Don’t Get Cyber Violated Like Me

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My Last Straw

If you wanted to find me last Monday morning, I was curled in the fetal position on the large chair in my bedroom crying. Why was I crying? Well, four days earlier, I received a message from Google stating that my site, Financially Blonde, had been infected with malware and if the problem wasn’t fixed immediately, I would be blacklisted. I had no idea what a Google blacklist was, but I knew it sounded bad and not like something I wanted to happen to my site.

After a weekend filled with hours of calls between my hosting company and Sitelock, the company that was fixing my site, I thought I would start Monday off on a better foot, only to type in my company site, NextGen Financial, and see that it was automatically forwarded to an Isis site. This was my last straw.

I could handle a weekend filled with trying to fix my blog, and I accepted the fact that I would miss my first Music Monday blog in 86 Mondays, but invading both of my sites was just too much, and this final attack was something even my hosting company felt was over the line.

I honestly felt like I had been personally violated in the worst kind of way, and the worst thing about all of it was that I felt helpless for a period of time. My sites were under attack, the attackers were claiming to own the site through Google, and I had to sit back and wait for the behind the scene fixes to get into place.

Road to Recovery

Once I got myself out of the fetal position, though, I reached out for a lifeline that I desperately needed, and that was my blog friend, Grayson from Debt Roundup, who recently launched iMark Interactive, with the intention of helping bloggers like me.

Within a matter of minutes, Grayson was on the case and began putting my virtual life back together for me. I can’t tell you how much his support and sense of immediacy meant to me; and I could not recommend his services more. Over what seems like 100 emails, he installed a new theme and cleaned up Financially Blonde and created a whole new website for NextGen whose files were so corrupt that they couldn’t even be saved.

Between Grayson and my webhosting company, we put security measures in place to protect me in the future, and thank goodness for those measures because the second we re-launched NextGen, which had been deactivated for two days, it immediately got hit with multiple hacking attempts. It felt as though the offenders were lying in wait for us to come back online, but thankfully we came back online a stronger, more secure site.

What Happened?

Apparently all of this started with my WordPress theme, which was selected by the team that built my sites two years ago and bled into my plugins. The theme that the developers selected two years ago was no longer being supported and therefore as potential issues developed, no one was there to create the updates to fix the problems. I also had a number of outdated yet active plugins that opened themselves up for vulnerabilities on my site.

According to my webhosting company, all of these issues started almost a year ago, and yet I had no idea they were happening until last week. I regularly updated my plugins and theme updates, and didn’t think anything of it. I knew all about SEO plugins and comment plugins, but I didn’t know about malware defense plugins. Believe me, after a week of the craziness, I now feel like an expert.

What Can You Do?

The first step is to make sure that you have a popular and well-supported theme, and you should never assume that the theme you choose today will still be a good choice in a year, so schedule regular theme check-ins so that you know that you not only have a responsive theme, but a regularly updated one.

There are a number of plugins that you can implement to protect your site, a few that Grayson and others have suggested to me are:

Plugin Vulnerabilities – This plugin looks at your installed plugins to see if any contain current, known vulnerabilities.

Sucuri Malware Scanner – This is a free plugin that scans your site for Malware, but also allows you to “harden” your site to make sure those who do get in can’t execute scripts in folders.

Wordfence – You don’t need Sucuri if you want this. This allows you to block IP addresses, scan for malware, and also limit login attempts on your site. It also allows you to block people who try to sign in with unknown usernames.

My webhosting company offers Sitelock as an option for $48 for the year. I engaged Sitelock for my code cleanup on Financially Blonde as over 100 pages of code were impacted, and I was happy with their work, although, they weren’t extremely responsive on a weekend.

Other best practices you should employ to protect your site include updating and changing your WordPress passwords frequently. I can tell you that now that I have these plugins in place, I see that someone or something tries to log into my WordPress site at least 8 times a day. You should also make sure that you are well protected from Google Webmaster level and that Google is sure that you are the true site owner. Once the hackers got into my site, they added themselves as authorized users in Google Webmaster and even got my site off the blacklist even though it was still infected.

The Final Results

At the end of the day, this entire experience cost me about $300 to fix the problems, six days without either site up and running, over 20 hours of personal time on the phone getting it resolved, 1 box of Kleenex for the tears and a small bottle of Advil for the headaches. Seriously, though, it was a painful lesson to learn, especially knowing that it could have been prevented. I urge anyone with a blog to take precautions and protect your site. It’s a minor nuisance that will save you major pain.

Has your site ever been hacked? What tools do you like to protect your website? What are some best practices you have for blog owners?

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Shannon is a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start her own company, The Financial Gym, because she felt traditional financial services firms did not have the tools or resources to help people in their 20s and 30s who are starting out and trying to build assets while also managing debt. She realized that the key to long-term personal financial success is a commitment to financial fitness and making smart financial choices. Through her blog, Financially Blonde, her book, Train Your Way To Financial Fitness, her podcast, Martinis and Your Money and The Financial Gym, Shannon is committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for everyone.

43 COMMENTS

  1. I tried to access your site too and I knew something was up. This is one of my biggest fear to be honest with you. I’m glad that you were able to get it fix and have someone you know help you as well. I will check these plugins out because what I’m reading is freaking me out. Again, glad it was solved.

  2. Wow, so sorry Shannon! I knew something was up when I tried coming over last week and got the malware message. My sites have never been hacked, though I’ve had some pretty insistent attempts, in the past, that Grayson was helpful to kill off. 🙂 I’d second all of your best practices – just keep on top of your site and make sure everything is up to date and as it should be is the key from what I’ve found.

  3. Such good information Shannon and of course I’m very sorry this happened. I agree that Grayson is awesome and he’s helped clean up my site as well. If this is a hobby it’s one thing, but when it’s your business it’s another. So glad things are up and running again. It’s only a couple of days, but when it happens it feels like a lifetime!

  4. So sorry to hear that this happened. It is one of my fears as well and I’m not technologically inclined either. Even before I heard about what happened to you I was thinking getting my site more secured…now it feels more urgent.

  5. Wordfence was suggested by my hosting company when I had issues with spamming (to the point of overloading my site). It’s been wonderful.

    And Grayson, of course, has been amazing. I’m constantly surprised by how quickly he can solve my problems. His responsiveness is awesome too. I can’t recommend him highly enough.

  6. Oh well that’s an unfortunate weekend. I am still dealing with an issue on my site, that my so called reliable hosting said contains no malware. I might have to call Grayson. I added wordfence about a month ago, and it is working great so far. Thanks for sharing. How do you like your new Theme?

  7. What a huge pain, Shannon. I would have been in a fetal position crying too. Honestly, Tanya takes care of the site for me but I know she’s pretty diligent about keeping it as secure as possible because she had two sites hacked and taken over. I’m going to forward her your post so she can make sure she’s using those tools you mentioned.

  8. I would have been crying in a fetal position, too, Shannon! Truly, I cannot imagine. I’m so glad it’s over with now, and I am going to take a few extra steps to secure my site. Sheesh! I’m glad it survived. Thanks for the tips.

  9. Thanks for the kind words Shannon! I’m glad we were able to get everything back up and running. Your hack was probably one of the worst ones I’ve seen lately, but we took care of it. I think more people will be amazed on how many hackers are trying to log into their sites on a daily basis. It’s astonishing. That’s why I lock down my login page. I don’t need that mess!

  10. Ah! Remember a few months ago when I told you that my phone browser wouldn´t let me onto your site because it was detecting malware? I guess this was a result of the same thing! I had just stopped trying to read your blog from my phone, so I hadn´t looked in a while, but I just checked it again just now, and it seems to be fine, so it was definitely related! Sorry this happened, but glad you were able to get it resolved so quickly!

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