How to Scan a Website for Malware — Full Guide 2024

Updated on: May 12, 2024
Fact Checked by Kate Davidson
Tyler Cross Tyler Cross
Updated on: May 12, 2024

Short on time? Here’s how to scan a website for malware:

  1. Find a scanning tool. Pick a reliable website scanning tool (Norton Safe Web is one of the best). Website scanners are free, so all you need to do is go to the scanner’s webpage.
  2. Paste the website link. Copy and paste the link for the website you want to check into the search bar and perform a search. If possible, don’t open the link first until you’ve scanned it, otherwise you risk exposing yourself to malware. You can right-click any link and then select Copy link address.
  3. Get a browser extension with web protection. A web protection extension will automatically check the sites you visit for malware. Additionally, it will look for signs of phishing. I find this much more convenient than manual scanning, given that tools like Norton Safe Search are free and color-code dangerous websites and links for you.
  4. Stay protected. Stay vigilant to online threats by practicing digital hygiene. Even when protected by the best security tools, it’s important to use common sense. Don’t download random attachments or click on questionable links promising free stuff.

It’s imperative to make sure the sites you visit aren’t harboring malware. Likewise, if you operate a website, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t putting those who visit it at risk. There are nasty threats hackers place on websites that can harm your device, cause financial loss, or even lead to your whole network being hijacked. Luckily there are convenient tools that anyone can use to quickly scan links and ensure a website isn’t infected with malware.

To save you time, I went ahead and tested all the website scanners I could find. While I found many that do the job, others were inaccurate or outdated. I wanted to find tools that anyone could use to quickly identify dangerous sites without having to spend any money. Luckily, I succeeded.

I found 3 great websites that do the trick. My favorite is Norton Safe Web — it’s fast, free, and provides basic details about threats. The only problem is that a lot of WordPress sites will come up as false positives. The reasons are complicated, but essentially WordPress owners have to manually submit their sites to Norton for approval and the vast majority do not. For WordPress sites, I recommend you use our own WordPress Plugins Detector – Vulnerability Checker. It only takes a few seconds and doesn’t require any downloads.

I also recommend using reliable antivirus software, as it will help to protect you from all kinds of online threats in real time. Norton is my personal favorite.

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Step 1. Find a Website Checking Tool That Works for Your Website

The first thing to consider is what type of website-checking tool you need. While most websites are built on services like Google Sites, Squaresoft, or Wix, and can be scanned using the same tool, WordPress websites use different internal architecture and require a different scanner.

There are a few ways to tell which service a website is built on, but the simplest method is to check the website’s footer. Many websites display a phrase such as “built on WordPress” at the bottom, making it quite easy to figure out if you know where to look. If the website doesn’t have a footer, check the URL for the names of website-building tools like Wix and Squarespace.

Step 1. Find a Website Checking Tool That Works for Your Website

Note that not all sites will have a signature in the footer showing the tool used to build it. In these cases, you’ll have to view the website’s code. That might sound technical, but there’s an easy way to do it. Here’s how:

  1. Right-click the page in question and click View page source. Or, to view a website’s code before opening the site, right-click the link and click on Inspect.

Step 1. Find a Website Checking Tool That Works for Your Website

  1. Since you only need to determine if the website is from WordPress or not, press Ctrl + F to search for “wp-content.” If you see that phrase, the website is built using WordPress.

Step 1. Find a Website Checking Tool That Works for Your Website

For the majority of websites out there, I recommend using the free Norton Safe Web tool. If you’re trying to scan a website built using WordPress, use the Safety Detective’s WordPress Plugins Detector – Vulnerability Checker or another reputable tool designed for WordPress sites.

You can now move to Step 2.

Step 2. Identify the Threat With Your Scanner

Once you’ve picked out a scanner, it’s time to run a scan. I’ll use Norton Safe Web as an example, but almost every tool I tested worked the same: copy and paste the URL of the website you want to check into the scanner’s search bar and search.

Step 2. Identify the Threat With Your Scanner

Once you click that magnifying glass, Norton will scan the site for malware by comparing its contents with a directory of known malware samples. At the same time, it’ll make sure it doesn’t show any signs of a phishing operation. This will only take a few seconds, after which you’ll receive a detailed report of any threats that were flagged. Experts can review this information to make sure it isn’t falsely flagging anything, but it’s usually best to trust your cybersecurity tools.

Step 2. Identify the Threat With Your Scanner

While you’ll need a different scanner for WordPress websites, the overall process is exactly the same. Copy and paste the URL of the website in question into the search bar and click the search button.Step 2. Identify the Threat With Your Scanner

If you scan a website and find any threats, don’t open the website. If you do, you’ll risk potential damage to your device and overall security. If you’ve already visited the questionable site, immediately close the tab.

Unlike malware that gets installed onto your computer, you can’t get rid of malware on a website unless you have administrative controls for that site.

If you think you’ve contracted malware from a malicious website, you’ll want to use quality antivirus software to remove it.

After you’ve finished, move on to Step 3.

Step 3. Use Web Protection Tools

Depending on your specific needs, a browser extension might be a more convenient way to scan websites for malware. If you don’t operate a website yourself and just want to make sure that every page you visit is free from malware, I recommend adding an extension to your browser. Lots of reputable antivirus developers offer free tools that are effective at identifying dangerous sites.

Rather than test sites manually through Norton’s Safe Web tool, you can add Safe Web Enhanced to your browser. Note that on some browsers the tool is called Safe Web (just like the manual scanner). In my tests, it automatically blocked the majority of phishing sites and pages containing malware. It also checks any links that you hover over, which is great.

Bitdefender offers a similar tool called TrafficLight. It proved equally effective in my tests, blocking malicious sites automatically. It also color codes your search results, with safe sites getting a green light, questionable pages a yellow one, and sites known to harbor threats marked in red. I like how easy it is to add exceptions to TrafficLight and the fact that it doesn’t interfere with your homepage or other browser settings.

In most cases, browser extensions are the most practical way to check if a site is affected by malware. They work automatically so you don’t have to take the time to enter the URL on a scanning site. I recommend Norton and Bitdefender’s extensions as they are free and effective.

Step 4. Learn Healthy Browsing Habits

Protecting yourself against malware lingering in unsafe websites requires vigilance, even with the best cybersecurity tools. You can minimize the risk of accidentally visiting a website that harbors malware or inadvertently adding malware to a site you administer by taking these steps:

  • Don’t click on any shady links. Avoid links from anyone you don’t know or that seem suspicious, such as random links on social media that promise free products and links with strange-looking URLs. Even if you scan a website, there’s no absolute guarantee it won’t contain malware or engage in phishing.
  • Avoid attachments from senders you don’t know. Phishing scams involve a scammer emailing you or sending a text that encourages you to click a link to a malicious website or download a malicious attachment. If you click the link, you’ll be exposing yourself to any threat buried inside. If you get an email from someone pressuring you into opening an email attachment, block and report the sender. Under no circumstances should you open the link.
  • Keep your browser, OS, and drivers up to date. Developers are constantly working to make sure their products are as secure as possible. If any vulnerabilities are found, they’ll do their best to close them by issuing updates. If you don’t install updates as they become available, there’s no telling what a malicious website could do to your system.
  • Download and use an antivirus. Even if you follow the best cyber hygiene habits, there’s still a small chance that you can get malware or have hackers steal your personal information by visiting a malicious website or downloading a rotten file. That’s why I recommend that everyone use a reliable antivirus like Norton, just in case.

What Are the Most Common Types of Malware That Affect Websites?

Malware is highly complex and can come with effects that range from introducing rogue ads to a website to completely taking it over and stealing personal information from customers. Some of the most common forms of malware that can affect websites are:

  • Ransomware. This type of malware steals sensitive information about a website or device, usually sensitive customer information or financial data, and encrypts it. Once the data has been encrypted, threat actors will attempt to ransom it back to the victim or to the highest bidder they can find on the dark web. Since deciphering properly encrypted data is nearly impossible, recovering from a ransomware attack can be extremely costly.
  • Malvertising. Sometimes malware’s purpose will be to generate malicious ads on the host website, encouraging users who trust the infected website to click on them. Clicking on one of these ads will then redirect you to a fraudulent website created to steal your information.
  • Phishing kits. Threat actors can use phishing kits to mimic the visual appearance of a legitimate website while harvesting any information that visitors provide. Phishing kits are designed to capture login information and credit card details while being nearly undetectable without the right software.
  • Drive-by-downloads. These occur when malware attempts to install itself onto your device the moment you access the affected site. These can be especially dangerous to those who don’t have an antivirus with good real-time protection installed, as they can happen right under your nose.
  • SQL injections. Malicious code can be injected into SQL queries by exploiting security vulnerabilities in a website. This allows attackers to manipulate databases, steal information, and even gain administrative access to the site.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS). This involves injecting malicious scripts into webpages viewed by other users. After they’re deployed, hackers can use these scripts to hijack user sessions and redirect visitors to malicious sites.

How Can Malware Affect a Website?

Malware is a catch-all term for thousands of types of online threats that can infect a website, so there isn’t one specific way it affects a website. The sheer diversity of threats highlights the importance of using a website scanner to check a site the moment you notice something out of place. Some of the ways malware can affect a website are:

  • Cause dramatic decreases in performance. Websites with malware buried inside usually dramatically underperform compared to normal websites. Load times may take more than several minutes and you may notice a delay between when you click your mouse and when it registers a click. Depending on the severity of the infection, it can even result in your browser crashing after opening the site, even if it doesn’t install malware directly onto your device.
  • Leave you vulnerable to a data breach. Websites with malware infections are more likely to contain other exploits and vulnerabilities, even if they haven’t been found. If you find a website harboring malware, it’s possible (and likely) that threat actors are looking for a way to harvest the data from customers and visitors. If you’re worried that your data may already be involved in a data breach, you should use data breach monitoring software like Norton LifeLock to scan the dark web for your information. In a pinch, you can use a free resource like Have I Been Pwned.
  • Increase the risk of a website takeover. If the infection on a website is severe, it can result in the total takeover of the website. Hackers could potentially gain access to even more sensitive user data than they could have gotten from a breach and make it extremely difficult for the original owner to get it back.
  • Change the website’s UI and design. Hackers can use malware to change the visual appearance of a website or tamper with its UI, transforming a website you know well into an unrecognizable mess.
  • Add redirects to fraudulent sites. Threat actors typically inject malware into websites that redirects visitors to sketchy pages. The goal is to trick the user into downloading malware themselves. If you’re visiting a website and it continuously redirects you to a strange-looking website, consider that a red flag and check it using a website malware scanner.
  • Infect visitors’s devices with malware. Unfortunately, infections are designed to, well, infect. This means that if you open a compromised website, there’s a chance that it will immediately attempt to install malware on your computer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to scan a website for malware?

Simply choose a website checking tool and paste the website’s URL in the search bar. Your website will then be scanned for malware and other threats.

Most website scanners use massive malware databases to find threats, while some use machine learning to boost their ability to detect malware — the best use a combination of both. If you have found malware on a website you own or operate during your scans, the next step is to remove it. Most of the products on this list, like Norton, offer premium products that remove threats for you and add real-time protection for your site.

What kind of malware can infect a website?

Infected websites can be afflicted with a variety of problems — including malware that infects visitors’s devices with viruses, redirects users to different websites, hijacks the whole site, encrypts and ransoms the business’s data, and more. Hackers can harm your website’s customers, your reputation, your sales, and at worst even shut down your entire company or site.

If you think your website might be a victim of malware or hackers, the first thing you need to do is run a malware scan. For a fast and free check-up on a WordPress-based website, I’d recommend the WordPress Plugins Detector – Vulnerability Checker. It uses a massive malware directory to find any known threats in a matter of seconds.

How do I know if my website has malware?

The simplest way to answer this question is by running a website malware scan (or vulnerability checker). The WordPress Plugins Detector – Vulnerability Checker is my recommendation for WordPress-based websites, while Norton Safe Web is my top pick for websites built using other methods.

There are some signs you might notice before scanning, like increased spam or pop-ups appearing, or your website taking significantly longer to load. If you have been noticing these problems, then I’d say it’s time to scan it immediately using one of the free tools above. I tested all five to make sure they’re fast and easy to use, and if you do opt for the premium versions they’re worth your money.

Can I scan my website for free?

Yes, you can scan any website for free. Norton can scan any website and run a quick checkup on it, but I recommend using the SafetyDetectives WordPress Plugins Detector – Vulnerability Checker to scan WordPress websites.

Now, while you can scan them for free, you probably won’t be able to remove the malware on your site for free. Malware removal tools are typically only included in the premium versions of these products. Norton, for example, has a premium option that you can use to get rid of malware on your website and give you real-time protection against future threats.

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About the Author
Tyler Cross
Updated on: May 12, 2024

About the Author

Tyler is a writer at SafetyDetectives with a passion for researching all things tech and cybersecurity. Prior to joining the SafetyDetectives team, he worked with cybersecurity products hands-on for more than five years, including password managers, antiviruses, and VPNs and learned everything about their use cases and function. When he isn't working as a "SafetyDetective", he enjoys studying history, researching investment opportunities, writing novels, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends."