Google & StopBadware Can Destroy Your Website Reputation

Malware is a problem but it seems that, these days, the cure is far more dangerous than the disease. As I write this article, my safe and secure website that I have run since the 1990s is still wrongfully blocked from Internet browsing, apparently thanks to an inaccurate malware warning by Google and partner organization StopBadware. And there is little anyone can do to prevent this needless “cyberdefamation” or “cyberlibel.”

Warning: Visiting this site may harm your computer!

This afternoon I was trying to update my OpenX ad server and manage some new banners. During this time, a third party appeared to have injected a few instances of an iframe that contained its own advertising. I noticed that this issue a short time later and removed the ad code and took the ad server offline. Not much damage done, no harm no foul.

You can imagine my shock when I received an email from one of my website users a short time later that our law forum was blocked in web browsers due to an a malware warning that prevented them from entering the site. Each visitor was presented with a red, ominous “scary message” that informs users that our website “appears to host malware – software that can hurt your computer or otherwise operate without your consent. Just visiting a site that hosts malware can infect your computer.” The links on this warning message lead you to Google, who inform you that using their “Webmaster Tools” will clean the problem and provide you with an introduction to their malware fighting partner, StopBadware.org.  Harvard University professors founded the project which recently became a non-profit organization. The goal of StopBadware is to cleanse the Internet of malware by acting a central clearinghouse location where large online entities can share information about malware sites that they have discovered.

Malware Gone But So Is Your Website

So how did this problem begin? Apparently Google crawled our site in the afternoon and found the questionable iframe advertising code and reported our website to StopBadware.org. Unfortunately the only way to get your site removed from being listed in the StopBadware black hole is to use a link that appears in Webmaster Tools to request a review of your site being clean from Malware. I removed the iframe code so quickly after it had been detected that I had to wait a significant period of time until Webmaster Tools finally reported that it detected potential malware. Making matters worse, the link to request a review of our website didn’t appear either, perhaps in the anticipation that it will take webmasters a significant time to secure their sites, which was not the case at all. I agonized for an even longer period of time until this link finally appeared so I could send off my desperate plea to Google to clear my website as soon as possible.

From Bad to Much Worse – Completely False Warnings

Apparently the red screen of death is not limited to websites where malware may have been detected. I discovered that another website on the same server was also blocked by the red malware screen of death, reporting that this entirely clean website contains elements from another website that “appears to host malware.” I discovered that a perfectly clean javascript that is shared on both sites caused our clean second site to become completely inaccessible to web browsers, even without the detection of any malware on the site or even that page being browsed.

False Malware Warnings Reach Facebook and Beyond

I shot off two desperate emails to StopBadware in the evening and sent out several requests to check our website to Google, one every hour. More than 7 hours later, no reply and all sites still blocked. Searching in StopBadware’s Website Clearninghouse yielded the site still being listed, including a reference to our forum having malware, which Google Webmaster Tools did not indicate.

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq.

Internet / Mobile entrepreneur since 1989, Intellectual Property attorney since the mid 1990s, former in-house counsel at iVillage.com, Senior Vice President of Business Strategy at Zedge, Co-Founder of the IDT Internet Mobile Group, E-Discovery expert and legal consultant with Kroll Ontrack, and owner and operator of TheLaw.com

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq. – who has written posts on The Law Professor.