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How To Remove Malware
& Fix the Warning by Google

Google now warns users when they detect malware on a website with the ominous message "This site may harm your computer". Few people will go past that warning to your website. So, if your site has been flagged with this warning message, you should consider it as compelling evidence that your site has been hacked and that you need to take immediate action.

As I say, few users will visit a site that is marked as being dangerous, so you can't simply hope the problem will go away by itself. To get the warning removed, you first have to clean up your website by actually removing the malware and closing the breach in your security. This isn't really an SEO Tip, but if your site is flagged, none of your search engine optimization efforts will help you regain your traffic. This article contains my recommendations on fixing a hacked site, how to remove Google's malware warning, and a Website Malware Prevention Checklist.


Malware Removal: Fix Your Hacked Site When
Google Warns "The Site ahead contains harmful programs"

As I said, if Google has flagged your site, it's a virtual certainty that your site has been hacked. That is, there are files on your website that have been modified to include malicious software called "malware". But many webmasters have little experience dealing with this level of security issues, so the following information is intended to be a useful guide for inexperienced webmasters and website designers to dealing with malware and hackers.

  • Start by doing a thorough virus scan of the computer that you use to create your website. If your business uses several different computers to access the files on your website, you need to check them all. It is very important to insure that you have removed any virus on your computer that can be used to alter the files for your website or to steal your FTP account user name and password information. This insures that your site won't simply be re-infected by your own computer once you've cleaned it. Most people use anti-virus software as a matter of course, so it's important to supplement this protection with software that you do not use on a regular basis to be sure that no infections have gotten past your regular anti-virus software. There are several good free anti-virus or malware scanning programs available online that you can use to do a second insurance scan. I recommend Spybot: Search & Destroy, or Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware. Either one will do a thorough scan of your computer and will remove any suspicious files.

  • Change the passwords on all of the FTP Accounts for the website. Hackers are increasingly targeting FTP account access information - user name and password - to spread their infections. Changing your password on a regular basis is also a good security practice in any case. Stolen log-in credentials are becoming the most common method hackers use to access other websites, so you need to be sure that only authorized users have FTP access to your website. It's also best to set up separate FTP accounts for each person that you authorize to update your site, so that you can easily disable those extra accounts at any time.

  • Delete all of the files from the server. The best way to remove an infection is to wipe the server clean and then restore the site from a known clean back-up copy because hackers often add files to a site that either re-infects the webpages or opens a backdoor to the site for them to regain access. The only files you can leave behind with relative safety are your mySQL database files, since they're almost always on a separate server and are rarely a source of malware - they're mostly the target. But if you have recent back-ups of your mySQL data files, you should strongly consider restoring the database files on the server from your back-up copies as well. If you haven't kept back-ups of your files, you can often find recent copies available online through archiving websites like The Wayback Machine. You may not find all of your original content, and it won't help with dynamically-generated pages (like PHP files), but you should be able to find a good deal of your plain HTML content.

  • Restore the files for your website from your local back-ups. Check the malware warning from Google to see which pages they marked as suspicious, and manually check to see that your local copies of those files are clean. It's a good idea to check the last modification date on the local files to see if they appear to match the dates when you last updated them. If all is well, you can go ahead and restore the site by uploading the files.

  • Update your blog, forum, photo gallery, CMS, plug-ins, addons, and all other scripts that you use on your website to the latest version. Most hackers gain access to websites by exploiting known vulnerabilities in older versions of popular software. The people who create these scripts are usually very good at keeping up with hackers, but you must regularly check if new updates are released and install them as soon as possible. Once you've updated the scripts on your website, be sure to update your local copy as well.

  • File a Malware Review Request through Google's Webmaster Tools console. Google will periodically re-scan a site to see if the problem has been repaired, of course, but that can take quite some time. Filing a Review Request gets your site examined much sooner and will usually get the malware warning removed within a few days (often sooner, but there are no guarantees).

In summary, the key steps to removing Google's Malware Warning are: (1) Removing the malware from your website, (2) Closing any holes in your site's security, and (3) Filing a Review Request. If you follow these steps and still have trouble, you can get more help by visiting Google's Webmaster Help Forum where there are people who will examine your site and make recommendations. You can also always check to see if your site is currently flagged by Google by visiting:

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

Just replace "example.com" at the end of the above URL with your domain name. You can also use the form below:

Naturally, I should mention that my own Malware Removal Service is very affordable. If you are located in the Minneapolis area, I can come to your business to perform the computer clean-ups I mention above. But no matter where you are, I can help fix malware infections and hacking issues.



Website Malware Prevention Checklist

You should also make the following a part of your regular maintenance schedule to insure the ongoing security of your website:

  • Make complete back-up copies of your website files and database files at least once a month.
  • Check for updates for all of the popular scripts that your website uses at least every two weeks.
  • Run complete anti-virus scans of your computer with at least two different anti-virus programs once a month.
  • Check Google's Safe Browsing diagnostic tool at least once a month and whenever your site's traffic takes an unusual dip.
  • Change the password on your website FTP account at least twice a year. And don't use the same password that you use anywhere else.
  • Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools. The Webmaster Tools console will warn you if Google finds malware or other suspicious activity on your site. It will also let you discover signs that your site has been hacked, like 404 errors for URLs that you didn't create, and search queries for keywords and phrases that you didn't use on your pages.

These steps will help reduce the risk of your website being hacked, and will also reduce the risk of losing any important information if your site is hacked despite your efforts. It's also a good idea to sign up for Message Forwarding in Google's Webmaster Tools so that any malware warnings are automatically sent to an Email address that you specify. That way, you are notified immediately if Google detects any problems with your website. If you need help beyond this information, see my Website Malware Removal Services.


This page was last updated on March 31, 2015.


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