How to cope with a WordPress hack


wordpress site hack

You only start thinking about security once yours has been compromised.
It’s like locking the fridge door after someone has already stolen all your creme eggs.

A while back I discovered my website had been hacked.

I noticed this when my Domain Authority rank suddenly dropped from a healthy 52 to a rather depressing 34.

All my hard work had gone down the toilet. My pages (cached by Google) were peppered with sentences like ‘Buy amoxicillin online’ and ‘Cheap Prozac without prescription’, destroying my carefully orchestrated keyword saturation.

Understanding the hack

The bug was one that only appears to Google bots (spiders) so the site looked ‘normal’ to my customers but, as far as my Google natural search was concerned, my site was no longer about ‘SEO copywriting’, or even ‘Sydney copywriter’.

Worse still, my 2nd and 3rd place rankings suddenly dropped out completely and I lost a whole day trying to sort it all out.

My WordPress hack prevention tips

So, to save you suffering the same fate, here are some recommendations to make your site safe (or as safe as it can be) using WordPress.

  1. Choose a strong password: Include characters and numbers, caps, digits. Make it memorable and unique.
  2. Uncheck the ‘Anyone can register’ box under Settings > General.
  3. Limit the number of users on your website to the bare minimum.
  4. Keep your WordPress installation up to date.
  5. Choose only 4-star plugins: The more well-known a plugin is, the more likely it is to be safe (you hope).
  6. Keep all plugins up to date: Old software can be troublesome.
  7. Delete any plugins you are no longer using. (See above).
  8. Consider downloading some security plugins. I now use:
    • Paranoid, whichnotifies me every time something happens to one of my files (so I know if someone, other than me, is fiddling with it).
    • AskApache Password Protect, which does lots of clever security stuff.
  9. Do all the things recommended in this Security article.
  10. Make sure you have a solid back up set up – I currently use Back up Buddy.

2014 update: Since writing this post I’ve discovered the Wordfence security plugin, which totally rocks.

My WordPress hack survival tips

If the worst should happen, then try your hardest not to get your knickers well and truely twist. Instead keep calm and follow this 7-step guide:

  1. Run a virus check on your desktop/laptop. (I used for Macs.)
  2. Change your WordPress password.
  3. Change your FTP password.*
  4. Change your database password.*
  5. Read this support article from WordPress.
  6. Read this article for Sucuri.
  7. If all else fails, contact these guys who will fix your site for approx A$100. (You might have to wait a few hours as they’re based in the US.)

Dealing with the aftermath

When your site is clean and secure again then follow these simple steps:

  1. Change your WordPress password again
  2. Change the FTP password again*.
  3. Change your database password and update your wp-config.php file with the new password*.
  4. Run another virus check on your desktop/lap top, just in case.
  5. If you’re not running the latest version of WordPress, install it now.
  6. Update all your plugins.

*If you’re not sure how to do this, speak to your hosting company or developer.

My site seems to be all better now, and I’ve learnt a lot about how security works and what to look out for.

So thanks Mr HackerVirus-makingGIT this was a great learning experience.

If anyone has any other security tips I’d love to hear them. Please share below

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  • Mitch Devine

    Remember, just because you’ve downloaded Paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to hack you! So glad you’re all clean again. :)

  • Caleb Wong

    Via Twitter: Do Back-ups of your database however frequent it may need.

  • C. Andrimitious

    Thank you for this article. I recently got a virus on my website and went into panic mode. I google WordPress hackk and your article came up. Some really useful advice.Thanks C. Andrimitious.

  • Dan Rippon

    Hi Kate,
    Just adding to what Caleb said above – I’d highly recommend a full backup of everything once you know your site is clean, followed by regular updated backups every week or month (dependant on blogging frequency). Personally I use Backup Buddy and although it costs a bit, I can’t recommend it enough. (It’s also pretty handy for doing site migrations if you’re a dev!)

    • SEO copywriter

      Hi Dan, Thanks for the recommendation. Here’s the URL for anyone who’s interested. At time of writing $45 for two sites. (Why don’t they have a one site option?). So not cheap but a lot cheaper than losing your site altogether! Thanks for commenting Dan.

  • Pingback: 6 shitty things that happened to my business (and the lessons I learned) | Kate Toon()

  • Bjarni Wark

    Have you checked out migth be handy for a site of your size (SEO position) and value?

Who is Kate Toon?

Hi, I'm an award-winning SEO copywriter and SEO consultant with over 18 years’ experience. I've worked with big brands such as Westpac, the RTA, Curash and Kmart and helped countless small businesses to produce great content.



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