How to Scan a WordPress Site for Malware

how to scan a WordPress site for malware

WordPress sites are always in the line of attack thanks to the popularity of the WordPress platform. The best protection against the latest malware and hacks is to make regular scanning of a WordPress site a practice. Your website maintenance plan must take into account how you will scan your WordPress site and database to detect any infection. 

In this article, we’ll show you how to scan your WordPress website for malware through both manual and automated methods. Let’s get started. 

Symptoms of malware infection in your WordPress site

Before we dive into how you can check a WordPress site for malware, let us look at a few symptoms of malware infection. These include: 

  • Unexplained spike or surge in your website traffic
  • Users or visitors getting redirected to another website
  • Unknown links or pop-up ads appearing on your website page
  • A heavy volume of spam messages to your WordPress account
  • A sudden slowdown in your website speed and performance
  • Google shows a warning message that your website is malicious.

Where can you locate malware in WordPress?

Depending on the type of attack, hackers can infect different parts of your website with their malicious code. This can include your WordPress installation files (or folders), plugins and themes, and even your WordPress database. To scan WordPress for malware, you need to focus on all these different areas for the best results.

Next, let us look at the methods available to scan your WordPress site for malware.

How to scan WordPress for malware

There are both manual and automated modes of performing a WordPress malware scan on your website. For automated malware scanning, you can use a WordPress security scanner. 

Using a WordPress security scanner

The easiest and most efficient method to perform a WordPress scan for malware is by using a WordPress security scanner or plugin. You can select from a wide range of security scanners like MalCare, Sucuri, and Wordfence that are designed specifically for WordPress sites.

The best part is that thanks to these tools, you don’t need to be an advanced user or a WordPress developer or expert to take your website’s security into your own hands. Besides being easy to use, security scanners have the necessary features to:

  • Scan WordPress website for malware variants.
  • Scan the WordPress database for malware in your tables and records.
  • Scan WordPress plugins for malware across multiple websites.
  • Scan WordPress themes for malware in single or multiple websites.

Scan WordPress files manually

If you do not wish to invest in a security scanner, you can opt for the manual method of malware scanning. However, this method is best recommended if you’re a more advanced or technical user and are willing to get your hands dirty with tools, files, and a lot of time on your hands. 

Manual malware scanning typically involves the following steps:

  1. Scanning your WordPress files/folders for any malware – by manually comparing these files with the corresponding files of a freshly downloaded copy of the same WordPress version. Any changes indicate possible tampering of files by hackers or malware. 
  2. Scanning your WordPress database for malware using the phpMyAdmin database tool. Your database is mostly affected by two issues, malicious PHP Functions, and unknown iFrames and functions. A common way of identifying infections in the database is looking for potentially malicious codes like base64_decode, gzinflate, error_reporting(0), and shell_exec. A good way to fish out suspicious links in your database is by examining your website code. You can use a tool named Online cURL to display and review the codes on your website. Look out for unwanted codes or suspicious texts like the name of pharmaceutical drugs.

This method is not always effective as there’s always the possibility of false positives or you missing an as-yet lesser-known malware. 

Now that you know what to look out for to scan your WordPress site, it’s time to see how to clean your WordPress site and remove malware from it.

How to clean malware from your WordPress site

A complete WordPress malware check involves both detecting and removing the malware from your website. As in the case of malware scanning, you can do website cleanups – either manually or through automatic methods.

Let us first check out how to remove the malware using a malware removal tool.

Clean Malware using removal plugin

An automatic malware removal tool or a plugin like MalCare is the easier way to clean your infected WordPress website. These tools are designed to detect and remove common malware infections including backdoors, malicious code, and spam content, and even lesser-known ones. 

Additional features like a firewall and integrated user-flows for WordPress hardening measures built into these plugins also prevent future or repeated attacks on your site. With a security plugin like MalCare installed on your website, you can remove any malware in a few clicks without relying on a WordPress consultant or expert. 

Cleaning Malware manually

Alternatively, you can perform a manual clean-up of your infected website – if you have the required WordPress technical knowledge and experience. The main idea behind manual clean-ups is replacing infected files with the corresponding file from a fresh WordPress version. Additionally, you also need to clean up your infected WordPress database.

Here is a broad outline of the steps you need to execute to clean up your WordPress site:

  1. Use an FTP tool like FileZilla to access WordPress files like wp-config.php or installation folders like wp-admin and wp-includes.
  2. Through your FTP tool, check for any recently modified files.
  3. Download a fresh copy of your current WordPress version from the WordPress repository.
  4. Replace the “suspicious” installation files that have been recently modified with the copy from the fresh WordPress version. For any WordPress customizations you’ve made,  you need to open each file and remove any malicious changes.

Next, to manually clean up your infected WordPress database:

  1. Create a backup of your database tables.
  2. Sign in to your WordPress database panel and search for malicious entries like spam keywords and links.
  3. Manually remove the database records (or tables) containing any malicious content.

As you can see, the manual clean-up method is a considerable investment of time and effort. It also poses a few risks as you could end up deleting critical files or undoing customized changes you’d made. 

Impact of malware infection on your site

Depending on the variant, malware infections can impact your WordPress site, and by extension, your business in multiple ways such as: 

  • Lowering the SEO ranking of your website, thus lowering the incoming organic search traffic.
  • Redirecting your website visitors to unsolicited and unsafe websites.
  • Losing valuable and confidential data such as customer information, financial data, and more.
  • Overloading your web server resources leading to slow website loading and performance.
  • Damaging the overall user experience on your website.

Why does any WordPress site get infected with malware in the first place? Let us find that out in the next section.

Why does your WordPress site have malware?

So, why do WordPress sites get infected with malware variants in the first place? Is WordPress really that unsafe and so vulnerable to malware? In and by itself, WordPress is safe and secure. However, a WordPress site does not operate in isolation. Firstly,  it is bundled with a lot of third-party add-ons that can make it vulnerable. Secondly, website owners often underestimate the importance of website security till it is too late. 

Here are a few common reasons why WordPress sites have malware infections:

  • An insecure web host that does not meet safety standards
  • Running on an outdated WordPress version that does not have security fixes.
  • Use of third-party plugins/themes from untrusted sites that do not follow security measures
  • Use of nulled (or pirated) plugins/themes that could be infected with malware
  • Lack of login page or WordPress admin page protection measures like enforcing strong passwords or CAPTCHA protection.
  • Improper assignment of user roles with many users having administrator-level permissions.

Wrapping up

In the world of cybersecurity, “prevention is always better than cure” is more than just another cliche. While there is no such thing as 100% prevention of attacks and infections, looking at website security as an ongoing process and not merely a one-time activity is the only way to keep up with hackers and their ways. 

When you make malware scanning and removal a regular part of your website maintenance activities, you stand a better chance of catching security issues before they fester and risk your website’s health. 

Security plugins can take a big load off your back by handling all aspects of malware detection and removal in one place. That way, you have one less thing to worry about so you can focus on your customers and growing your business.

About The Author

Andriy Haydash

Andriy Haydash

Andriy Haydash is a WordPress Expert who helps people build and launch successful WordPress membership and e-learning websites.

Note: Not all of the articles are written directly by me.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links in the post may be my affiliate links

The Ultimate Managed Hosting Platform

Before YOU Leave...
Join My Newsletter

Get practical tips & tricks on how to start, grow and market your course/membership site.