How to Find Hidden Malware in WordPress Websites

Even as the conversations around WordPress security are gaining ground, hackers are innovating and designing new types of malware to stay ahead of security practices. Despite your best efforts to scan WordPress for malware, you can’t be sure if you can detect all the malware on your website. Most malware stays hidden and it could be days or even months before you discover it.

In this article, we look at how malware infects WordPress sites, how it affects them, and what you can do to find and remove hidden malware from your WordPress site.

Impact of Hidden Malware on Your Site

Before we dive into malware infections and how you can treat them, it’s important to understand how malware impacts your site and why keeping your site free from it is so important. Hidden malware can create long-lasting damage to your WordPress site and your online business. Some of the ways hidden malware can impact your website include:

  • Site defacement and a bad user experience
  • Malvertising (or hiding malware within online advertisements) that risks your customers’ safety
  • Getting suspended or even blacklisted by Google undoing all your SEO effort

What are the main reasons why WordPress sites get infected with hidden malware? Let us discuss that next.

Why do WordPress Sites Get Infected with Hidden Malware?

It is also important to understand why WordPress sites get infected with hidden malware infections in the first place. Here are five of the most common issues that cause WordPress sites to be vulnerable to malware:

  1. The use of old or outdated WordPress versions along with obsolete plugins/themes
  2. An insecure web hosting environment that does not provide complete security
  3. Login page vulnerabilities including the use of “default” administrator usernames, weak passwords, lack of login protection
  4. The continued use of nulled and abandoned plugins/themes that pose a serious security threat
  5. Poor implementation and assignment of user roles and granting high-level permissions to all users, not just those who need to perform admin-related actions on the website

How to Check if Your Site has Hidden Malware

Is there any way to confirm if your WordPress website has hidden malware? Here are some telltale signs of malware in your WordPress site.

Common Symptoms of Hidden Malware

Hidden or not hidden, here are some common signs or symptoms that indicate that your WordPress site has been infected with malware:

  • Your website has unexpected pop-up ads.
  • You experience a sudden or sharp increase in traffic or web activity.
  • You notice a significant change in your admin page, including new or unknown plugins, toolbars, and extensions.
  • Your website keeps getting redirected to other malicious or fraudulent sites.
  • Your social media pages are inundated with strange posts, or your customer’s email accounts are populated with spam emails.
  • Your website crashes due to a sudden increase in online activity.

Where Can You Locate Hidden Malware in WordPress?

Hackers can insert hidden malware in any file or folder of your WordPress installation. To find hidden malware, you can run a comparison of your infected site with a fresh WordPress copy or version – and determine which files or folders have been modified.

Besides your core WordPress installation, hackers can insert hidden malware into your WordPress database and third-party plugins and themes. So, besides scanning WordPress files, you also need to scan the WordPress database for any malware.

Sounds too complicated? Manual malware scanning needs a fair bit of technical know-how and effort. Plus, it can be tedious and is not 100% effective. So, what is the best way to scan WordPress sites for malware?

How to Scan WordPress for Malware

How can you perform a complete WordPress malware scan with minimum effort and hassle? For WordPress sites, the best way is to install and use a WordPress security plugin to detect and remove hidden malware completely from your entire site. Security plugins are easy to install and can efficiently scan WordPress websites for malware variants that are new or lesser-known.

Which are some of the popular WordPress security plugins available in the market today, and why should you use them?

Using WordPress Security Plugins

With the number of malware variants being developed, not every virus-checking tool or method is equipped to perform a complete WordPress scan for malware variants. Security plugins like WP Security, MalCare, and Sucuri are designed for WordPress, and therefore, have ways to detect the sneakiest malware variants. They comb through your site for any hidden malware in your core installation files, database, plugins, and themes. For instance, the MalCare malware scanner can find new and unknown malware variants easily missed by other security scanners because its detection algorithm learns from the 240,000+ websites it has scanned so far. Additionally, it goes beyond signature matching to detect any abnormal or malware-like behavior on your site. These security plugins make it easy to perform a complete WordPress virus scan on any number of websites.

If a WordPress malware check uncovers any malware and vulnerability, such security scanners send you timely notifications so you can immediately fix issues to strengthen your website.

How to Clean Hidden Malware from Your WP Site?

Now that we know how to look for hidden malware on your WordPress site, the next challenge is cleaning or removing malware from a website. There are essentially two ways of removing any malware: manual and automatic. Let us look at each of these methods.

Cleaning Hidden Malware Manually

Manual malware cleanup is the process where you replace your infected files with a fresh WordPress installation or a backup file. Manual cleanups involve the following two steps:

  • Cleaning up infected website files or folders.
  • Cleaning up infected database files.

You can perform a manual cleanup of your WordPress files using an FTP tool like FileZilla that connects you to WordPress installation files. Once you are connected, you can easily replace any modified files with a backup copy or a new WordPress version. If you have any customized files, you need to edit them individually to remove the malware code manually. This is for your WordPress files.

If you need to perform a manual cleanup of your WordPress database, you will need to do it by connecting to your WordPress web host. You need to manually search for any spam keywords or malicious links and delete any database records containing them.

We recommend manual cleanups only if you have the necessary technical skills, WordPress know-how, and the time to invest in the process. Additionally, doing this for multiple sites across multiple WordPress hosts is a lot of work.

Cleaning Hidden Malware Using a Security Plugin

The easier option is to use a security plugin like MalCare to clean hidden malware from your site. The MalCare plugin can not only check WordPress sites for malware but can also automatically remove them. Additionally, these plugins look for backdoors that hackers can continue to gain access to your website even after malware cleanup.

All you need to do is install the plugin on your website, and it automatically performs a complete malware scan. Its “Auto-Clean” feature lets you perform an automatic cleanup without having to rely on an external technical expert. The tool cleans the WordPress core, the themes, plugins, and the database. MalCare’s interface is designed to make it easy for even non-technical users to take charge of cleaning their site.

While tools like MalCare make it easy to scan and clean your site, is there any way to protect your WordPress site from future malware attacks? Let us find out in the final section of this guide.

How to Prevent your WordPress from Malware Infections

As long as there are security vulnerabilities on your website, hackers will continue to take advantage of them to target your site. Security measures like updating your WordPress core and plugins/themes, using trusted plugins and themes, configuring strong passwords, reducing the number of admin users, limiting login attempts, etc. can go a long way to improve WordPress security.

Regularly scanning your WordPress for malware and using a firewall to block bad traffic are two of the most effective ways to ensure continuous and ongoing protection of your website. Thankfully, security plugins like MalCare combine several security measures that we recommend, and features like automated scanning and firewall protection into their offerings.

We hope this article helps you keep your site from malware and attacks.

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Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff

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