Google dominates our digital world — and its core functions go beyond simple internet searching. One of Google's top goals is to make online browsing as safe and secure as possible — so it provides a variety of warnings to achieve this end. These efforts are definitely appreciated, but they can be problematic if they result in the wrong websites being flagged.
Case in point: the "deceptive site ahead" warning message, which has positive intentions but can cause a world of trouble for the legitimate websites it sometimes targets. This warning might lead would-be visitors to believe that a well-intentioned website really is deceptive. After all, most internet users inherently trust Google and assume that, if these types of labels are applied, they exist for a reason.
Thankfully, it is possible to avoid this problem or at least mitigate it before too much damage is done. We'll show you how in this detailed guide — while also explaining why the "deceptive site ahead" warning exists and what the implications could be if it's not properly resolved.
As one of several services from Google Safe Browsing, the "deceptive site ahead" warning lets users know that they are about to visit a website deemed likely of interference from threat actors. According to Google, flagged sites likely contain malicious content or are party to phishing scams. The "deceptive site" headline may be accompanied by a brief message explaining, "Attackers on [website name] may trick you into doing something dangerous like installing software or revealing your personal information."
If Google flags your site as deceptive, chances are, there are some legitimate concerns at play. As we've noted, it is entirely possible that your site contains phishing pages or has been infected with malware. This is a common reality even for today's most well-protected websites, and even if the signs of malware aren't obvious to webmasters or visitors, they may be extensive enough to trigger warnings from Google. The term 'deceptive' indicates that your site (whether intentional or caused by malicious players) involves social engineering tactics designed to deceive visitors into taking actions that could harm them.
Awareness is crucial if you are to avoid the biggest hazards of being deemed deceptive. Unfortunately, this warning often appears after the fact — so even if you spot it and address underlying concerns right away, your site will possibly have been compromised for several days.
The easiest way to gain insight into your website's status? Make the most of Google's Safe Browsing systems, which provide valuable insight into how your website is functioning and whether it has possibly been compromised. Begin by reviewing the Safe Browsing policies, so you understand why this function exists and what it aims to accomplish.
Don't hesitate to check the Google Transparency Report, where you can easily enter your website's URL into the search bar. From there, you'll receive a status update — ideally one that indicates "no unsafe content found." If anything problematic has been detected, you'll be notified promptly. The main security issues that could be uncovered include:
If the Google Transparency Report produces less-than-ideal results, you will want to take prompt action to fix these problems. Follow these key steps to get better insight into why, exactly, you have received a warning — and to take care of any underlying issues that might contribute to your website's "unsafe" status.
Do you feel confident that your website is truly secure? Unfortunately, even thoroughly protected sites can have vulnerabilities, which, if exploited by a skilled threat actor, can eventually lead to many types of breaches. These vulnerabilities may be to blame for your current predicament, but chances are, you have no idea they exist or how they're allowing malicious players to cause trouble.
It's important to address these. Begin by completing a full overview of your site and determining whether any backdoors or other issues could give threat actors easy access. FTP and host-provided managers are great options for manually checking your database, source code, and files. Along the way, look for common markers of infection, plus recently modified files or problematic content within database tables.
See the full website security audit process.
If, while delving into current web security, you come across malicious or deceptive content, this must be removed as soon as possible. Next, take a closer look at current plugins and themes. When were these last updated? Many vulnerabilities can be traced back to out-of-date plugins, so these must be checked regularly to ensure that they are truly secure.
Once you've dealt with the issues responsible for your deceptive site warning, it's time to let the powers that be at Google know. This will allow you to finally get Google's cautionary message out of the way. An essential part of this process? Requesting a review from Google Safe Browsing.
Begin by logging into your Google Search Console account. The left sidebar contains a dashboard that includes a section dedicated to security issues. There, you'll find an overview of deceptive pages, where you can then check a box verifying that you have resolved previously discovered problems. Your appeal or request may take some time to resolve, but you can hasten the process by ensuring that your site is truly free of the security issues outlined above.
There is no substitute for valid and up-to-date Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates. If these are outdated, deceptive site warnings are more likely. SSL/ TLS certificates provide a solid foundation of trust, and they are critical to the overarching security of the modern web.
Thankfully, the SSL verification process should be simple and straightforward: confirm that your website begins with HTTPS or look for the padlock icon in the left corner of the address bar. If you click on this, you'll find confirmation that the connection is secure. You'll also see details about the SSL certificate, such as the certificate authority (CA) that issued it and the validity dates. If you're concerned about SSL expiration, consider investing in SSL certificate management.
While we've touched on the need to fully review website code, this can be a time-consuming process. If you require a more streamlined approach to verifying your site's security, malware scanning may be your best bet. High-level malware scanner services should provide a thorough overview of your website and the issues it may face. Anything suspicious will be flagged — and you can also take advantage of malware removal services to get the issue dealt with promptly. Free website scanners should provide a solid start.
Google flags, such as the deceptive site ahead warnings, can often be prevented simply by implementing cybersecurity best practices. These days, a layered approach is strongly advised, as no single security solution is likely to keep all threat actors at bay. Below, we've highlighted a few of the most impactful strategies to put in play so that your likelihood of being flagged — or suffering far worse security issues — can be kept to a minimum.
A solid backup strategy is a must. The most prepared webmasters utilize regular backups for several reasons. In the event of malicious code rendering your site unusable, restoring to a previous version of the site will remedy the problem. Backups also act as a hedge should any newly updated software or plugins cause issues with your site. Many comprehensive security plans incorporate daily backups, so you don't have to deal with this on your own.
As we’ve discussed, malware scanning is a must for modern web security protocols. Regular scanning ensures that you catch — and deal with — emerging issues before they become bigger problems. Vulnerability scanning takes this a step further by pinpointing the security oversights that allow malware infections to occur in the first place. If you struggle to keep up with manual scanning, continue to use a scanning service long after your deceptive site warning is resolved.
Web application firewalls (WAFs) provide robust protection by actively monitoring and filtering traffic — and blocking anything deemed malicious. This is a critical form of protection against common attacks such as distributed denial of service, cross-site scripting (XSS), or SQL injections.
You’ve done your part to deal with your deceptive site warning and, hopefully, reduce the potential for similar issues in the future. Still, there are a lot of missteps you could make to get your site flagged as deceptive once again — or to suffer even greater problems with security or SEO. Mistakes worth avoiding include the following:
Don't assume deceptive website warnings will go away on their own or simply be ignored by would-be visitors. These warnings will have a discernible impact on your online traffic — and the consequences could grow more severe over time. Blacklisting, in particular, is a real possibility when you ignore Google's warnings. The sooner you take action, the better.
It's easy to fall behind with downloading updates to software, but remember: this is one of the most important steps in the fight against hackers. Make a point of confirming that the software powering your webpages is fully up-to-date. The same should be true of any plugins or themes you depend on — these always need to run their latest versions.
We have highlighted several valuable security strategies above, but these will be minimally effective if you neglect the full range of security best practices. If you’re struggling to keep so many security solutions straight, it’s worth your while to get help from experts. Comprehensive security plans offer the vast array of preventative measures your website needs, including malware scanning and removal, vulnerability detection, daily backups, and more.
Today’s threat actors are undeniably sophisticated, and with so many potential vulnerabilities and breaches to worry about, it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed. Let SiteLock ease your mind with a well-rounded security plan designed to make your website as secure as possible. We offer several excellent options, so take a closer look or get in touch to learn how it works.