You might think you’ll know if your website is attacked; weird things will start happening or pop ups will fill your screen, right?
Yes, those would be pretty decent red flags that your site might have been hacked or infected, but there are certainly much more subversive ways a compromised website can manifest, and you will be more likely to spot it if you know what to look out for.
Website Hacking vs Malware
To start, let’s get a bit of clarification on the difference between being “hacked” and having a site infected, as they are technically different.
When a website is hacked, it refers to someone breaking into a computer or network, usually by exploiting an existing vulnerability (for example, using SQL Injections).
You don’t need to know exactly what that means, but the key point here is that someone is actively trying to exploit your website.
On the other hand, being infected with malware (which stands for “malicious software”) is different and will include things like viruses and spyware, among other nasty beasts.
It can be spread in a variety of ways, including infecting servers (which can then be spread to visitors of an infected website).
If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between hacking, malware and phishing, this article offers a great summary.
Sometimes a hacking or infection is obvious, sometimes it’s not.
Hacking can show up in many different ways and some are pretty obvious, but others are far sneakier.
How to Know If You’ve Been Hacked
Here are some ways to know your website has been hacked:
Your website has been defaced or has unusual activity (e.g. redirects)
If a website is defaced, this would be a result of a website being hacked. If you notice any changes to your site that you didn’t make, you should be concerned about hackers having access to your website.
Make sure you get control back by changing all of your passwords and then implement security measures to protect your website (e.g., implementing a service like Sucuri, or another security plugin, etc).
Your browser alerts you (e.g., Chrome red screen)
Google Chrome shows a red screen for websites that it detects have malware. If you see this screen, it’s likely your website has been compromised.
Your hosting alerts you
Your website hosting provider may have malware monitoring and if it notes that your website has been infected, they may notify you, usually also indicating any corrupt files.
At this time, you need to remove the corrupted files and identify what happened. You’ll want to bring in Sucuri or a specialist in security (be sure to read my What To Do if Your Website Has Been Hacked or Infected article).
Check Google Search Console
If you’re not sure whether your site has been compromised, or if you think your site was incorrectly flagged as hacked, you can register your site in Search Console, and then go to the Security Issues sections and look for example URLs where Google detected that your site has been hacked.
You can learn more in Google’s Web Fundamentals Security Guide.
Check Google Safe Browsing
You can go here to check and Google will let you know if detects that you’ve been hacked. You’ll be able to get a diagnostics report, from Google, that will tell you if you have content on your site that Google considers to be suspect or malicious.
If you don’t already, you should implement a malware scanning service for your website. Your hosting provider may provide this already, (e.g. Siteground has one).
I also often recommend checking out your website on Sucuri’s free website security check and malware scanner (and as mentioned above, I’d encourage you to consider signing up for their paid service as well).
Knowledge is power
Knowing your site has been hacked or infected helps shift the power into your hands. Once you know your website is compromised, you can immediately take steps to fix it and then batten down the hatches so it doesn’t happen again.
Of course, the best way to keep hackers out is to keep your site from being vulnerable in the first place. If you haven’t already done so, review my article and video, Yes, You Could be Hacked to learn the best practices to secure site against hackers.
There are a lot of simple things you can do to right away to tighten up security on your website.
If it’s too late and your website has already been compromised, my What to Do If You’ve Been Hacked or Infected action plan gives you a great guideline to follow to get things cleaned up so you can get back to business.
Some of the products listed in this article are affiliate links, but I only recommend tools that my team has experience using. If you do use one of the affiliate links, it will cost you nothing to use but I will receive a very small commission …. which I will use to fund my iced chai latte habit (and eggnog lattes in the winter!).