he internet was abuzz with talk that Blogger.com site got hacked and was compromised. Blog owners suddenly found fake spam Posts in their Blogs which contained links to virus downloads and data mining sites. Some were faced with inexplicable web page load times and yet others noticed odd codes appearing in their templates. The natural reaction is to blame all these on the people responsible for the viral attacks, even though that might not be the case. In this article, we shall share with you some tips that we have learned on internet security and protection. This include the actions we can take to prevent or minimize the possibility of having Blogger blogs hacked or hijacked.
Is Blogger.com safe?
The article in BBC, Bloggers battered by viral storm, reported that the latest incidents were the work of a group of hackers who had been mounting attacks since January. They used spam messages posted on bogus sites or sent through email to trick users to download malicious programs. The links can sometimes be couched as Youtube links or digital greeting card links. Also, the email subjects contained informal internet jargon which led recipients to think that the mail came from their friends.
In an official response yesterday, Eric of the Blogger team had confirmed that “Blogger was not compromised. Instead, the blog posts are from bloggers whose machines were compromised by a Trojan horse. These bloggers had their mail2blogger email addresses in their computers’ address books … so when the malicious software spammed every address in their address book with its content, a copy of that email was posted to their blog.”
In short, the Blogger platform is safe and if any, the Blog owners should ensure that their own computers are checked and protected against malware. Where then does this leave us?
How the virus got into Blogs
Before we look at the preventive actions to take, we may want to know how these fake posts made their way into our Blogs. When you are logged into Blogger, you can see under Settings -> Email a “Mail-to-Blogger Address” feature. This enables you to post to your Blog by emailing the Post content to a mail-to-blogger address.
For those who have not used this feature, you can set up the address by entering a word or characters into the part in red. This will be the address to which posts can be sent.
If you have checked the “Publish” box, any message that is sent to this address will automatically get published in the Blog. If the “Publish” box is unchecked, the message will be saved and you have to log in to your Blogger account to publish it. The email subject heading will appear as the Title of the Blog Post.
Although this is a useful feature for people on the go, it is also one that can be exploited. All it takes is for anyone to post an email to this address and whatever is in that email will appear in your Blog. It is therefore imperative that this address remain secret and confidential and anybody who is not authorized to post on your Blog should not know about it.
The moment a virus takes root in your computer, it can send malicious posts to the email addresses saved in your system’s address book. If the above email address is one of them, you will see the post in your Blog. Since your Blog is legitimate, your readers and friends may read the post and click some of the links thinking that you would not put harmful material on your Blog. Once they do that, their computers may inadvertently be infected with the malware and they in turn have malicious links appear in their own blogs, and the cycle continues.
Preventive Steps to ensure Blog Security
1. Scan Computer and Protect against Threats
This sounds obvious and yet there are many who do not see the need to protect their systems against viral threats. Some may find the scanning time long (stretches to an hour for a full scan) or do not have a habit of scanning their systems. Others may find it costly to pay for an anti-virus software license. Always consider the alternative – the risk of losing all your data or having to reformat your hard drive – and you would probably agree that a little effort goes a long way to ensure a peace of mind.
If you don’t have an updated antivirus software installed in your computer, make it a point to scan your computer using one of the free online virus scanners, such as:-
a. Trend Micro Housecall
b. BitDefender Online Virus Scanner
c. Kaspersky Online Scanner
d. F-Secure Online Virus Scanner
e. Symantec Security Check
If you Google “online scanners”, you may see many sites which claim to provide free online virus scans. While many are authentic, there could well be a few which are not. Check them out if you’d like and stick to the tried-and-tested sites for future scans.
You can also download and install the free Google Pack and include the Norton Security Scan which eliminates viruses and the Spyware Doctor which removes spywares, adwares, trojans and keyloggers.
Another free software that we highly recommend is AVG Anti-Virus software. Go for the Free Edition. For a complete protection, install as well ZoneAlarm Firewallif you are not using your MS Windows Defender. These softwares update their programs and definitions regularly and the reviews on them have been very positive.
2. Configure Mail-to-Blogger Address
If you see a need to post to your blog via email, or think that others know your mail-to-blogger address, go back to Settings -> Email and pick/change the address into something that nobody can easily guess. Since the intent of this function is to have posts published without having to log in to Blogger, ticking the “Publish” option makes sense. After saving the Settings, go back to your email software e.g., Outlook Express, Eudora. Remove that mail-to-blogger address from the address book. By making no mention of it anywhere, even if the virus sends out mail to all the addresses in the address book, nothing will be sent to your Blog.
3. Create different email and login addresses
Out of convenience, many people stick to one name for all their logins, emails and signatures. For example, they may have these:-
blog name: myname.blogspot.com
login name: email@example.com
email address given to readers: firstname.lastname@example.org
If people are bent on hacking your Blog, it is easy for them to figure out what your login name is and use programs to crack your password. When you create your next blog, consider assigning different names or not using your actual name:-
blog name: blogname.blogspot.com
login name: email@example.com
email address given to readers: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Set browser security
In Internet Explorer -> Tools -> Internet Options, set the Security level for Internet zone to Medium-High or High. Also, in the later versions, you can turn on the Automatic Website Checking feature in the Phishing Filter settings.
5. Use third party scripts with care
For instance, you may come across an application that you like and are given a code to place into your template. This code typically contains a link to a file ending with .js extension. When your Blog page is loaded, this script is retrieved from the site where the file is stored and it runs in the background. Some prudent Blog owners do take the trouble to go through the script language and ascertain that there is nothing wrong with it. However, because the file is hosted in that provider’s server, if they should decide to change it later and throw in something extra, you would have unknowingly introduced that into your Blog.
For the same reason, we have cautioned readers against downloading ready-made and customized templates from unknown or untested sources. Since not all of us are technical experts, we may not notice an undesirable script hidden somewhere in the template. Hence, for our guides such as the three columns template guides, we prefer to show you how to DIY and customize your own template. In this way, you know what goes into it and can easily reverse the change in future.
6. Watch what we say or write
We thought we should add this. Many of these people either do it for the challenge or out of spite. Just as wearing skimpy clothes invites unnecessary attention and opening our door invites thieves, words and actions can give hackers the excuse to compromise your site. Observe basic courtesy and net etiquette. Be modest about your site. Every site can be the target of hijacks, including ours; no site is invulnerable.
What to do if Blog is hacked?
Despite all the security and preventive steps, if the day should come when the Blog contents disappear, the first thing to do is to scan the computer for viruses and malware. Do not login to your email or other accounts since this might open up more doors for the virus. Once the system is completely scanned and rendered safe, you may login to your Dashboard and view the Settings. Take note of the information that has been altered.
It is also possible that you are unable to login because the password has been changed, or that the Blog and Blog Posts are deleted. Write to the Blogger Support Team using another email account. Give them as much details as possible and allow them time to investigate the cause. Since Google servers would have backed up our data, it should be possible for them to reinstate your Blog upon proof of ownership.
Where the contents cannot be entirely retrieved, you may have to re-create the Blog. In moments like this, you would appreciate the importance of keeping backups of the template source codes and saving copies of the articles you have written.
As mentioned, if the Blog page load takes longer than usual, it is not necessarily caused by a virus. Blogger.com could be experiencing a downtime, or the external sites where information is retrieved from may be causing the delay. This usually happens when we put a number of third party applications and widgets into our site, such as advertising services, gadgets and scripts. Our article onFaster Web Page Load Time explains how you can check the page load time and improve the speed.