Why Cleaning of a Hacked Site Cannot Be Done Manually
Finding out that your website is hacked is a nightmare. Once your site is hacked, hackers will exploit your resources or redirect your visitors to their own websites or insert backdoors, etc. These can have a devastating effort on your website hence if your site is hacked, security experts strongly recommend cleaning it immediately.
A popular notion amongst many WordPress website owners is that a hacked site can be manually cleaned. This leads to a question: if hacked sites are easy to clean then why are there so many malware cleaning solutions available? Do site owners only use clean up services because they don’t have the time required for manual cleaning operation?
Having been in and around the WordPress community for long, we have seen how hackers have evolved in the last couple of years. Hackers today are smarter than before. They use innovative ways to not just breach a site’s security but hide malware in places people wouldn’t look for. Moreover, with the advent of new and complex malware, it has become increasingly difficult to manually find and clean malware from a hacked site.
To fully understand why manual cleanups don’t work in today’s day and age, we need to look into the past. In this post, we’ll see how manual cleanups were done years back and why the method has become outdated.
How Were Hacked Sites Scanned & Cleaned in the Good Ol’ Days?
Earlier, there were only a few places where hackers could hide malware. One such location was the WordPress core file. In the past, someone who intends to manually clean a site will scan through those known locations for malicious code. When s/he finds a malware, s/he would proceed to uninstall the WordPress core and reinstall it. It was the easiest way of cleaning a hacked WP site.
Manually cleaning hacked site was much easier back then because hackers targeted only a few areas. Today, hackers have evolved so much so that they can hide malware in any part of your website.
Those days scanners too worked similarly. It would look at a few selected locations where malware was usually found. It has a list of malicious codes and tries to look up for them. When the scanner finds malware, it will raise the alarm.
WordPress plugins are either free or paid. Some plugins are free for a limited period and need upgrading if the website owners want to continue using it. Files in many paid plugin are protected therefore scanners can’t properly scan them.
Sometimes malware is disguised as plugins. Therefore, anyone manually looking for malware will be unable to find malware because it looks like a normal WordPress plugin.
Manually Detecting Malware is Almost Impossible
Let’s discuss the pitfalls of the common procedures that people tend to use to manually detect malware.
One method of manually finding malware is to make a list of popular malicious codes and then look for them on the website. Presence of codes like eval, base64_decode are classic signs of a compromised WordPress website.
This may seem like a fairly easy way of recognizing a hacked website, but it’s not full-proof. Codes like eval and base64_code are sometimes part of the regular plugins. Therefore the presence of these codes does not necessarily imply a compromised website.
Hackers today are very innovative. They are not just adapting to the changing WordPress landscape but also developing novel ways of hacking websites and sustaining access to those sites. To hide malicious code, hackers create an infinite combination that changes the way the codes look. It makes it difficult to find bad codes especially if you are manually looking up for a hack.
While it’s important to find these bad codes and clean then, manual cleaning and detection are not the most convenient way of going about the process. Security plugins like MalCare have skill sets developed to detect these hidden and complex malware.
Recently Modified Files
Keeping an eye out on recent modification of files will enable you to detect any abnormal changes. When a website is compromised, hackers will make changes to the files. Keeping track of the last date of modification helps. Any changes that appear to be made afterward and not by you will indicate that your site’s security has been breached.
The only drawback here is hackers can reset timestamp for when the files were last modified. Hackers today do not discriminate between large and small websites. Many hackers break into websites to use site resources for carrying out their malicious work. They take precautions, so that website owners remain unaware that the site has been hacked. Hence, they modify timestamps to avoid being discovered.
The Many Challenges of Manual Cleanups
Identifying the malware is the first step towards reclaiming a hacked site. The second step is to clean the malware from the website. Some people believe that one can manually clean a website. Just like manual scanning, manually cleaning a site is almost an impossible task. Let’s take a look at what problems one can encounter when trying to clean a hacked WordPress website manually.
Restoring Backups Will Not Completely Clean Your Site
Taking backups is one of the core security measures. When something happens to your site, you can simply restore the backup and get your website up and running in no time. But unlike popular belief, simply restoring a backup will not clean a the hacked site. Wondering why? Let’s dig deeper.
Not All Infected Files are Deleted After Restoration
What happens when a website gets hacked? It’s very likely that your seemingly insignificant website became a target because hackers want to use your site’s resources to store millions of files. Once your site is breached, hackers will create backdoors so they can access your site over and over again. Therefore, post hack, there are two types of files on your website. One is yours, and the other belongs to the hackers. When you restore a backup of your site, you replace your files, but the files uploaded by the hackers remain. Thus leaving your site vulnerable. Restoring backups will not eliminate those backdoor which means the hackers will return and your site will be compromised once again.
Backups May Be Infected
Since hackers tend to take precaution to hide the fact that your site has been compromised, it could be weeks before you discover your site has been hacked (you can, however, avoid this scenario by being extremely vigilant or using an automatic malware scanner). During this time, the backup service you use is backing up infected files. When you do discover that your site has been hacked, you are left with infected backups which are pointless to restore (we advice using a backup service like BlogVault where you can access backups for up to 365 days). Thus, cleaning your hacked site by restoring backups is not an option.
It’s probably worth mentioning that restoring data could lead to data loss. Here’s how! Image your beautiful WordPress website was hacked a month back. Being an active blogger, you have been adding new content to your site on a daily basis. When you find out that your site has been compromised, you stop uploading new content. Say you managed to find out when your site was breached and fortunately your backup service keeps a record of daily backups that dates back to 6 months or a year. Therefore, you have access to clean backups that you can restore with the click of a button. The drawback here is that if you restore backups from a month back, you’ll lose fresh data that you added throughout the month. This is particularly harrowing for WooCommerce websites because they risk losing important user data that will affect their business badly.
That’s how ineffective manual cleaning of a website is. This is why using security plugins is the best way of scanning and cleaning a WordPress site. By using MalCare, you can regularly scan your website for malware, clean hacked sites with the click of a button, and take preventive measures against common hack attacks. Take a look at all the amazing features that our WordPress security plugin has to offer.
Try MalCare to clean Malware & Virus from your website.
Sufia is a WordPress enthusiast, and enjoys sharing their experience with fellow enthusiasts. On the MalCare blog, Sufia distils the wisdom gained from building plugins to solve security issues that admins face.