Do you think your website is too small to be plagued by malware? If so, you would be wrong. The reality is that anyone’s website can be a target – regardless of its size or the type of content that is published. With that in mind, below are five malware removal tips your website needs to keep your visitors safe and to protect your hard work.
What is Malware and what does it do?
Before we get into the specifics of malware removal tips you should know, first you need to understand exactly what malware is. The short answer is that it’s malicious software that can severely damage or even destroy a website and infect the devices of visitors that access the website. The longer and perhaps more complicated answer is that malware is a term used to describe multiple harmful computer programs such as viruses, trojans, worms and more that cybercriminals use to cause website owners and visitors problems, and to gain unauthorized access to private data.
As PC Magazine explains, “A virus spreads when someone launches the infected program; a worm spreads without any help.” This makes worms one of the more dangerous types of malware because it can silently creep around in your computer system, wreaking havoc without your knowledge. However, where cybercriminals were once interested in infecting systems with malware simply to play pranks and disrupt people, these days most hackers are in it for the money – and there’s a lot of money to be earned from stealing from innocent people on the internet. That’s why the malware of choice for most cybercriminals are trojan horse programs. PC Magazine stated that hackers might use malware to “send your personal and financial data to [their] malware HQ, install additional programs to earn per-installation cash,” or basically do anything else that they can think of to cash in on your website.
Your personal data can be revealed with malware.
What is personal data? It’s your credit card numbers, your home address, your name – in some cases it can also be your medical data, your bank account information. Bottom line – it’s all the private information that you wouldn’t want to fall into the hands of a nefarious individual. Not only can this data be used to drain your bank accounts and trash your credit, but it could also be leaked just to damage your reputation.
Your reputation can be destroyed because of malware.
Case in point – the infamous data breach in 2015 of a commercial website that was setup to enable extramarital affairs. And, this is just one example of the kind of personalized data people wouldn’t want to become public. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if it was made public you had a private alcohol addiction or a sexually transmitted disease? How would you feel if it was leaked that you hate your boss, or cheat on your spouse/significant others (or worse, your taxes!)? While most people probably aren’t hiding a secret life as a criminal, there are simply a lot of details we share to websites that we would prefer to be kept safe from prying eyes.
5 Tips for Malware Removal and Prevention
Now that you have a brief idea of what malware is and the damage it can cause, here are some tips for malware removal and prevention:
1. Your passwords are the first line of defense
One of the most common ways that malware can infect your website is through compromised credentials. You and your website users must have strong passwords that are difficult to guess or be unlocked by software. The strongest ones have a combination of numbers, characters, and lowercase and uppercase letters.
While it used to be common practice to change your passwords every few months, security experts now believe it’s better to ensure you have a strong and unique password for each account, then only change it when you believe it may have been compromised. Frequently changing passwords may encourage bad password habits, when in reality the most important aspect of password security is not using the same password repeatedly. By using the same password, if one account gets compromised, any other account with the same email and password combo can be easily compromised as well.
2. Update your plugins and software for your website
Believe it or not, outdated plugins and extensions are one of the leading entry points for malware. Plugins, extensions, and themes represent someone else’s code that you’re trusting to run on your website. Whether it’s willful negligence or simply ignorance, any third-party software added to your website can and will be vulnerable to exploit at some point. WordPress plugins make for great targets, because some of the more popular ones have over 5 million active installs. By updating regularly, you’re applying security patches that protect against newly discovered vulnerabilities, ensuring your site has the maximum level of security.
3. Keep an eye out for unrecognized admin users
Some cybercriminals will use low level access to create what’s known as a backdoor into your website enabling them to sneak in and gain admin level access. If you see users, especially admin users you don’t recognize, investigate and delete them when necessary. When it comes to your legitimate admin users, it’s also recommended to follow the principle of least privilege, which is a security concept that a user should be given the lowest permissions necessary to do their job. This results in less risk if that user becomes compromised in the future.
4. Website backups are your friend
Regularly backing up your website will allow you to restore to a functional backup in the event that a cybercriminal manages to access or modify your website. Unwanted pop-ups, spam on your website, and unauthorized redirects, are all signs that malware could be on your website. The goal of the restore is to undo damage caused by malware or remove the malware itself (by restoring to a point prior to an infection). But, you may be wondering, what is the best method of malware removal?
5. Use premium malware scanning and removal software
You’ll want to have a tool that regularly scans for and automatically removes malware from your website. The best programs will continuously be running, looking for vulnerabilities, and patching them up 24/7. There are several benefits to using a premium tool that scans and manages your malware removal including, but not limited to:
- Peace of mind
- Automatic malware detection and removal
- Increased trust for your visitors
- Improved SEO (Google lowers the search engine rankings of websites they feel could be compromised, and ones they suspect are harmful are often eliminated completely from search)
Malware Removal and Prevention Doesn’t Have to be Complicated
While the threats of malware are very real, it doesn’t mean you have to worry about it as frequently as cybercriminals are working to breach websites around the world. In addition to securing your website, you may even want to educate your users on how they can protect themselves online and detect scam websites. With active scanning in tandem with strong and secure passwords, regular updates, and available backups on hand, you will be in a prime position to respond to the threat of malware on your website. While you can’t guarantee that your site will never be targeted by malware, you can significantly reduce the exposure and mitigate the damage done with the best security practices!
Websites built on Webnames’ Web Hosting and WordPress Hosting can easily be protected by the tips and Sitelock tools discussed in this article. If you have any questions, please contact our support team for assistance.
This blog article is a guest article by Ron, a third party contributor.
Ron Doss is a Senior Web Security Analyst and content contributor at SiteLock, a global cybersecurity company, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. With over 10 years’ experience in web design and hosting, as well as 5 years focused on web security, Ron specializes in finding and removing malware along with dispelling other website security issues that harm websites. When he’s not ridding the world of malware and making the web a safer and better place, he’s pwning n00bs while online gaming and yeeting his life savings on meme stocks.