Ack! We were hacked!

This post is about the business of blogging.  I don’t often post about the business of blogging so if you aren’t really interested in the business of blogging, I would appreciate a visit to two of my latest favorite posts: A Pile of Shoes about my pile of numerous traveling bridesmaid shoes and A Visit to Hanauma Bay 21 Years Apart.

How I Found Out I was Hacked

Last Wednesday afternoon, I was cleaning my house and took a break to check my email.  There was a message from one of my blogging buddies letting me know that she got a malware warning when she tried to visit my site.  I thought that was strange so I checked my site and didn’t seem to have a problem.  I wrote her back a quick note to ask her what the error looked like.

I called my hosting company and got someone who tried to be helpful but wasn’t really; however, he did a great job selling me on a purchase that needed to be done in the next few months but was certainly not a necessity at that moment.  After taking my credit card number, he told me not to worry about it…we couldn’t see the error; it was probably not a big deal.  In between that phone call and hearing back from my friend, I got an email from another friend and a direct message on Twitter from another.  I knew this was a bigger problem than I or my hosting company had thought it was.

At this point, my site was completely inaccessible unless a reader chose to ignore the very scary looking malware message and click through the message.

To make matters worse, during this time I also found out that my other website, Pensacola with Kids, had also been hacked.

How I Found Out Exactly What the Problem Was

After calling my hosting company again and getting an even less helpful and not so polite person in technical support, I turned to the Internet and started researching what to do if your blog gets hacked.  I found a few websites that told me that what had happened was some jerk found a way to hack into my blog and insert some code.  I am not quite sure what the code did…whether it redirected someone to another site or if it was just an annoying little thing that Google found.  It took me many hours through the night and most of the next day to figure out what exactly happened.

Reading website after website was not very helpful and they didn’t make much sense (did I mention I have a degree in Ed. Tech?).  I finally came across Unmask Parasites.  This site scans your website to tell you what might be wrong with your site.  If you don’t have any issues, it will tell you that your site is clean.  If you do have an issue, it will show you some code that you will need to find hidden in your website.  There is a guide to dealing with the malware warnings from Google.  I also followed a link in my Unmask Parasites scan report that took me to Sucuri website scanner.   The scan from Sucuri was a little bit more comprehensive and gave me more clues as to what I was looking for (I believe both sites offer paid services if you have no luck taking care of it yourself!). 

What it all boiled down to was a little piece of code about 25 characters long had been inserted into my website somewhere in the 30+ php files, 550+ posts, and more.  Once I had the code, I at least had a direction to go.

How I Fixed the Problem

After my research and a minor major freak out, I began pouring over the Two Kids and a Map files trying to find this teeny little thing that was ruining my entire day.  After looking through several files, I finally just deleted my entire theme and uploaded the original files.  Then, I started searching for the code.  Luckily, uploading the original theme files fixed the problem but I wasn’t quite sure.  At about 3am, I decided that there wasn’t much more I could do without sleep so I gave up and headed to bed.

With a little bit of sleep, it was time to figure out what was wrong with Pensacola with Kids.  I decided to copy and paste the .php file code into a word document and use the Find feature instead of going through all of the .php files myself.  Surprise!  There was the malware code.  I deleted it, checked the other files, scanned both sites again and decided they were clean.

After cleaning up your site, you have to submit it to Google for review via the Google Webmaster tools.  After submitting, it only took about four hours to get a clean bill of health and then another few hours for the malware warnings to finally be taken off of my site.

What I Learned Along the Way

Do not freak out.  That is what all of the websites said and they are right.  The problem can be fixed.  It might take some time (and money if you can’t fix the problem yourself) but the problem most likely can be fixed.

Deleting the theme files worked for me.  This information could have saved me a lot of time and panic.  I don’t advise doing this though unless you know what will happen because all of the articles I read said not to panic and start deleting stuff!  This is exactly what I did…panic and start deleting stuff!

My websites mean a whole lot more to me than I thought they did.  These sites are mine.  They are a piece of my history now.  They are stories of my family and our adventures and I don’t want to lose them.

If you see the Google Malware warning on a website, take a moment to send a message to the owner of the website.  I would have eventually known that there was a problem but it might have been a few days.  To be honest with you, I log in to the admin section daily but do not look at the homepage daily (I do now though!).

Back up your site.  Do it now.  I read all sorts of posts on the web about backing up my website but I never got around to it.  My site is now backed up and I hope that yours is, too!

Update to the latest WordPress and make sure your plugins are updated.  According to some of the posts I read, having an out of date version can leave holes for jerky hackers.  I had not updated to the latest version of WordPress but I have now.

Special thanks to Mara at Mother of All Trips, Debi at Go Explore Nature and Jessica at Suitcases and Sippy Cups for letting me know that I had this problem!

The Travel Blogger Show – Orlando, Florida

This weekend I attended The Travel Blogger Show in Orlando, FL.  I wasn’t going to write about the trip, but I figured that my husband might be interested in knowing I actually learned something and did not just use it as a weekend to get away with a friend!  These are my thoughts, questions and things I took away from the experience.  If you aren’t interested in the business of blogging, come back later today or tomorrow when I will be reviewing the amazing hotel we stayed at and comparing an Orlando trip with kids to one without! 

The Travel Blogger Show was attached to the beginning of The Tradeshow, a travel retailing and destination expo, which is why it was scheduled on a Sunday morning from 9am to 12!  

Things I Loved:

  • Sitting in a room with 165 other bloggers or travel industry people who want to start a blog
  • Listening and getting to meet 2 speakers that I have read and admired long before I started my own blog
  • The fact that with the exception of a minor mic issue during the niche panel, there was little to no technical difficulty that I noticed and I could hear the speakers.
  • Listening to real bloggers tell what they do and how they do it

Things I Did Not Love:

  • I doubled this trip as a girl’s weekend away after I wooed my friend with thoughts of poolside drinks sans the 50SPF so we explored Orlando together all day Saturday.  This means I skipped the tweetup at the Rix Lounge Saturday night.  I also have never met anyone who was going on this trip so when I walked in about fifteen minutes before the event was scheduled to begin I felt kind of like I did when I walked into the first staff meeting of the year at a high school that had over 100 faculty members and staff with that deer caught in headlight look/feeling.  
  • My plans were already set in motion when I learned that there were going to be activities throughout the day Sunday.  I am sure it was written somewhere, but I guess it just wasn’t clear to me.  I was disappointed that I had to leave town and miss out on the rest of the evening activities.
  • To me as an outsider looking in, it looked like there were two very distinct groups that morning-the people who had already met in person and said hi and the people that didn’t know anyone and were sitting by themselves.  I wish that there had been some time for a forced mixer of sorts.  I am not normally a shy gal but for some reason, I felt like a wallflower.   
  • The conference room was warm and the tables were tight.  With my broken booted foot, I had to sit on the outside table so I had a little bit more room but not much.  I did notice the room cooling off once things settled down. 
  • Even though the program was put together well, you could tell that it was the first annual event!  Christopher Elliott got up and introduced himself to get everything moving.  There were supposed to be 15 minute breaks in between each part of the program but all three ran right up to the next section.  This meant that bathroom breaks/water and coffee refills had to be taken care of while the speakers were doing their thing.
  • Because I only arrived about 15m before the event started, lots of seats were taken and I had to sit towards the back of the room.  There was lots of talking during the presentations.  There were also lots of people that obviously had somewhere else to be about halfway through the morning because the place cleared out…all while the speakers were presenting.  The teacher in me just has no tolerance for this!
  • There was no family blogger representation on the niche panel.  Granted the niche speakers didn’t necessarily talk about their own niche but it would have been nice if family blogging was represented (I am sure lots of other types of travel bloggers felt the same way).  There are lots of us family bloggers out there but it seems like we are always in the back of the line behind backpackers, solo travelers, and round the world trippers (then again, other types of travel bloggers probably feel the same way about their own niche!).

Things I Learned About Blogging Conferences/Programs in General:

  • Take notes.  There is so much information coming at you in all directions and when you leave the conference you aren’t going to remember much.
  • Get a phone that has data capabilities.  I feel like I missed half of the conference.  After my six hour drive back home, I logged onto Twitter to catch up and it seemed like there were two different conferences going on…the program itself, and all of the #trvlblog10 tweets.  We have been going back and forth on whether or not to take the plunge, but this sealed the deal.  Daddy J and I are going to upgrade our phones this weekend (then maybe I won’t be the last travel blogger with a phone from 2006).
  • Jump in head first.  I was so excited to meet The Mom Maven and because I didn’t jump right out and introduce myself I found out at the end of the presentation I had been sitting one seat away from her the whole time!

Things I Learned at THIS Presentation:

  • Creativity – This blog and my Pensacola with Kids blogs are your basic this is where we went, this is what we did, this is what you can do blogs.  I like it this way.  That was why I started this blog.  I was tired of never being able to find real experiences from families who had been there.  I do some narrative writing but the majority of the posts read on these two sites are places to go, things you can do there, and how much it cost (example: one of my most viewed posts on my Pcola with Kids blog is how to have a successful blueberry picking trip!).  That being said, I can be a little bit more creative with my posts.  A lot of the places we go have been covered 1000 times so I need to come up with a better angle to make it stand out.
  • Advertising – I need to start researching advertising options and look into things like Google Adsense.
  • I learned about the Google Keyword Tool and how to utilize it.
  • Ebooks can be a very effective moneymaker and even a marketing tool.  I have been working on an Ebook…ok…not really…I have an outline and I am not sure where to go with it now…but this has motivated me a bit to get back to work.
  • I learned that I need to clean up my site a bit (well, I already knew that) and add a PR pitch page about what I expect in a PR relationship.
  • Trademark – There were mixed feelings on the niche panel about this, but trademarking is something that I am going to look at doing.  If you have been there done that and would like to share advice with me, please let me know!
  • I need to look at plugins I am not using.  One that was mentioned several times was What Would Seth Godin Do?  I came home, looked it up and realized that this is exactly what I have been looking for but just didn’t know what it was called!

Bottom Line: Would I go again?  I answer that with a resounding yes!

I am sure that there is much more that I can share.  I think I walked away with more questions than answers.  I am glad that I was able to attend this three hour program before I head up to Type A Mom in Asheville, NC at the end of this month.  What about you?  What was your experience at this conference or another?