Malware on the server: consequences and countermeasures

Website servers are just as vulnerable to malware as PCs are. Cyber criminals use this to their advantage by infecting websites with malicious software that is then distributed over the whole website. Hackers can then use this infiltrated malware to obtain sensitive information.

By the time operators of infected websites have become aware of the malware, it is often too late. Search engines like Google may start threatening with sanctions, or you will receive complaints from affected visitors. Since most are malicious scripts, which are integrated into the original code of the website, they cannot be identified from the outside straightaway. The website seems to work as requested, but in reality it is actually functioning as an instrument for hackers with the help of Cross-SiteScripting (XSS).

If you use different applications when creating and maintaining your website, it can increase your susceptibility. Programs that are the most vulnerable are content management systems, blog, and forum software as well as e-commerce solutions. Many operators rely on open source software since it is free and can be adapted to your needs. The popularity of this software, and the fact that it is made up of thousands of codes from different programs, means it is often a target for hackers. Plugins for popular web applications are used as loopholes for malware.

Consequences of an infected website for operators and users

The type of damage caused by infiltrated malware depends on the hacker’s motive. In some cases the hacker directly targets the operator, paralysing the website or implementing false content. Criminals can go so far as to demand a ransom from the operator and threaten to stop the cyber attack only after the money has been paid. An infected website mostly means loss of traffic or sales for the operator.

The visitor’s trust is also put to the test since many malware websites harm the visitor or customer and not just the operator. In many cases the affected website is just the host for the harmful script as the integrated malicious code then finds its way onto the visitor’s PC via fake URLs. The code then automatically installs itself as long as the user’s security software does not prohibit it. Besides viruses, which harm the computer system, criminals also send spyware and key loggers that collect information about the user. Worst case scenario is the theft of confidential information such as bank or address details or passwords.

As well as damaging your reputation and losing customers, the website operator can also be hit with legal implications if the necessary safety measures are not adhered to. You could also be punished by the search engine even if the situation seems relatively harmless such as spam being sent by the malware.

How to delete malware from an infected website

As soon as you notice that your website is infected you should remove the malware as quickly as possible. It is your duty as an operator to act quickly and consequently if such a situation arises. This is not as easy as it sounds if the server cannot distinguish it from that of a current home computer system. Finding the cause of the infected website will be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Without excellent knowledge of HTML and programming language and plenty of time and patience, you cannot expect to locate the malicious code that is responsible for all the trouble. If you manage to remove the malware without being able to identify the security gap with which it came from, it might not take long for you to fall victim to another attack. Play it safe and get an expert to check your website.

If you find a malware infection on your website, you should carry out the following steps:

1. Deactivate your website in order to limit the damage until the problem has been fixed.
2. Contact your web host and coordinate further action.
3. Check all user accounts for inconsistencies like new accounts that you did not create yourself. Change all the passwords (for users and administrators).
4. Try to determine all harmful sources to identify the total damage.
5. Use malware tools to clear your website of any spam or malicious codes.
6. Use undamaged backups if there are any available.
7. Update all installed software packets or install new ones.
8. Change all passwords again after the process is complete.

How to protect your website against malware

To minimise the risk of your web project being infected with malware there are several useful tools and codes of conduct to follow. Hackers most often gain access to a web project due to insecure passwords, infected work PCs, out-of-date applications, or an overcrowded, confusing web space. If you want complete protection against malware, you should heed the following advice:

  • Malware scanner: make sure that both your device and your website are constantly checked for malware. The 1&1 IONOS SiteLock feature enables you to scan 500 subpages as well as the utilised web application.
  • Up-to-date software: keep all applications up-to-date. Whether it involves the operating system, the web server, or the content management system.
  • Secure passwords: passwords play an important part in your web project, so make sure that you have chosen them wisely and you don’t have them stored anywhere on your system.
  • Orderly web space: it is important to keep your web space tidy. Only by having an overview can you see whether old files or applications are out-of-date, which could allow malware to sneak in.
  • Backups: a backup will not protect you from malware, but is handy for saving time and effort during restoration.

It is imperative to use all the aforementioned measures to secure your website. Even the best security software will not recognise every attacker and won’t be of much use if it is not kept up-to-date. Pay particular attention to open source applications like WordPress, and make sure you don’t just download any plugins at random.

Check all offers and users for reputability first before accepting them for your project.

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