You've invested time, money, and energy into building your business's website on WordPress. It's become a vital online presence and valuable asset for your company. But lurking in the shadows are potential security threats that can wreak havoc on your site. WordPress powers over 40% of all websites, making it an enticing target for hackers. So how do you know if your pride and joy has been compromised? Here are 10 common signs to watch out for.
1. Unexpected Changes to Your Website’s Appearance or Content
You log in one morning, coffee in hand, ready to start your work day. But wait—something seems off about your website. The layout looks different, the text appears distorted, or new pages have mysteriously popped up overnight. If you didn't authorize these changes, they likely indicate your site has been hacked.
Watch out for subtle modifications like slightly different fonts, resized images, or new menu items. Hackers often start small to avoid detection. For example, an attacker could introduce a new "Contact Us" page infected with malware. Always inspect and double-check any unfamiliar changes.
2. Spike in Spam Comments
When you suddenly see an influx of irrelevant, repetitive, or questionable comments, it's a red flag. Spammers and hackers often exploit sites by bombarding them with spam comments that contain commercial links or malware.
If you notice multiple generic comments promoting unrelated products or links, your site's security has likely been compromised. Use a plugin like Akismet to detect and block spam comments automatically. But don't ignore a spike—it usually signifies a bigger issue.
3. Blacklisted by Google or Other Search Engines
Imagine this nightmare scenario: you wake up to find your site has vanished from Google's search results. The likely culprit? Being blacklisted for suspicion of spam or malware. Search engines like Google actively work to remove compromised sites from their indexes to protect users.
So if your site abruptly disappears from search results, it's cause for concern. Being blacklisted can stem from compromised URLs, suspicious backlinks, or prohibited content. Getting removed from search indexes severely impacts visibility and access to your site.
4. Slow Page Load Times and Downtime
Has your site's performance slowed to a crawl, with pages taking forever to load or failing to load entirely? Such sluggishness often arises from an overloaded server—something hackers can intentionally cause by overloading sites with traffic. Excessive downtime or load times over 3 seconds will hurt user experience and search engine visibility.
Technical disruptions like database errors, missing files, or sudden downtime also warrant inspection. At best, they indicate hosting issues. But they could also signal foul play. Isolate and resolve problems promptly to get your site running smoothly again.
5. Outbound Links Redirecting to Spam or Malware Sites
Your website's credibility relies heavily on where its outbound links go. But hackers can modify links to redirect visitors to unsafe third-party sites.
If your analytics show traffic suddenly flowing to unfamiliar or questionable domains, inspect those redirects immediately. Attackers often link to phishing sites to steal login credentials or sites with malware payloads. Remove any dubious redirects ASAP to protect your site's reputation.
6. Suspicious New Files
If you log in to your site's WordPress file manager and notice new files or folders you don't recognize, ask yourself: did I really create these? Unfamiliar files that mysteriously appear could mean a hacker accessed your site to upload malicious scripts or create backdoors for future access.
Hackers often plant suspicious PHP files disguised with innocuous names like "wp-mining.php" or "wp-payload.php". Always inspect foreign files, double-check folders like /wp-content/ and /wp-includes/, and delete anything that raises red flags. Don't just assume new files belong there.
7. Unusual Traffic Spikes
Traffic surges happen when you publish an ultra-viral post or run a wildly successful promotion. But beware of traffic spikes that occur out of the blue, without clear attribution. These often suggest bots or other automated tools being used to attack your site.
Hacked sites see an average traffic increase of over 3000%. Use analytics tools like Google Analytics to detect anomalous trends, then investigate what may be driving them. An uptick in outbound spam could indicate a wider breach.
8. Strange Activity in Your WordPress Dashboard
Say you notice new user accounts you never created in your WordPress dashboard. Or you see posts published that you didn't write. This tracks with a startling statistic: 81% of WordPress sites were compromised via insecure passwords. Any unauthorized dashboard activity likely signals your login credentials have been compromised.
Change all account passwords immediately, enable two-factor authentication, and confirm only trusted users have admin access. A few malicious dashboard edits can inflict serious reputation damage.
9. Can't Access Your Dashboard
You try logging into your dashboard but get an error message about invalid credentials. Or you successfully log in, only to find your access permissions have been changed or revoked. In the worst case, you're completely locked out of your dashboard and hosting account.
Inaccessibility almost always stems from a credential compromise. Attackers commonly change passwords to seize control of sites. If your login credentials suddenly stop working, your site security has been breached. Contact your hosting provider immediately to investigate and restore access.
10. Warnings from Your Hosting Provider
Finally, pay close attention to any notifications from your web host regarding policy violations, malware, or hacking complaints. Most shared web hosts like Your WP Guy Hosting automatically scan sites and flag potential issues.
For example, your host may send a warning if your site sends spam, gets blacklisted, or contains malicious code. Don't brush off these alerts—your host has broader visibility and their warnings should spur you to action. Work with them to resolve any problems.
Why You Should Act Swiftly
Ignoring signs of a compromised site imperils your business on multiple fronts:
- Financial Loss: Between cleanup costs, lost revenue from downtime, and fixing reputational damage, the expense of a hacked WordPress site is upwards of $10,000.
- Security Risks: Hackers can steal customer data, introduce malware, or sell your site's resources through crypto mining attacks. Data breaches erode trust.
- Site Damage: From defaced pages to harmful redirects, the effects of hacking linger. And Google penalties for hosting malware can devastate visibility. Restoring compromised sites is challenging.
- Compliance Issues: If your site handles sensitive data, a breach may violate PCI, HIPAA, or GDPR compliance, triggering hefty fines and legal woes.
No online business can afford to overlook a potential website compromise. Acting quickly to detect and resolve issues helps safeguard your interests. Don't let a hacker's malicious actions undermine all your hard work building an online presence.
Get Expert Help Securing Your WordPress Site
If your site exhibits any red flags, the WordPress security experts at Your WP Guy can help. We offer comprehensive site audits to detect vulnerabilities, malware removal and blacklisting removal services, and full remediation if your site has been hacked. Our team stays on top of the latest threats to keep your site safe. Plus, we provide ongoing maintenance and monitoring to prevent future attacks.
Don't gamble with your website's security—the consequences are too steep. Schedule a discovery call with Your WP Guy to discuss securing your WordPress site, restoring compromised accounts, and implementing preventative measures. Our passion is protecting our clients' online assets. Let us help defend your website against threats and give you peace of mind.
Common Signs Your WordPress Website May Be Compromised Summary
- Unexpected Changes in Website: Any unanticipated changes to your website's layout, text, or added pages likely signify that your WordPress site has been compromised. It's crucial to keep an eye on subtle modifications like slightly altered fonts or new menu items.
- Increase in Spam Comments: A sudden surge in spammy or irrelevant comments on your site often indicates a security breach. Plugins like Akismet can help, but this should be considered a red flag requiring further investigation.
- Google Blacklisting: If your website is removed from Google's search results, it's probably been blacklisted due to spam or malware. This severely impacts your site's visibility and should be immediately addressed.
- Slow Page Load and Downtime: Excessive load times and frequent downtimes can indicate an overloaded server, often a result of a deliberate attack. Both of these issues are harmful to user experience and SEO ranking.
- Outbound Links Redirect to Spam/Malware: If your website's outbound links suddenly redirect users to questionable or malicious sites, this is a critical security concern that puts your website's reputation at risk.