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21 Aug 13
Filed in General
with 2 Comments
A few days ago I was updating the spammy word highlighting functionality in Unmask Parasites results and needed to test the changes on real websites. To find hacked websites with spammy content I would normally google for [viagra] or [cialis], which are arguably the most targeted keywords used in black hat SEO hacks. However after the Google’s June update in how they rank web pages for spammy queries, I didn’t have much expectation of seeing hacked sites on the first page of search results for my usual [buy cialis] query and was ready to check a few more pages.
Cloaking in SEO is defined as a technique in which the content presented to the search engine spider is different from that presented to the user’s browser (Wikipedia). But in case of hacked sites, cloaking is more tricky than just different content for search engines and for real users. It can also be different content for different types of users. Moreover, the internal implementation is usually hidden (cloaked) from webmasters of compromised sites.
This post will be about one of such site hacks that involved SEO cloaking and used quite an interesting trick to alter page content.
Competition in search marketing can be tough. Regardless of number of businesses/products/services relevant to a specific keyword there is only one top position and unless it’s your site at the top you miss out on the hefty share of the search traffic generated by that keyword. The lower the result is displayed the less attention it gets.
Even if you are in “business” of black hat SEO and can use whatever dirty tricks you like, you still can’t guarantee the top position for the most popular keywords since there are already many established reputable sites and other black hats competing for the same keywords. But if you can’t always get the top position, you can still try to make your results look more attractive than the rest and increase their click through rate, right? Right! And this post will be about one of such tricks
This is a follow up to my last week’s post about hacked WordPress blogs and poisoned Google Images search results. Cyber-criminals infiltrated 4,000+ self-hosted WP blogs and created doorway pages that would redirect visitors coming from Google Images search to scareware sites. A few days ago I posted a short update to let you know that Google has removed the doorway pages from its index. I also promised to share some new interesting details about that black hat SEO campaign. So here we go!
Only a few hours after the Friday’s 8.9 earthquake and the consequent tsunami hit Japan, security researchers noticed many poisoned Google search results for this news related searches that redirected web surfers to fake antivirus sites.
This situation nothing new. We’ve seen similarly poisoned search results for Haitian earthquake a year ago, for the recent New Zealand’s earthquake, for last year’s floods in Pakistan, etc.
Many people use search engines to find details about breaking news such as natural disasters, catastrophes, accidents, etc. Such hardly predictable events, have literally zero relevant results before they happen, so during the first few hours after the event almost any site with relevant information have good chances to rank high on Google. This short window when competition is quite light is all cyber-criminal need to have a steady traffic to their breaking new related doorway pages. Then, when every news site and blog add their 2 cents and there are plenty resources about those hot topics, only most reputable and most relevant web pages make it to the top of search results.
I decided to check the poisoned search results and here’s what I found:
A year ago I blogged about how hackers managed to hijack hundreds of high-profile websites to make them promote online stores that sold pirated software at about 5-10% of a real cost. They used quite a standard scheme that involved cloaking (making spammy links visible only to search engine crawlers) and conditional redirects (visitors from search engines who clicked on specifically-crafted links on compromised sites got redirected to online stores of software pirates)
Despite of all my warnings, most of those site are still hacked and help sell pirated software and steal credit card numbers. This negligence of site/server administrators encouraged cyber criminals to step even further in abusing reputation and resources of compromised servers. This post will be about one of such steps.
In this post, I’ll show how cybercriminals used hacked high-profile sites to drive search traffic to online stores that sell pirated copies of popular software and, presumably, steal credit card details.
I’ve been watching this sort of search spam for more than a year now. And after this post in Google’s Webmaster Help forum, I decided to take a closer look at this this problem.