How to Fix This Site May Harm Your Computer Warning
February 13, 2013 Sarvesh Bagla
The warning message “This site may harm your computer” appears just below the website URL in SERPs and even after opening the website, the warning remains. In fact, your visitors may also get a suggestion on returning to the previous page to pick another result or try a new search to find what they are looking for. After getting this message, most of the visitors will not be ready to proceed further because of the perceived risk to their computer. This can lead to a huge loss of traffic for the website.
If a visitor lands on a webpage even after ignoring the message “This site may harm your computer”, then the visitor’s computer runs the risk of getting infected with malicious software which can run unwanted programs in stealth mode to steal your personal information such as credit card details and passwords, changes the search results and even slow down your computer. So, it is advised not to visit such websites until and unless the message disappears.
Between maintaining ethical operations and constant realigning with Google’s algorithm updates, offering SEO services is no cake walk. And there are, often, many layers to consider, because our work doesn’t end or begin with optimization services. Quite the opposite, in fact. To be great at our jobs, we need a thorough and even intuitive understanding of web development and security, especially since the latter is more vulnerable to being breached.
Over the last few months we’ve been struggling with a client website that has constantly been hacked. When we’d search for their brand on Google, it would say ‘this site may harm your computer’ From an SEO perspective, you know that if you don’t fix this problem quickly, Google will drop the rankings for the keywords targeted on the infected pages.
The client is a well recognized international brand who had recently set up shop in India. The website enjoyed healthy traffic, most of which was coming from brand searches as the target keywords had not started ranking yet.
We’ve dealt with websites getting hacked before, so we did what we had learned from past experiences. We cleaned the code, went to Google Search Console and asked Google to reconsider the website. But after several attempts to clean the code, Google was still showing the same message, so we figured the problem was bigger than we had anticipated.
The website has been built on the Joomla CMS platform. The hacker had inserted code into internal pages which completely altered the contents of the page. It updated the meta tags and page copy, spawned new pages and added links to these pages on the left hand menu. Before we knew it, the new pages were ranking for illegal drugs and Analytics started showing an upward trend in traffic – but the traffic was for all the wrong keywords.
On further investigations we realized that the hackers had used an automated software to build thousands of back links to the new pages they had created. Since the domain was a seasoned one, these pages started ranking quite easily.
Fixing the Problem
We scraped through the database to identify and remove the ‘malicious code’ to prevent new pages from being spawned, removed the unwanted pages, cleaned up the code, disavowed the thousands of bad links created by the hackers and shifted the website to a reputed hosting company with better protection. We even have regular virus scans enabled to inform us immediately in case the site is hacked again.
Only recently, we started ranking for the desired keywords and pulling in targeted traffic. However, the overall traffic is down as the traffic for the bad keywords has disappeared. Clearly, there’s an extensive amount of backtracking involved to clean up a security breach, which results in major objectives being pushed to the back burner for a short while.
But try explaining that to the client!
However, the usual steps involved to fix “This site may harm your computer” warning message are:
- First, register and verify the website in Google Search Console.
- Second, sign in to Search Console and check the ‘Security Issues’ section. Here you will get some sample URLs that might be infected.
- Third, fix the security issue that is causing your website to be infected. Remember, your site may get re-infected, so be careful.
- Fourth, Google will offer you a list of actions to resolve the issue. You can choose any of those. If you are not sure which action to choose for your website, you can take further help from Google.
- Fifth, request a review in the Security Issues section in Search Console when your website is clean and secure.
- Finally, if Google finds your site is clean, they will remove “This site may harm your computer” notification.
Anyhow, the bottom line is, as an SEO company, we not only have to keep up with the latest Google updates, we also have to have a deep understanding of web development and web security; also, hyper-vigilance of industry trends is, veritably, a way of life.
Incidentally, the site we’re talking about was built using Joomla, which historically, tends to be susceptible to compromise. While there’s no way to guarantee 100% protection against hackers, you certainly have a number of measures to keep your site safe. If nothing else, walk the extra mile to back-up your website. In the event you do get hacked, your back-ups can help you delete existing files and go live fairly quickly.
If you’ve found a different way that works for you, let us know below in the comments.