One would think that the days of spamming the search engines were nearing a close, and the type of search engine spam seen in the 90′s and at the turn of the millennium was long gone. But it seems with every new update and promise of a cleaner search environment from companies like Google, those who tip their black hats to the masses find a different way to scam thousands (even millions) of internet users.
The recent death of Osama Bin Laden has brought about a new round of attacks and cyber scamming through both black-hat SEO and Facebook PPC hijinks. SEO Poisoning attacks have already spread far and wide as it’s been reported by researchers at Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus firm.
While leveraging non-relevant events or keywords was once used to get just about any website to the top of the SERPs before the days of the Google slap, the less common SEO poisoning now focuses primarily on phishing campaigns. Within hours of the announcement from President Barack Obama that Bin Laden was confirmed dead, the phishing started on a massive scale.
This type of SEO poisoning is less common because of consistent updates and the diligence of search engines to refine and improve search results but they still commonly center on major news breaks. Phishing campaigns will typically spike surrounding major news events because cyber criminals are using the traffic heavy search queries to lure internet users. Most are unsuspecting because they’re interest is piqued and they’re distracted by their own curiosity.
It’s sad to see and frustrating to know that these black hat types sit in wait like a Nigerian scammer, waiting for some type of global event that will generate a mass of search volume with virtually no competition for those unique search phrases. They’ve established a system that lets them jump on any topic.
Meta Spammers Would Be Proud
With this particular campaign, malware authors had launched an SEO campaign to spread rogue antivirus software through the organic search results while simultaneously flooding Facebook with adware. The primary damage was done through their manipulation of the search algorithm, where they positioned the malicious web sites at the top of the search results; sites purporting to offer frontline news on the death of Bin Laden, including videos and pictures of his death.
Of course no such videos exist, and photos of the deceased terrorist were never circulated. With curiosity piqued however, users flood into those sites where they are faced with offers for anti-virus software that is not the “best antivirus 2011″. The rogue antivirus program is actually powered by the Trojan.Win32.FakeAV.cvoo Trojan virus, and it’s designed to trick users by polling for credit card information in exchange for a PC cleaning.
To ensure the effectiveness of their bogus campaigns and phishing scams, the cyber criminals also created a slew of adware campaigns on Facebook, inundating the social network with ad claims of free food or airline tickets in wake of celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. Those who clicked through were launched into a funnel of websites that are designed to continually gather information (email, personal contact info, etc.) without ever actually coming through. The payout for the phishers is that they get paid for each contact, view or click.
Will Algorithm Updates be Enough?
I’m a bit put off over the whole matter – that such a major event could and would be exploited. Aside from the gross exploitation of something very close to a lot of people around the world, including Americans, it also shows that the major players in search and social media don’t exactly have everything together.
This type of occurrence shows us that while Google may very well be constantly refining their algorithm to improve search results, they’ve got a long way to go before what people find in search is actually relevant to what they’re looking for. I know that the most recent update is supposed to head in this direction, as Google is putting more weight on social proof for ranking. Unfortunately, as long as keywords and inbound links provide the most weight for ranking factors this type of SEO poisoning is going to continue.
What do you think – can the move toward social proof and author authority as a ranking factor help to prevent issues like this in the future?
To Your Success,
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