal process – always make a backup of your website files and database. This will allow you to restore your website if anything goes awry during the malware removal process such as file corruption. Look for a backup in your file manager or in a local drive as this may come in handy to replace files damaged by malware.
Step 2: Identify the malware
Use the file manager within your web hosting account or download an FTP manager to download and review your website files. This could be a time-consuming process depending on how many pages make up your website, but it’s a critically important step. When you do find files that look suspicious, review the code within the files for clues such as eval, base64, fromCharcode, gzinflate, shell_exec or error_reporting().
Step 3: Replace damaged files
Once malware has been successfully removed by restoring the file from a backup or completely removing the malicious file, try loading your website to ensure you are able to successfully view the content on the page. If your defacement is still visible or you have visible scripting errors on your page you must keep looking for the malware affecting your site. As a best practice, keep a current copy of the clean website files and database as well. This should be kept offsite in the event your website is re-infected.
Step 4: Enhance your website defense mechanisms
Removing malware and replacing all of your files can only do so much. If you don’t practice and implement proper cybersecurity protocols, such as keeping your software up-to-date and backing up your content, you’re leaving your online assets vulnerable to another cyber-attack. As a best practice, you should aim to improve your cyber defenses by implementing a web application firewall (WAF) to block cyber threats before they ever hit your website. In addition, it’s recommended to use a website scanner that can automatically detect and remediate malware and other threats as they happen.
Step 5: Protect your online accounts
It’s important to always use strong passwords for every account. Never write your passwords in a notebook or keep them in a spreadsheet online for someone to find. Always use a strong password that includes numbers, letters, and special characters. However, even if you are the only one who knows your password you aren’t doing yourself any favors by using the same strong password over and over for each account. Using a password manager will save you the hassle of remembering a plethora of passwords to logging to your accounts.
Staying Safe from Malware in the Future
Maintaining a clean and malware-free website is fundamental to the success of any website. And, if the website in question is connected to a business, it could prevent you from potential legal action. Case in point - the recent Equifax and Capital One data breaches have both resulted in class action lawsuits against each company, and new data breaches continue to occur resulting in additional lawsuits.
The truth is, if you are running a website of any kind, you owe it to your visitors to have security measures in place. Just a few of the things you can do include, but are not limited to:
● Installing a web application firewall (WAF) to protect your website and web applications from harmful traffic (such as cybercriminals and bad bots), and other cyber threats
● Use a malware scanner to automatically check your website for malicious software and cyber threats that can harm your website
● Update your website often, and keep a clean backup of all data and files at all times, so that in the event of infection you can install the clean copy and get back online faster
● Use a password manager to securely manage the logins for all of your online accounts
Malware can be dangerous for any website, and removing it is vital for the safety and protection of both the website owner, and its visitors. Therefore, understanding what malware is and how to remove it is the first step towards ensuring a malware-free site. Hopefully, the above information has inspired you to keep an eye on your website and ensure your business is protected from cybercriminals.