Fixing Zen Cart Admin Login Redirect Loop Caused By Forcing Website to Be Served Over HTTPS

We recently had someone come to us for Zen Cart support after they could no longer log in to the admin area of Zen Cart after their web host configured it so their website would always be served over HTTPS. When they tried to log in they were redirected back to the log in page without any error message being shown. While there are some other issues that can cause that same type of redirect to occur, in the situation where that change to serve the website over HTTPS has been made, what we found would fix this is to update the configuration file for the admin area, which is located /includes/configure.php in side of the admin directory (whose name varies from website to website), to use the HTTPS address for the website.

The relevant portion of the configuration file for a website using a recent version of Zen Cart is below:

/**
 * Enter the domain for your Admin URL. If you have SSL, enter the correct https address in the HTTP_SERVER setting, instead of just an http address.
 */
define('HTTP_SERVER', 'http://www.example.com);
/**
 * Note about HTTPS_SERVER:
 * There is no longer an HTTPS_SERVER setting for the Admin. Instead, put your SSL URL in the HTTP_SERVER setting above.
 */

Changing the “HTTP_SERVER” setting to start https:// instead of http:// resolves this as the proper address is used when handling the log in.

Security Company Promises They Can Prevent Websites from Getting Hacked Again and Immediately Contradicts the Claim

What we recently have been noticing over and over in looking over the marketing materials for website security services is that they claim to protect websites from being hacked and almost immediately contradict that claim. As yet another example of that, we were recently looking at a WordPress security plugin named Sitesassure WP Malware Scanner and as discussed over at the blog for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service we noticed that among other issues, it is insecure and contained a vulnerability (security software with security vulnerabilities of their own is a common occurrence from what we have seen). That plugin seemed to be largely a way to promote the security company Sitesassure.

On the homepage of Sitesassure they promote a service they offer with the claim “DONT GET HACKED AGAIN”:

We could find no evidence presented on their website that service was effective at all. When making a claim like that there really should be evidence from independent testing that backs up the claim. If their WordPress plugin is any indication they don’t have much of a grasp security, which seems like prerequisite for being able to have a service that could possibly provide that protection.

Everything we have seen from numerous different angles indicates that services like that don’t in fact provide the claimed protection. That includes plenty of people coming to us asking if we offer a service like that, which works, after using one that didn’t and that the providers of them often prominently promote that the service includes hack cleanups. That is the case with this service as well, as scrolling down the website just a bit from the claim that the website won’t get hacked again there is another part of the promotion for that service:

If the website won’t get hacked again with that service then there shouldn’t be anything to clean up.

Right after that they seem to water down the claim even more by moving the goal line from keeping the website from being hacked, to just it not going down after that occurs:

(While they claim WordPress is a specialty of theirs, they consistently improperly capitalize it, which seems like a good indication it is actually something they are not all too familiar with.)

If you really want to fight back the best thing would be to do is the basics of securing websites as those will actually prevent most hacks, which would make hacking have less of a payoff for the hackers.

If a website has already been hacked the important thing to do is make sure that the website is properly cleaned. From what we have seen providers of services like that usually don’t even attempt to do that, which doesn’t seem that surprising considering that they seem to think it is acceptable to market a security service in a way that they are aware is not true.

When looking for a company to properly clean things up these are things you want to hear from them that they do:

  • Clean up the hack.
  • Get the website secured as possible (which which usually involves getting any software on the website up date).
  • Try to determine how the website was hacked and fix that.

We always do those things when doing a cleanup. When those things haven’t been done by other companies it has frequently lead to us being brought in to re-clean websites.

Bluehost’s Poorly Thought Out Attempt to Clean Up Hacked Websites

We have repeatedly brought up the web host Bluehost in the past on this blog due to various security related issues involving them, including things like using phishing emails to sell unnecessary security services and it looking like a security issue on their end might be leading to websites being hacked. Recently we have started running into another issue while working on hack cleanups with websites hosted with them, it appears that Bluehost is attempting to do some cleanup of hacks in way that doesn’t seem well thought out and can lead to websites having more problems beyond just the ones caused by the hack.

What looks to be going on is that to try to clean files with malicious code, Bluehost is removing code from the files and making a copy of the previous version of the files with a different name. As an example of those different names, in one recent instance the copy of a file named link-manager.php was named link-manager.php.suspected.1524640055. The new files have no permissions, so you can’t view the contents of them (or change the permissions to be able to do that). In many instances the original files have been totally emptied, even if it appears that they had contained legitimate code in addition to malicious code.

One of the problems that is causing is that legitimate files that are used to generate websites are being emptied, which then causes the website to stop working. Due to permissions on the new files it isn’t possible to easily see the previous contents of files to be able to quickly restore the non-malicious portion without getting access to another copy of the file.

Where things get more problematic is that they are changing the permissions on some directories as well as files, which not only restricts seeing what is in the directory, but also introducing a complication that doesn’t occur with the change to individual files, you can’t delete the directories through FTP or the file manager in Bluehost’s control panel.

Bluehost does have the capability to make the files and directories accessible if you contact them.

What is important note is that in every instance we have run into this so far there have been malicious files that were not dealt with by this cleanup, so the upside from them attempting to clean things up is limited while it can come with a fairly significant downside. Another problem with this type of approach is that simply cleaning up hacked files doesn’t deal with the underlying cause that allowed the hacker to be able to add or modify files in the first place, so the hacking could continue.

If Your Website Is Critical to Your Business Make Sure You Properly Prepare for Software Upgrades

We often find that businesses’ investment in terms of money and effort in their websites is out of line with what would be optimal. For example, you have people that spend over a thousand dollars a year on a security service that doesn’t even really attempt to secure the website, while more basic maintenance is often neglected or done by those that don’t have the necessary experience to handle it properly, even when the business has the means necessary for to avoid that and the website is critical for the business.

We recently had someone contact us looking for emergency support after a Drupal upgrade went wrong that lead to a website that they said was critical to the business not working. One way to handle that situation would be to revert to a backup, but they said the most recent backup was three months old.

If a website is critical to business then frequent backups should be made outside of any done before upgrades, so there should have been a more recent backup than that, but what about properly preparing for an upgrade outside of that? At the very least, a backup should be made before upgrade is started. If the website is critical to business though that probably isn’t enough.

One reason for that is that there is always a possibility that there is some issue that would make restoring a backup a difficult or impossible. Let’s say for some reason the backup method being used isn’t actually fully backing things up (which can happen). Someone that knows what they are doing can usually ensure that the backup is complete without having to do a test run of a restoration, but one way to test a restoration also provides a better method for handling potential issues for an upgrade.

If a website is truly critical to a business then the best thing to do is to do a test of the upgrade before the production website is upgraded. That will significantly lessen the chance of something going wrong when the production website is upgraded, which would then require trying to quickly fix it or revert to a backup. Instead time can be takem to understand what is going wrong and how to ameliorate that before the time comes to upgrade the production website. Setting up the test copy of the website also allows testing out the restoration of a backup as well.

Usually a test copy of the website can simply be set up in a directory in the existing website’s hosting account/domain name. A more advanced way to handle it is to use a separate hosting environment, say a separate hosting account, though with that it is important to make sure the server environment is the same as the production website, so that some inconsistency between them doesn’t lead to an issue only appearing when the production website is upgraded.

Finally, testing out the test of the upgrade. For some types of website a quick check over few pages will be enough but in others more extensive manual or automated testing may be needed. Another sometimes overlooked area of testing is becoming familiar with functionality changes in the backend of websites when significant upgrades are made. We have been involved in situations where that hasn’t happened and someone then was panicking because they needed to do something in hurry, but weren’t aware of how to do that it in the new version, so trying out normal activities in the test copy we a significant upgrade is being done is very good idea.

Looking at Recently Modified Files Isn’t a Good Way To Find Files Added or Modified by Hacker

We often find that companies that claim to have expertise (and often unique expertise) in dealing with hacked websites either don’t know what they are doing or are intentionally doing things improperly. That makes it hard to recommend to people in general that they should hire someone to clean up their hacked website (despite us actually doing that very type of work). But at the same time we often have people contact us that have tried to clean up their own website who clearly don’t know what they are doing and have gotten poor results. Those are not always unconnected issues as there is lots of content put out by security companies on how to clean up websites that is either intentionally poor and really intended to entice people to hire them to clean up the website or is poor because the companies really don’t know what they are doing.

An example of that we happened to run across recently involves a blog post from a company named WPHackedHelp that is supposed to tell you how to fix a “Japanese Keywords Hack” on a WordPress website, https://secure.wphackedhelp.com/blog/fix-wordpress-japanese-keywords-hack/. Considering that what we assume they are referring to by that actually encompasses a wide variety of different issues, trying to write an all encompassing article would be difficult to impossible. Instead they write one that is really of little use and could equally have been written about trying to deal with many different issues. But we wanted to focus on one obviously problematic piece of advice.

The post in part states you can find malicious files by checking for recently modified files:

Check Recently Modified Files

To search for the most recently modified files, use SSH to login to your web server account and then execute the following command:

find/path-of-www -type f -printf ‘%TY-%Tm-%Td %TT %p\n’ | sort -r

Navigate through the files and see if you find any doubtful changes made to the code.  If so, replace the files with the clean backup version of it.

For anyone that has even dealt with a few hacked websites there should obvious problem with that advice and for any company that claims to have expertise dealing with hacked websites there should be another obvious issue. WPHackedHelp certainly claims to have that level of expertise:

With over 15 years of experience, our WordPress security experts specialize in website malware removal & cleanup WordPress websites.

It’s worth noting though that WordPress itself is barely 15 years old, so we would assume that is referring to combined experience, though they are not upfront about that, which seems like a red flag.

The glaring problem with relying on the last modified date of files is that hackers frequently change the last modified date of files they have added or modified to have the dates match other files in the same directory. In some instances that occurs with some of the files and not others, so someone might think they have gotten the malicious files and really they have missed a lot of them.

The other issue with this is that often times people only become aware that their website has been hacked well after it has occurred, in some extreme instances the hackers originally got in years ago. So even if the hacker hasn’t changed the last modified dates, looking at recently modified files wouldn’t identify them.

At the end of WPHackedHelp’s post you get to the seeming insincerity of the whole thing as they write:

Having listed an array of methods requiring technical expertise, let’s consider an approach that is way smarter, consumes less time and takes the burden off your shoulders. WP Hacked Help deploys a systematic plan to clean up your WordPress website. The site is thoroughly scanned and the detected flaws are dealt by an expert team to provide you with a website free of malicious codes. Within a short span of time, your website will be live up again, running efficiently like before.

Why not be upfront about that, considering that it is supposed to be “way smarter, consumes less time and takes the burden off your shoulders”?

What is missing in that post or anywhere else that we looked on this company websites for that matter was any mention of one of the three key components of a proper hack cleanup, trying to determine how the website was hacked. Not only is that important to make sure that the hacker can’t just get back in after things are cleaned, but we have found that the work involved with that is important to make sure the hack is fully cleaned up. In almost every instance when we are hired to re-clean up a hacked website there had been no attempt to do that, so avoiding companies that don’t do that is something we would recommend.

If the focus of security companies was on figuring out how websites were being hacked and working to make sure that the instances of those things are lessened, security could be in much better shape than it is. That of course would mean less business for a lot of those security companies, so instead you have an arms race type situation where hackers figure out new ways to avoid detection (like changing the last modified date), which makes it harder to clean up hacked website, leading to more business for security companies, but a worse situation for their customers since the root cause isn’t being dealt with properly.

cWatch Makes False Claims About Security of WordPress Themes While Touting Their Security Analysts

When we previously discussed a service named cWatch we noted how the people behind it didn’t seem to understand what they were talking about when it came to security. We recently happened to take a look at them again and found things haven’t changed. Previously they falsely claimed that it isn’t possible to fully clean up hacked websites, despite them offering to do website malware removal for free (which seems like it explains the price). This time they are making false claims about the security of WordPress themes.

In a June 11 blog post titled “Infected WordPress Themes Still on WordPress.org” they start by stating:

Having come across many exploits and vulnerabilities it is no surprise that WordPress, being one of the most common themes used, seems to be a hacker favorite.

In order to stay proactive, we researched wordpress.org Apache Subversion (SVN) and discovered some major commonalities within some infected themes.

This presents a major concern as these infected files can be quite easily installed from the wordpress.org site directly.

During the next couple of blog posts we will publish a series of articlestitled INFECTED WORDPRESS THEMES STILL ON WORPRESS.ORG, where we will share with you our findings in the hopes of helping stop the spread of these infections through awareness.

That sounds concerning, but a little odd. If there was really some issue wouldn’t they want to work with WordPress to resolve it instead of trying deal with it through “awareness”? From what we have seen of the security industry, awareness is usually a euphemism for making false or misleading security claims to get coverage for yourself and that is the case here.

The next section of the post though seems to indicate that cWatch didn’t really know what they are talking about:

The following is a list of the infected WordPress themes we have discovered:

What they are linking to there are not themes, but individual files that contained malicious code in themes. That seems like a big detail to miss, but there’s more. The first five files are from various versions of one theme, Delish. In each link the number listed is the version number of the theme. Based on that it seemed that only versions up to 1.3.3 would have been impacted. The current version is 1.6, so five of the seven “themes” they claim infected are in fact not. In fact, version 1.3.4 was released on March 31, 2015 (and did in fact remove the malicious file). So it wasn’t like this was dealt with after the claim by cWatch or even recently. There is another issue with the claim that theme was infected, which we will get to in a moment.

The two other themes are not even available anymore and it doesn’t look like they were available recently. One of them, Neworld, had the malicious file removed in a version that was released on June 8, 2015. The other theme “Elgrande (shared on wplocker.com)” never had fix released, so that is the closest there is a current issue, but it still doesn’t live up to cWatch’s claim that “these infected files can be quite easily installed from the wordpress.org site directly” since it can’t be easily downloaded from there anymore and you can’t install themes from there at all.

In looking into those themes we noticed another rather large issue with cWatch’s claims here, which they completely missed, despite it seeming like it should be obvious to anyone that claims to have the expertise they claim to have. All of the infected files have .png extension, which will cause web servers to see them as image files, so the malicious PHP code that had been in them would not run. There would need to additional code to make that code run, which is missing in all but “Elgrande (shared on wplocker.com)”. So there wasn’t a threat from the other two themes even in the versions that contained the malicious files.

What all that seem to make more glaring is at the end of the post there is this ad for cWatch:

Having security analysts as a resource to inspect and investigate all code would be ideal. Connect with us if you are looking to have a security analyst on your side for less than a cup of coffee a day.

Unless you want a security analyst that doesn’t seem mildly component, you would probably want to avoid them.

Poor Copy and Paste

The poor quality of the content of their blog isn’t a one off issue, as can be seen in another recent post. The post is odd to start with since it is about malware that was claimed to have impacted “700 WordPress and Joomla websites”. We don’t know why something like that would merit coverage, unless there was some new vulnerability that was exploited to hack those websites. Strangely the source of the hacks was not discussed at all in their post or the original source they lightly rewrote to create their post. Speaking of the original source, what really stood out to us in the post was the strange headline in the last section:

Mitigation by SiteLock

If ionCube-encoded files have not been intentionally or specifically installed by you or your developer, then any file claiming to use ionCube is likely to be suspicious since the effective usage of IonCube generally needs manual server configuration. Moreover,  cross-compatibility with varied versions of PHP is found to be minimal, thus decreasing the viability of use as malware.

SiteLock is the name of another security company that isn’t exactly known providing accurate information when it comes to this sort of thing, so you wouldn’t want to be blindly repeating their claims. cWatch though takes it further by simply lightly rewriting SiteLock’s post. Here is SiteLock’s version of the above paragraph:

If you or your developer have not specifically and intentionally installed ionCube-encoded files, it is likely that any files claiming to be using ionCube are suspicious, as successfully making use of ionCube typically requires manual server configuration. Also, cross-compatibility with different versions of PHP is minimal, reducing the viability of use as malware.

What is worth reiterating is that you have two security companies there that offer services that they claim protect websites, but they seem to be uninterested in how these websites were hacked, despite the obvious relevancy to what they claim to offer. In reality SiteLock at least actually thinks that protecting websites involves leaving them vulnerable to being hacked, they are not alone in that belief.

GoDaddy’s Idea of Securing Websites Actually Involves Leaving Them Insecure and Trying to Deal with the After Effects of That

Yesterday we discussed GoDaddy’s usage of misleading claims to try to sell overpriced SSL certificates. Based on that it probably wouldn’t be surprising to hear that they would mislead people in other ways about security and that is exactly what we ran across while looking into things while working on that previous post.  When we clicked on the “Add to Cart” button for one of their SSL certificates, at the bottom of the page we were taken to, there was a “malware scan and removal” service offered to “Secure your site”:

The description of that is:

Defend your site against hackers and malware with automatic daily scans and guaranteed cleanup.

It shouldn’t be too complicated to understand what is wrong with that, though as we mentioned earlier today there seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to what security services and products do.

If a website is secure it wouldn’t have malware or some other hack on it to detect or remove, so either GoDaddy doesn’t understand what they are providing or they are lying about.

The problem we see so often with this sort of service is that people will fail to do the things that will actually keep websites secure because they believe a service like this will actually keep a website secure.

Trying to deal with the after effects of having a website hacked instead of actually securing it introduces a lot of issues. One of those being that if a hacker uses the hack to exfiltrate customer data stored on the website a cleanup isn’t going to undo that.

What is a lot more important to note is that everything we have seen from the underlying provider of GoDaddy’s security services, Sucuri, is that they are not good at detecting and cleaning up hacks of websites. Their scanner seems, to put it politely, incredibly crude. Their employees seem to lack a basic capability to understand evidence that a website is hacked. And in what is most relevant to this specific service, we recently we brought in on a situation where their scanner had failed to detect that a website was hacked and then they repeatedly incompletely cleaned up the website, leaving it in a hacked state for a while. It was only after we were brought in to clean things up properly (which Sucuri doesn’t appear to even attempt to do) that it was finally cleaned and stayed that way.

Monitoring For Malware and Other Website Hacks Won’t Prevent a Website from Being Hacked

In dealing with people with hacked websites we are often reminded that things that seem like they should be easy to understand about security products and services are often not for a lot of people. What plays at least some role in that, and maybe a lot, is that the security industry frequently makes misleading and outright false claims.

We recently had someone that contacted us about a hacked websites who seemed to be unaware that monitoring for malware or other types of website hacks would not prevent the website from being hacked or clean it up if it did get hacked. In their case they said they were relying on monitoring from SiteLock and Wordfence.

What monitoring tries to do is detect evidence of malware or another hack after it has occurred. Since it comes in to play after the hacking it wouldn’t be possible to stop it from occurring. Despite that we have seen providers of monitoring services promote them as being able to stop or protect a website from being hacked. Either these providers don’t understand what they are providing or are lying about it, neither of which is a good option.

If there were monitoring solutions that were effective at doing what they are actually trying to do they might be a good option as additional measure beyond doing the basics for high profile websites that are at elevated risk of being targeted by hackers. We have yet to see any such service that presents evidence, much less evidence from independent testing, that they are effective though, which seems like it should be a baseline for using such a service at all. What we have seen of monitoring solutions and other tools to detect malicious code in years of dealing with the cleanup hacked websites is that they have a limited, at best, ability to spot malicious code on a website.

For the average website what should be the focus is doing the things that will actually make websites secure instead of hoping that a security service is going provide even a fraction of what the extraordinary claims they often are promoted with would lead people to believe they are capable of.

GoDaddy Using Google’s Change to Label Non-HTTPS Websites as “Not Secure” in Chrome To Sell Overpriced SSL Certificates

Yesterday we discussed someone’s belief that their website would be useless in its current form due to a company’s blog post about Google making a change to their Chrome web browser to label non-HTTPS websites as “not secure”. Unrelated to that, yesterday we  got sent an email from GoDaddy touting purchasing SSL certificates from them to avoid websites being labeled that way by Chrome. Two things stood out with that. The first being that GoDaddy charges much more than you need to be paying for an SSL certificate, which will in part prevent a website from being labeled as “not secure”, but also that GoDaddy doesn’t seem to really understand what they talking about when it comes to HTTPS. That latter fact isn’t all that surprising considering GoDaddy’s poor security track record.

The subject of the email was “Your customers need SSL on their sites ASAP.”.

On the page linked to from the email, their lowest end SSL certificate, which would be the level you need to avoid the “not secure” label, the introductory price is 60 dollars if you pay for two years upfront and then after that 75 dollars:

With other providers you can pay a fraction of that price. It also looks like that used to be true with GoDaddy as well, as they have apparently significantly increased the prices they charge for SSL certificates over the years despite nothing that would have increased their costs.

Using Let’s Encrypt you can even get a free SSL certificate and there are plenty of web hosting providers that have the capability integrated into their control panels to allow setting those up. It’s worth nothing that GoDaddy’s security company has been a major sponsor or donor to Let’s Encrypt, which seems like a tacit endorsement of Let’s Encrypt .

That GoDaddy is overcharging for SSL certificates instead of being like other hosting providers and offering free SSL certificates seems worse to us when reading one of the three testimonials they chose to show on that page that touts them providing an affordable solution:

I received a call from product support to let me know Google was getting more rigid about “secure sites”. We were able to make the upgrades that I could afford, and make my site more mobile accessible AND secure.

Another testimonial seems more insidious since it gives the impression that GoDaddy is providing cheaper certificates than others instead of more expensive ones:

I’ve set up SSL certificates from various companies but will never use anyone but GoDaddy every again. It’s easy to set up, great support and at a fraction of the price it’s great all around!

That is a great example of why testimonials are not a great source of information because that one allows GoDaddy to make it seem like they providing a more reasonable priced product without having to lie. If they really were providing cheaper certificates they would have been able to present evidence to back that up.

Misleading Marketing

The email made the following claim:

SSL is not only the right thing to do for your customers, it’s also great for boosting their search rankings and getting more traffic to their sites.

No link was provided that backed up that claim. On the page to purchase an SSL certificate, the claim is made repeatedly in regards to Google search results, but again no evidence is provided.

Based on what Google has said it doesn’t sound like using HTTPS has much impact. Here is in part what Google said when the disclosed that usage was a ranking factor:

We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it’s only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content—while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

As far as we are aware they haven’t announced strengthening it and they seem to be using changes to Chrome to increase usage of HTTPS.

In another instance, a Google employee explained the impact as follows:

If you’re in a competitive niche, then it can give you an edge from Google’s point of view. With the HTTPS ranking boost, it acts more like a tiebreaker. For example, if all quality signals are equal for two results, then the one that is on HTTPS would get … or may get … the extra boost that is needed to trump the other result.

Importantly, if both websites were using HTTPS the impact on the ranking boost of either one would be nullified.

Misleading on that seems of less importance than a page they created just to promote buying their SSL certificates due to the change to Chrome.

There they claim that “A Not Secure label on your website can devastate your business.”:

No evidence is presented for that despite it being a serious claim.

What seems like a clear indication that they are not interested in informing people about what is happening, but selling something is another part of that page which states that using HTTPS will “shows visitors they’re safe with the little green lock in their address bar”:

The next HTTPS related change in Chrome, occurring in September, involves it downgrading what is shown for HTTPS pages:

Do They Know What an SSL Certificate Even Is?

Going back to the page for selling SSL certificates there is what is supposed to be an explanation of how a HTTPS connection works, but it seems to have been written by someone that isn’t familiar with it all:

An SSL certificate doesn’t “automatically creates a secure, encrypted connection with their browser”, instead the SSL certificate is just used to validate that a secure connection is being made with the intended website instead or with another party.

Among the other issues with that is that the level encryption is determined by the server and the web browser, not the SSL certificate.

GoDaddy might be able to justify a higher price for an SSL certificate if good customer service was provided, but considering how off the marketing material is, it is hard to believe that their customer service would be well informed about them.

The Truth Behind Conflicting SiteLock Reviews

Recently something we had written about the web security company SiteLock was linked to in thread that starts out with someone discussing the conflicting reviews of SiteLock:

Just had a word press site hacked. Out host suspended our site and recommended site lock to clean it up. I looked at online reviews of their service. There are reviews that say they’re good, and reviews that say they are a scam. They say that you pay to have your site cleaned and then monthly to protect it. There are numerous reviews saying that even with the monthly fees, their sites still got hacked, and they were charged hundreds of dollars to fix it again. If these reviews are true, I want a better solution. What would you do? Are the reviews true?

As we monitor the reviews of SiteLock to keep track of what they are up to since we are frequently contacted by people looking for help after being contacted by them or having hired them, we thought it would be worth touching on what explains those conflicting reviews.

Positive Reviews

The positive reviews of SiteLock mostly fall in to two categories. The vast majority of recent reviews are by people that are pushed by SiteLock to provide a review after any interaction with them. We really do mean any. Here for example are two reviews shown on the review website consumeraffairs.com from the same day, giving SiteLock five stars for helping them to update credit card information:

I contacted SiteLock because I needed to update my credit card information. I was delighted by the speed and helpful service I received from the support team. I would highly recommend SiteLock for their valuable products and services, which are consistently stellar.

Tyrell was very helpful in walking me through updating my credit card billing information online. He was also very courteous and patient while he waited as I entered my information. It would be a pleasure to work with Tyrell again.

That doesn’t seem like something people would do on their own all that often. More importantly, that really doesn’t tell you anything about how well or poor the service is, just that this company is interested in making sure it keeps getting paid.

It isn’t even clear that the people leaving those reviews would be aware of that website as a company that pays consumeraffairs.com a monthly fee, as SiteLock does, is provided various methods to have reviews collected:

ConsumerAffairs also helps Accredited Members collect reviews through Facebook, email, feedback cards, targeted phone calls and through its website.

Well come back to what else that SiteLock’s paying that website provides them in a bit, but first there are second set of positive reviews. Those largely look to be made up of people who generally believe that SiteLock is providing a good service and have left a review on their own. Considering that even many people in the security industry don’t have a good understanding of security, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that these positives reviews from the public are not necessarily providing a good picture of what SiteLock really provides. For example, one five star review of SiteLock we used as an example of that last year, actually indicated that SiteLock was leaving a website insecure. That isn’t surprising since as we mentioned more recently, SiteLock’s own marketing material indicates they think that security doesn’t involve keeping a website secure, but dealing with the after effects of leaving it vulnerable.

Negative Reviews

If you were to look at the most recent one star reviews of SiteLock on consumeraffairs.com what you would notice is that you have to go back months to see one where the one star rating is shown. The most recent ones either say “Insufficient response received” or “No response received”. The reason for that is that by SiteLock being a paying customer of consumeraffairs.com they can challenge reviews and they in fact have challenged every single recent negative review. The reason for that is that by doing they can get the low ratings excluded from the overall rating:

While ConsumerAffairs never changes star ratings at a company’s request, a consumer may choose to change a star rating after resolving a complaint. In addition, if a consumer does not respond to a request for more information, or the consumer’s complaint is resolved privately with the company, or the factual basis for a complaint is unresolved, the consumer’s star rating may not be displayed and will not be included in a company’s overall star rating.

The business model of that website and other review websites looks to be built on companies paying them to present a positive image of the company.

What seems to be a telling indication that negative reviews are the ones of value is that all the most helpful reviews are currently negative ones.

That doesn’t mean that those reviews are accurate either. Just as the natural positives reviews can be inaccurate due to a lack of understanding of security, plenty of the negative reviews we have seen are also inaccurate. For example, we have seen numerous negative reviews that claim that SiteLock hacked websites. We have also had people contacting us that claim the same thing. We have never seen any evidence to support that despite it being such a serious allegation and plenty of evidence to the contrary.

If you want to a summary of what SiteLock really offers, this review on consumeraffairs.com from May 23 does a great job of that:

It’s my opinion that SiteLock is exhibiting predatory sales tactics. In my case they sold me on the service to monitor and protect my website from malware for a subscription fee. They are aggressive. But the worst part is that malware infected my site again and I called SiteLock for help since I’m a paying customer. Even though they originally sold me on the effectiveness of their products they told me they were not going to be able to remove the new malware and it would cost $300 to remove it. They also were trying to sell me on more services. It’s just my opinion but then I believe they set up a system to catch people when they are most vulnerable then charge them a lot to get their website working again. The support people that I talked to are salespeople. Look elsewhere folks. Save yourself the wasted time, money and the headaches that come with choosing the wrong company to protect your website.

One thing that we would note about that is that we are not aware of any company that provides a service that will provide effective protection of a website. If you are looking for something like that we would recommend instead you do the things that are going to actually keep your website secure, but otherwise you would want to look for one that present evidence, preferably from independent testing, that shows that is effective (if someone finds a company that provides that we would love to hear about that).

If your website is already hacked, before focusing on the things that will protect it going forward, it should be properly cleaned, which involves three key components:

  • Cleaning up the hack.
  • Getting the website secured as possible (which which usually involves getting any software on the website up date).
  • Trying to determine how the website was hacked and fix that.

From what we have seen SiteLock usually doesn’t attempt to do the last two and doesn’t do all that good a job of the first. Unfortunately, based on experience frequently being brought in to re-clean up hacked websites they are far from the only company that is not even attempting to properly clean up hacked websites.

That SiteLock doesn’t attempt to determine how websites were hacked explains in part why they are not good at protecting websites from being hacked either as they wouldn’t even know what to protect against.