Manipulation of online information. One way to do that is by pushing malicious links up in search results. This malicious ploy is known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) poisoning or blackhat SEO, and it’s one of the methods cybercrooks use in attacks aimed at spreading malware, compromising your internet security and harvesting your personal data.
SEO poisoning. What’s it all about?
Every day, people around the world generate millions of internet searches by looking up topics and news on search engines. You probably only look at the first page of results returned by the search engine you use. Most of us do so. That’s why product and service providers use SEO techniques – to rank up better in search results and reach lots of consumers faster and more easily. And that’s a perfectly legitimate advertising technique. But when used for malicious purposes that compromise your internet security, it’s illegal and sanctioned. Unfortunately, cybercriminals are many, and SEO poisoning attacks are growing in the digital world. How do they work?
- 1. First of all, cybercriminals pay great attention to what topics and key words are most searched for on search engines. And tools like Google trends are of great help to them.
- 2. After they’ve done their research they, most commonly, create malicious web pages seemingly related to the most searched for topics. Or they exploit vulnerabilities in existing legitimate websites/pages that relate to the topic, and insert malware in them.
- 3. Then they manipulate search engines to place the links directing to these pages high up among the most relevant results. Usually these links promise images or streaming videos, but instead you’re prompted to download malware – more often than not, a fake antivirus.
So, when you search for a popular topic, there’s a great chance you’ll click on a link in a bogus search result and get redirected to a malicious website. There, malware is waiting to breach your internet security and get into your computer.
In this case SEO crooks trick not only people but search engines also. Using highly popular search terms, they are able to get a handle on human curiosity and control the traffic on search engines, directing it to their own websites. This makes SEO poisoning a sophisticated internet security threat – it exploits human nature and technology at the same time.
Trending searches. Poisonous results. Compromised internet security.
Being curious is only human. You just need to get more details on certain topics. But cybercrooks keep up with trending news also. And “hijacked” topics and keywords include pretty much everything that’s newsworthy:
Celebrity gossip, like Miley Cyrus’ leaked video, pictures of Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen’s rants or Lady Gaga’s outfits – these topics have all been exploited by SEO crooks.
International topics and world events, like the British Royal Wedding, the MTV Music Awards, the NCAA basketball game, presidential elections, the disasters in Japan and so on.
So, bear in mind the perils that threaten your internet security, while you’re browsing for hot topics.
How to spot and protect yourself from poisonous links
Here are some simple, common sense tips to keep SEO crooks from affecting your internet security:
Search for news directly within a trusted news site. When it comes to videos, it’s best you search directly within YouTube, for example and not through search engines.
Carefully review the links provided by the search engines before you click on them. Make sure you enable the filtering options in the search engine you use. A safer measure still would be to have an effective Safe Browsing tool to scan and flag the safe links in your search results. BullGuard Internet Security 12 comes with such a feature.
If a website asks you to download some piece of software before streaming a video, avoid it. Legitimate videos usually come with built-in streaming capabilities. Also, don’t provide personal information, especially if you’re asked for credit card details. Bear in mind that being redirected to a malicious site is typically not a danger in itself. But if you do what you’re asked – download, install programs, and give up information – that may prove dangerous.
Get complete multi-layered protection for your PC, as it’s better to prevent rather than to cure computer infections. We obviously recommend BullGuard’s comprehensive internet security suite. In addition to Safe Browsing, it comes with a proactive antivirus engine, a Vulnerability Scanner that scans all the applications on your PC (including your browser) for needed updates, and other useful internet security features.
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