Detect and Remove Malware from a WordPress website

How to Detect & Remove Malware from WordPress Website

WordPress, being an immensely popular platform, unfortunately, becomes a prime target for hackers. The stealthy nature of most WordPress malware allows infections to go undetected for prolonged periods. However, certain unmistakable indicators such as WP redirect hacks or compromised admin panels leave visible traces. Removing WordPress malware can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor.

In this comprehensive guide, we aim to simplify the process of WordPress malware removal by providing a breakdown of common symptoms, a step-by-step approach to identifying and eliminating malware, and valuable tips to enhance the security of your WordPress site.

Rest assured that by following these guidelines, you can effectively safeguard your WordPress website, protecting it against malware threats without compromising your valuable time and resources.

11 Signs Your WordPress Site Is Infected With Malware

Detecting a malware infection in your WordPress site is crucial for timely remediation. While the symptoms may vary depending on the type of malware, it is essential to recognize the following indicators as potential signs of a WordPress malware infection:

  1. Search Engine Blacklisting: Your website gets blacklisted by search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, leading to warnings or blocks.
  2. Sudden Traffic Decline: You notice a significant drop in user traffic to your website without any apparent reason or explanation.
  3. Hosting Account Suspension: Your hosting provider suspends your account due to malware propagation, triggering an account suspension notification.
  4. Unexpected Pop-ups & Ads: Unusual pop-ups and advertisements appear on your WordPress site, redirecting users to suspicious websites.
  5. Excessive Server Resource Usage: Adblockers flag your website for cryptocurrency mining or excessive utilization of GPU resources, even with the low visitor traffic. Users may complain about high CPU usage.
  6. Unauthorized User Accounts: Suspicious new administrators or being locked out of accessing your website’s backend, indicating potential unauthorized access.
  7. Suspicious Files: Abnormal files with obscure names appear in critical WordPress folders like wp-admin and wp-includes. These files may be executed repeatedly through Cron jobs.
  8. Security Alerts: You receive security notifications from reliable security solutions, such as Astra Security, about recently detected malware on your website.
  9. File Tampering: Alterations are found in important files like the header and footer, containing encoded or obfuscated code (e.g., base64 encoding).
  10. Spam Activities: Your domain is associated with sending unsolicited spam emails, and your website is listed on spam blacklists.
  11. Foreign Characters: Unintended Japanese or other foreign characters appear on your website or in search results, suggesting a possible compromise.

How to Detect Malware in WordPress Site?

By recognizing these signs of a WordPress malware infection, you can promptly take action to secure your website and protect your visitors’ data.

1. Review Your Backup Files for Hacked Content

Examine your backup files carefully to identify any signs of suspicious activity. Look for files with unusual names or recent modifications. Using a code editor like Dreamweaver, TextWrangler, BBEdit, Coda, or similar tools, pay attention to abnormal color codes or an excessive amount of code, as these could indicate a potential issue.

2. Conduct a Targeted Google Search

Perform a targeted Google search using relevant terms related to your website’s code, such as specific div names. This can help you uncover any hacked elements within your website. For example, in a previous case, a client’s hacked site was found to have a suspicious file named ‘index.php’, which raised concerns.

3. Analyze Raw Access Logs

Delve into the Raw Access Logs accessible through your hosting cPanel to identify potential compromises. Look for any POST statements in the log files and make note of the IP addresses associated with them. This information can provide valuable insights into the nature and timing of the compromise.

4. Address Outdated Plugins and Themes

Pay attention to outdated plugins and themes, as they often serve as entry points for hacks. Identify the plugins you were using on your compromised site and investigate whether running older versions could have led to their compromise. Be particularly cautious with widely-used plugins like Gravity Forms, Revolution Slider, and any themes or plugins that contain the timthumb.php script. Remember, many hacks exploit well-known vulnerabilities that are easily targeted by hackers.

5. Scan Your Website with a Malware Detection Tool

Utilize reputable malware detection tools to scan your WordPress website thoroughly. These tools can automatically search for known malware signatures, suspicious files, and other indicators of compromise. Consider using security plugins like Wordfence, Sucuri, or MalCare, which offer malware scanning and cleanup functionalities. Running a comprehensive scan can help identify any hidden malware that may not be easily detectable through manual inspection.

By following these rearranged and rephrased steps, you can effectively detect malware in your WordPress site and take the necessary actions to restore security and safeguard the integrity of your website.

Steps To Remove Malware From WordPress Site

Step 1: Activate Maintenance Mode for Your WordPress Site

The first step is to activate maintenance mode for your WordPress site, which temporarily hides your website content and displays a message informing visitors about the site’s temporary unavailability.

To achieve this, you can utilize a plugin like WP Maintenance Mode & Coming Soon, which offers easy-to-use functionality.

  1. Install and activate the WP Maintenance Mode & Coming Soon plugin, which is available for free.
  2. Once activated, go to Settings → WP Maintenance Mode in your WordPress dashboard.
  3. Within the plugin settings, select “Activated” as the status to enable maintenance mode.
  4. Finally, click the “Save settings” button located at the bottom of the screen to apply the changes.

With these simple steps, your WordPress site will enter maintenance mode, effectively hiding its content and displaying the designated message to visitors.

Step 2: Perform a Comprehensive Backup of Your WordPress Site and Database

Creating regular backups of your WordPress site is essential to ensure you can restore it in case of any issues or accidental data loss. To effectively back up your site, follow these steps:

  1. Backup your Database and Files: It’s crucial to back up both your database and files. The database contains your content, settings, and user information, while the files include themes, plugins, and media.
  2. Utilize a WordPress Backup Plugin: The easiest and most efficient way to accomplish this is by using a reliable WordPress backup plugin like Jetpack Backup. This plugin offers a user-friendly interface, allowing you to download your files and database on demand. Additionally, it provides automatic real-time backups, ensuring all your changes are consistently saved.
  3. Manual Backup (Alternative): Alternatively, you can manually back up your WordPress site by using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) tools to download your files and phpMyAdmin to export your database. However, this method requires technical knowledge and is more time-consuming.

By creating a comprehensive backup of your WordPress site and database, either with a reliable backup plugin like Jetpack Backup or through manual methods, you can safeguard your website’s data and easily restore it if needed.

Step 3: Identify and Remove Malware from Your Site

After preparing your site, the next essential step is to detect and eliminate any potential malware. This involves a thorough examination of your database, files, and source code. Follow these steps to effectively identify malware without plagiarizing:

  1. Utilize a Malware Scanner Tool: Utilize a reputable malware scanner tool like Malwarebytes to simplify the process. This tool scans your website, searching for malicious code and possible threats.
  2. Manual Malware Identification: If you prefer a manual approach, carefully inspect each crucial area of your site for indications of infection. In your database, look for common syntaxes often used by cybercriminals (refer to Step 9 for examples of malicious PHP code).
  3. Source Code Analysis: When analyzing your source code, pay close attention to two key attributes: “script” and “iframe.” Suspicious URLs or file names within lines starting with “script=>” or containing “iframe src=URL>” are often red flags for malware presence.
Step 4: Reinstall the WordPress Core Files for a Clean Installation

If your WordPress installation is compromised, an effective approach to cleaning your hacked site is to replace all the core WordPress files with a fresh set. However, you will retain your original wp-config.php file and wp-content folder, which contains essential customization and media files.

Follow these optimized steps to carry out a clean reinstallation:

  1. Obtain a Fresh Copy of WordPress: Download the latest version of WordPress from the official website,
  2. Extract the Downloaded File: Unzip the downloaded file and navigate to its contents.
  3. Delete wp-config.php and wp-content: Delete the wp-config.php file and the wp-content folder from the extracted files. These are the only two components you should remove; everything else should remain intact.
  4. Upload the Remaining Files: Use your preferred File Manager or FTP client to upload the remaining files from the extracted WordPress folder to your server. This process will overwrite your existing installation, replacing it with a clean set of files.

Refer to the appropriate resources on how to bulk upload files via FTP if needed.

By replacing the core WordPress files with a fresh installation while preserving the wp-config.php file and wp-content folder, you can effectively cleanse your compromised WordPress site and ensure its security and functionality.

Step 5: Remove Malicious Code from the wp-config.php File

To ensure the security of your WordPress site, it’s crucial to inspect and remove any potentially malicious code from the wp-config.php file. By comparing it to the original version provided by WordPress Codex, you can easily identify and eliminate any unauthorized modifications. Follow these optimized steps to clean up the wp-config.php file:

  1. Obtain a Fresh Copy of wp-config.php: Download a new copy of the wp-config.php file from the official WordPress Codex.
  2. Open and Compare Files: Open both the fresh copy and your existing wp-config.php file in a text editor. Compare them side by side. It’s important to note that certain variations in your file may be legitimate, particularly related to your database information. However, thoroughly examine the contents for any suspicious additions.
  3. Remove Suspicious Code: Take the time to identify and remove any suspicious code that differs from the original version. Pay close attention to unfamiliar or potentially malicious additions. Once you’ve cleaned up the file, save it.
  4. Upload the Cleaned-up File: Upload the cleaned-up wp-config.php file to your server, replacing the existing one.

By comparing your wp-config.php file with the original version from the WordPress Codex, you can identify and remove any malicious code. This proactive step helps safeguard your WordPress site and ensures the integrity of your configuration file.

Step 6: Install a Fresh Version of Your Theme

To maintain a secure and functional WordPress site, it is crucial to reinstall your theme using a clean version. However, if you have made customizations using a child theme, it is important to safeguard your modifications. Follow these optimized steps to reinstall your theme while preserving the integrity of your child theme:

  1. Deactivate the Parent Theme: Access your WordPress dashboard and navigate to the Appearance → Themes section. Deactivate the parent theme from the list of available themes.
  2. Remove the Parent Theme Folder: Utilize your File Manager or FTP client to locate and delete the folder corresponding to the parent theme in your WordPress installation.
  3. Obtain the Latest Version: If your theme is sourced from the official WordPress repository, search for it there and download the most recent version. For premium or external themes, acquire the necessary theme files from the respective source.
  4. Upload and Activate the Theme: Return to your WordPress dashboard, proceed to Appearance → Themes, and choose the “Add New” option. Select the ability to upload the theme and upload the downloaded theme file, which is usually provided in a zipped format. Afterward, click on the Activate button to activate the fresh version.
  5. Activate the Child Theme: Finally, activate your child theme to restore your customizations and retain your desired functionality. This ensures that your site benefits from the updated parent theme while preserving your unique modifications.

By following these steps and reinstalling a clean version of your theme while safeguarding your child theme, you can uphold a secure and tailored WordPress site, equipped with the latest enhancements and a personalized touch.

Step 7: Update and Reconfigure Plugins

After re-installing your theme, it is essential to update and reconfigure your plugins to ensure their compatibility and security. Follow these additional steps to optimize your WordPress site:

  1. Update Plugins: Access your WordPress dashboard and navigate to the Plugins section. Check for available updates and proceed to update all installed plugins to their latest versions. This helps address any known vulnerabilities and ensures compatibility with the updated theme.
  2. Verify Plugin Compatibility: After updating your plugins, verify their compatibility with the new theme. Test each plugin’s functionality to ensure it works as expected and does not conflict with the updated theme or other plugins.
  3. Reconfigure Settings: Review and reconfigure plugin settings as necessary. Some plugins may require adjustments or reactivation to align with the updated theme and maintain their intended functionality. Pay close attention to settings related to appearance, integrations, and performance optimization.
  4. Remove Unnecessary Plugins: Take the opportunity to evaluate and remove any unused or unnecessary plugins. Keeping your plugin list lean helps minimize potential security risks and reduces the risk of compatibility issues with future updates.

By following these additional steps, you can ensure that your plugins are up to date, compatible with the new theme, and optimized for your WordPress site’s performance and security.

How to Protect Your WordPress Site from Future Malware Attacks

Enhancing the security of your WordPress website is crucial to protect it from malware infections and potential breaches. Consider the following steps to strengthen your WordPress security:

  1. Implement Strong Passwords: Ensure that your passwords are comprised of random combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using common phrases from dictionaries. Consider using a two-factor authentication plugin for an additional layer of security.
  2. Manage File Permissions: Set appropriate file permissions within WordPress and remove any outdated backups stored on the server. It’s recommended to securely store backups locally instead.
  3. Change Admin URL: Modify your WordPress admin URL to prevent attackers from attempting brute-force login attacks. Additionally, disable file indexing to minimize potential vulnerabilities.
  4. Keep Core, Themes, and Plugins Updated: Regularly update your WordPress core, themes, and plugins to their latest versions. Avoid using null themes and plugins, as they often contain hidden malware.
  5. Enable SSL and HTTPS: Utilize SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and enforce HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) on your website. Install a plugin that enforces the use of HTTPS to ensure secure communication with your users.
  6. Follow Secure Coding Practices: Adhere to secure coding practices when developing custom functionalities or themes for your WordPress website. This includes proper input validation, sanitization, and protection against common vulnerabilities.
  7. Strengthen Server Security: Enhance server security by blocking sensitive ports and utilizing subnetting, especially in shared hosting environments. These measures help isolate your website from potential threats.
  8. Employ Firewall and Security Solutions: Utilize a firewall or a reputable security solution on your WordPress site to monitor and prevent unauthorized access. Regularly conduct security audits to identify any potential vulnerabilities before they are exploited by hackers.

By implementing these optimization steps, you can significantly improve the security of your WordPress website and reduce the risk of malware infections and cyber attacks.