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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.

How do I know if my site has been hacked?

If you’re reading this and wondering if your site has been hacked, let me reassure you that generally you’ll know.

I highly recommend setting your site up inGoogle Webmaster Tools. Google will watch your site for problems  report any problems back to you in .

However while Google Webmasters is great at telling you about the problem it is also very good at telling your customers.  This is what causes the warning boxes to pop up in your browser when visiting a site. So be sure to fix the problem fast!

Here’s a nifty little tool that can check your site for hack signs or try this one from Sucuri.

Understanding the hack

The hack 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) when 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, which notifies 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 truly in a 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.

Over to you

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

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