By Andrew Brandt
How can that be? After all, it’s the search engines’ own servers that are supposed to deliver relevant results based on their super-secret sauce algorithms. But black hat, or rogue, search engine optimization (SEO for short) has ruined the trustworthiness of virtually any search.
Just a few years ago, companies began to spring up making outrageous promises about how they can get a client’s Web site ranked closer to the top of certain search results. Then the purveyors of various worms, fake alerts, and rogue antivirus products got involved, because they quickly discovered that it’s easier to convince someone to infect their own computer by clicking a search result link than to discover and implement an elaborate network vulnerability.
After all, according to our latest research, about one out of every five of surveyed Web surfers implicitly trust whatever a search engine delivers as the first page of search results every time they search.
So, all year long, we’ve seen rogue SEO tricks used to promote malicious search results. Many of those links foist various fake antivirus programs onto unsuspecting Web surfers’ computers. The effect is almost instantaneous, as if it was automated: A breaking news story hits the Internet, and within moments, the rogues have turned their attention to pushing bad links based off of whatever keywords the story-of-the-moment might entail. That’s not really unexpected; Google Trends, for instance, makes it incredibly easy for black hat SEOs to target whatever’s hot. Searches for news as diverse as Indonesian earthquakes, elections in Iran, and the untimely deaths of various celebrities served equally well to deliver victims to the rogues.
Now, even the Internet meme of the moment appears to drive victims to malicious Web pages. One of our researchers pointed out a funny screenshot that was making its way through Digg, the social link-sharing site. The screenshot showed some of Google’s suggested search results that appear when you type “Google will” into the search field. Among the auto-completions were “Google will not search for Chuck Norris,” “Google will eat itself,” and “Google will you marry me?”