Evaluating Your Website, Part 2: Malware

Malware. This one word should strike fear into the heart of every website owner.

Often, we don’t think about malware and our website. Or, at least not until it is too late. And, when it’s too late, we see something like this.

Google Malware Warning Image

Actually, no, let me rephrase that. We get a call or email from a customer or client saying, “Hey, did you know that Google thinks your site contains malware?” Then, the panic sets in.

Time to Panic - Beaker Gif

So, what can we do to prevent this sudden onset of panic? A few things, actually. First, what is malware?

Instinctively, we would consider this any software that attempts to gain personal information. Wikipedia defines malware as:

Malware, short for malicious software, is any software used to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. Malware is defined by its malicious intent, acting against the requirements of the computer user, and does not include software that causes unintentional harm due to some deficiency. The term badware is sometimes used, and applied to both true (malicious) malware and unintentionally harmful software.

How does this happen?

Generally, malware is installed on a web server through one of the the following methods:

  • Weak Passwords (You knew that was coming, right?)
  • Insecure Software or Scripts: This could be a Wordpress installation that is out of date and needs updated or some other software that was installed but not secured.
  • Social Engineering: The art of manipulating human nature to get access to what you want. Be it answers to security questions, access to your computer, or any other number of things.
  • Phishing / Scams: Used to obtain personal or secure information from you, normally without your knowing.
  • Disgruntled Employee: You did remove access after that employee was let go, right?

What can I do?

The solutions lie in the vulnerabilities. The following steps can help keep malware off of your web server and are part of a good routine for any computer user.

  • Create strong passwords. Need a great password management app? Try 1Password.
  • Keep your software updated. WordPress, Joomla, ExpressionEngine, whatever you have installed on your server.
  • Check your PC for viruses / vulnerabilities. Your PC. That means your home computer, laptop, work computer.

How can I check my server?

Enter Google Safe Browsing. The same service that caused you panic by throwing up a giant red warning sign on your site can help you determine if you have or had malware on your site.

Google Safe Browsing is a service provided by Google that provides lists of URLs for web resources that contain malware or phishing content. The Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox web browsers use the lists from the Google Safe Browsing service for checking pages against potential threats. - Wikipedia

You can easily check you own site using the following URL, replacing inthepanhandle.com with your own website address.

http://www.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=inthepanhandle.com

When you visit the URL it will tell you the following:

  • What is the current listing status for the site?
  • What happened when Google visited this site?
  • Has this site acted as an intermediary resulting in further distribution of malware?
  • Has this site hosted malware?

If you see that your site has hosted malware in the last 90 days, but is not currently hosting malware, don’t worry too much. Check out the safe browsing diagnostic for Google.com. Yup, malware in the last 90 days. It’s not the end of the world. Especially if you are already through it. If you are currently hosting malware, well, then it will feel like the end of the world.

How can I be proactive?

First, take care of everything above (secure passwords, update software, etc). Next, keep reading.

An ounce of prevention is worth… $60 per year. If we, Firebrand Media, host your website then you are in luck because we are offering a new service this year. Malware monitoring and cleanup. With the malware scanning and removal service enabled, we will continuously scan your website for any malware, proactively clean it up for you, and then we will send you a report on what was done. That report will also tell you what the cause was, so you know what happened and how it can be fixed going forward. All for $5 per month. Contact us for details on how you can add this to your server. Trust me, it’s worth it. We have a couple clients using it and it’s worth it if only to have it off your list of things to worry about.

If we don’t currently host your site? Why not?

References:

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About The Author

G. Brad Hopkins's avatar
  • G. Brad Hopkins
  • About Me: I bought my first computer - an Apple Performa 6320 - when I was in college and have been building websites ever since. These days I spend most of my time writing code and helping to bring interesting projects to life.
  • @gbradhopkins