malware in WordPress

Malware is an umbrella term for malicious software used to leverage a site’s weaknesses for various harmful activities. In the context of WordPress sites, malware in WordPress can affect a website’s performance on every level, from the web server to the user experience, and even the site’s SEO performance. So, if you are not paying attention to what is happening to your website now, it could be too late to save your site by the time you do.

For that reason, keeping tabs on your website’s performance and identifying changes as they happen is the first step towards building a secure WordPress site.

From what we have seen, the ripple effects of a malware attack on your site take the following forms:

1. Overuse of server resources

When your server is hacked or compromised, it means someone else (in this case a hacker) is partially or entirely using your server resources to their advantage. They could be using it to pull off a number of misdeeds like:

Attacking other websites

Using a single machine to attack websites is risky because it can be easily detected and blacklisted. But detection of a large number of machines is difficult which is why hackers are constantly fishing for new hosts. Hackers are even known to use popular websites to attack targeted sites so that it won’t raise alarm immediately.

A vast majority of the time, malware attacks go undetected because the purpose of such attacks is to use your server resources without drawing your attention. You can, however, detect if your website is being exploited by noting if your site’s performance is lagging. You will notice that your site has slowed down suddenly.

Perhaps you’ll see that your web server is unavailable for the visitors of your site because a majority of your server is being used to execute unwanted activities. We have come to notice that there are a number of other ways hacking affects your site’s performance. We suggest, keeping an eye out for any sort of sudden changes in your website and acting immediately.

Sending out spam emails

Mail spam is unavoidable. Millions of spam reports are sent every day which accounts for 59.56% of traffic on the internet (as of September 2017).

Hackers use compromised websites to send hundreds and thousands of spam emails for a number of purposes. Email servers around the world use different methods to deal with spam. They track the IPs of the servers sending out spam emails and blacklist them. Therefore, hackers are always on the lookout for IP addresses that have a clean record, meaning that the IPs are not blocked by popular email providers.

In several cases, we have come across instances where a website’s owners are completely unaware of what is happening until the host identifies something’s fishy and alerts them about it. By this time, it may be too late and domains are already blacklisted by spam watchdog services like Spamhaus.

If your site is hacked and thousands of spam emails are being sent out using your server, your web host may also suspend your account until you clean it and remove all malware, which is one of the worst things that can happen to any website.

Usage of large amount of disk space

Hackers can have various purposes in mind when they are accessing your site. Some hackers may have hacked your site to store millions of files. These files take up a large amount of your disk space. The burden of those unknown files tends to bog down your website.

For those who don’t know, unlimited hosting plans do have a limit. This can lead to situations where you are unable to add any content. Moreover, maintaining your site will become a challenge with a lot of unwanted files littered about the site. Also, your web server can suspend or ban your account due to malicious activities on your site.

Slows down site

When your visitors make a request to load a page from your site, hackers may fetch files from other servers and load it along with your page. This can damage your site’s performance because the whole process is time-consuming.

2. Deterioration of user experience/browser performance

Malware in WordPress can affect how visitors see your website. The user experience of a website is important for the success of the site (or business). If your users are not happy with your site’s performance, then they might not return to your site (or use your service – if you are offering one).

Websites become slow

Studies show that the average attention span for human beings has shrunk from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in this digital era. Therefore, slow websites are bad for business.

We discussed earlier how overuse of server resources slows down your site. If your website takes too long to open, people are likely to hit the back button within a few seconds. That way, you will lose visitors before you get any. Also, it can have disastrous effects on online business like e-commerce sites. Amazon, the world’s largest retailer site can lose up to $1.6 billion in sales due to a second’s delay. In 2013, the giant retailer lost $66,240 per minute during a thirty minutes downtime.

Load external Javascript/iFrame resources

You might have come across websites with shady pop-ups, usually on the top of the page asking you to go to a different site or make a purchase, etc.

It’s a little confusing because the pop up seems completely unrelated to what the site is about. The reality is that someone has hacked into that site and has inserted malicious Javascript/iFrame. So, every time someone tries to open the page, the malware gets loaded too, therefore increasing the time it takes to fully render a page. This makes the site slower. Furthermore, the visitors of the site are getting duped into making purchases and doing other unwanted things while riding on the site’s credibility.

Mining cryptocurrency

You have probably heard of Bitcoin – the most popular cryptocurrency. It’s generated through a process called ‘mining.’ Over the last couple of years, cryptocurrencies have been quietly gaining popularity and more and more people are buying and selling them.

Because Bitcoin has shot up in price, it’s popular among hackers who want to get rich quick.

Hackers infect websites with malware and install cryptocurrency miners. They use your visitors’ browsers to mine cryptocurrency every time they open your site. Your website could be one of these ill-fated sites. If you are experiencing a sudden change in your website’s performance, then it’s possible that hackers are harnessing the power of your machine’s processor for the purpose of mining cryptocurrency.

3. Degradation of SEO performance

SEO is one of the primary reasons websites get hacked. Google has clearly recognized SEO being a motivational factor in hacking so that your visitor is redirected to a malicious site.

SEO spamming (commonly, the pharma hack)

Pharma hacking is a very common phenomenon. On the web, there are restrictions on advertising illegal drugs like Viagra, Cialis, etc. Therefore, pharmaceutical sales websites resort to SEO spamming to get people to visit their site or make purchases. They often insert spammy keywords into posts and pages and cloak them from regular visitors.

the pharma hack is an example of malware in WordPress

The SEO spam is only visible to web crawlers like Google-bots. Besides this, there are a few WordPress security services like MalCare (which I’m the founder of) who are able to identify pharma hacks even in their hidden form.

It’s well noted that modifying a site’s SEO structure will have a tremendous effect on your website. You will lose a chunk of your visitors along with your reputation and credibility. Your website too will experience a fall in ranking and there will be a major drop in the speed of your site

Google blacklisting

Google is the biggest search engine on the web and aims to provide its users with the best user experience. Thousands of websites are blacklisted by the search engine giant on a daily basis. Many of these sites are legitimate businesses (like yours). Your website may seem like it’s adhering to Google guidelines and yet you are suddenly blacklisted.

The blacklisting occurs often a result of malicious code being injected into the website without your permission. Once your WordPress site is blacklisted, your visitors won’t be able to access your site. Google will prevent users from visiting a compromised site in order to protect their machine from getting infected.

As a result of being blacklisted by Google, your website will be unreachable for days. It will negatively impact your SEO and you will end up losing search ranking, resulting in a fall in organic traffic. It will, unfortunately, also damage the reputation you had worked so hard to build.

Over to you

Have you been noticing a difference in your site’s performance lately? Did you try finding out the cause? Tell us if you need any help in the comment section.
akshatAbout the author: Akshat Choudhary is the founder and CEO of BlogVault, MigrateGuru & MalCare. He loves building products that solve real problems for real people, and has been building systems and products since 2005. His core beliefs behind building any product are to make sure the end-user doesn’t need assistance… and to assist them in the best possible manner if they need it.
Free guide

5 Essential Tips to Speed Up
Your WordPress Site

Reduce your loading time by even 50-80%
just by following simple tips.

Download free guide