Home / Industry

SEO Poisoning: A Persistent Malware Threat Targeting High-Profile Brands

It's bad enough that malware is virally spread via paid search and social networking links. But now there are more accounts of it being spread via natural search links as well. In a practice called "SEO Poisoning," fraudsters use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques to mix malware-laden search results with legitimate ones. Many infected URLs are found within the top 10 search results and thus have a higher likelihood of a user clicking through.

Many of these attacks are targeting major product events and popular websites. Just last month, for example, two attacks (as reported by Websense) targeted the much anticipated Google Wave beta invitation and the Microsoft Securing Essentials (MSE) product launch. Earlier this year, the March Madness basketball tournament was also targeted. In these situations, fraudsters anticipated that people would be searching on these topics and leveraged black hat SEO techniques (such as keyword stuffing and link farms) to push their malware-linking results to the top of the search engine results page. While Google has automatic scanners for detecting and blacklisting malware sites, there remains a window of opportunity for fraudsters to push their results to the top of the results page before being detected and expunged.

Another common SEO poisoning tactic takes advantage of a common practice used among popular websites — caching search queries — to boost the site's ranking among the major search engines. While making search queries on these websites, fraudsters inject common search terms and an iframe script (snippets of HTML code for us non-techies) designed to redirect visitors to malicious sites. These search queries then go back to the search engine with the malicious code attached. So, when a user conducts a search on these common search terms relating to the popular website and clicks through on one of the infected links on the search engine results page, he/she is redirected, via the Javascript code, to a compromised website where social engineering tactics often trick the user to install malware. These types of attacks have targeted such high-trafficked sites as ABCNews.com, CNET properties, News.com, Target.com, Walmart.com and Wired.com. (As an aside, in all of these SEO poisoning attacks, only the links in the natural search results, not the website itself, are infected.)

What can brand owners do to protect their brand from these attacks? First and foremost, brand owners need to remain vigilant on how and where their brand is being used to preserve the trust in their brands, especially around major product announcements. Malicious links are now found everywhere — in organic and paid search results as well as blogs and micro-blogs — so brand owners should take a holistic approach to monitoring for potential abuse across the entire Internet. If malware is detected on Google, brand owners can report the suspected malware link via the Google Safe Browsing malware reporting page. Brand owners with search capabilities in their websites can also guard against the tactic described above by filtering out scripts in their search queries before the results are exchanged with the search engines. Finally, enterprise anti-malware solutions, such as our own, provide brand owners with an efficient response for blacklisting and shutting down these sites and retrieving stolen information.

About MarkMonitor


MarkMonitor®, the world leader in enterprise brand protection and a Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science business, uses a SaaS delivery model to provide advanced technology and expertise that protects the revenues and reputations of the world's leading brands. Learn More

Related topics: Cybercrime, Malware, Security

WEEKLY WRAP — Get CircleID's Weekly Summary Report by Email:

Related Blogs

Related News

Explore Topics

Industry Updates – Sponsored Posts

Verisign Q1 2016 DDoS Trends: Attack Activity Increases 111 Percent Year Over Year

Is Your TLD Threat Mitigation Strategy up to Scratch?

i2Coalition to Host First Ever Smarter Internet Forum

Encrypting Inbound and Outbound Email Connections with PowerMTA

Resilient Cybersecurity: Dealing with On-Premise, Cloud-Based and Hybrid Security Complexities

Verisign Releases Q4 2015 DDoS Trends - DDoS Attack Activity Increasing by 85% Year Over Year

Best Practices from Verizon - Proactively Mitigating Emerging Fraudulent Activities

Neustar Data Identifies Most Popular Times of Year for DDoS Attacks in 2015

The Framework for Resilient Cybersecurity (Webinar)

2015 Trends: Multi-channel, Streaming Media and the Growth of Fraud

Data Volumes and Network Stress to Be Top IoT Concerns

DKIM for ESPs: The Struggle of Living Up to the Ideal

Verisign Mitigates More Attack Activity in Q3 2015 Than Any Other Quarter During Last Two Years

Verisign & Forrester Webinar: Defending Against Cyber Threats in Complex Hybrid-Cloud Environments

Introducing Verisign Public DNS: A Free Recursive DNS Service That Respects Your Privacy

Faster DDoS Mitigation - Introducing Verisign OpenHybrid Customer Activated Mitigation

Verisign's Q2'15 DDoS Trends: DDoS for Bitcoin Increasingly Targets Financial Industry

Protect Your Network From BYOD Malware Threats With The Verisign DNS Firewall

Announcing Verisign IntelGraph: Unprecedented Context for Cybersecurity Intelligence

The Deep Web and the Darknet - The Nether Regions of the Internet

Sponsored Topics


DNS Security

Sponsored by


Sponsored by


Sponsored by
Afilias - Mobile & Web Services


Sponsored by
Afilias - Mobile & Web Services