Google to Help Hacked Websites Regain Good Standing in Search Results

The company has begun beta testing a tool that will automatically remove restrictions on hacked sites in some cases.


Google is working on improving the process by which administrators of hacked Websites can get their sites restored to good standing in search engine results.

The company on Sept. 23 announced that it has begun beta testing the automated removal, or reversal, of certain actions that it takes on Websites that are identified as being maliciously hacked.

Currently, Google takes two kinds of what it describes as "manual actions" on breached Websites: partial and site-wide. A partial manual action impacts just the URLs or portions of a Website that appear to contain maliciously hacked content, while a site-wide action impacts the entire site.

Sites that are hit with such manual actions typically show up in Google search engine results with a warning about being unsafe or compromised and often fall in search engine rankings as well.

Google offers a reconsideration process through which Webmasters can ask for the manual actions to be lifted once the malicious content has been removed. Manual actions are usually lifted after Google reviews the reconsideration request and confirms that all malicious content has been removed from the hacked Website.

The process that Google is beta testing is designed to automatically lift any restrictions imposed on a site if the company's systems determine that a hacked site has been remediated. The automatic removal is available only for sites that have partial actions against them and even then only in "some cases," according to Google.

"We still recommend that you submit a reconsideration request if you see any manual actions," Josh Feira and Yuan Niu, two members of Google's Search Quality team, said in the blog post announcing the new feature. "But don't be surprised if a 'Hacked site' manual action disappears and saves you the trouble!"

Google said it actions to label a hacked Website as being compromised, or to limit its exposure in search engine results, are designed to prevent maliciously implanted code on a hacked Website from impacting others.

Malicious hackers compromise thousands of sites on a daily basis. Many of the intrusions are completely invisible to the site owners, Google notes in a primer for Webmasters on the topic. Such hacks pose a danger to anyone visiting the site and can result in malicious actions like keystroke logging, log-in credential theft and malware downloads. By warning others of the danger, Google says it is limiting damage while alerting Website owners of a compromise of their site.

Wednesday's announcement continues a string of actions that Google has taken over the last year or so to help sites deal with manual actions, Feira and Niu said.

For example, last year, the company introduced a new feature in the reconsideration process as a result of which Google now provides specific and detailed guidance on where Webmasters can find malicious content hosted on their site that they might have missed initially. So far this year, Google has sent such customized notes to some 70 percent of the Webmasters whose reconsideration requests were rejected by Google, Feira and Niu said.

Google also has an ongoing #NoHacked campaign, where it provides Website owners and administrators with help on how to bolster the security of their sites and how to detect malicious intrusions, the two researchers said.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.