Study Claims Common Search Terms Return Malicious Results
Computers and personal information are at risk from cybercrime when users use common topics on Internet Search engines, according to a new study by Norton.
It turns out that between February and May, searching for “tropical dreams sweepstakes” could actually have been a nightmare, and searching for “red hot laugh riot” could have been anything but funny. At the peak of their popularity, these two particular search terms returned a staggering 99 malicious links out of the first 100 results.
This week, celebrity news, online gaming and diseases were among the most poisoned top-trending topics, with terms such as “constance francesca hilton,” “atomic dove” and “melorheostosis” returning more than 45 percent malicious links out of the first 100 results.
The Norton study monitored a major search engine’s top 300 trending search terms and analysed the top 30,000 search results daily for search engine optimisation (SEO) poisoning over a three-month period. The search topics ran the gamut from sporting events to song lyrics to breaking news on criminal cases. Using unethical techniques to “game” search engine algorithms, hackers are poisoning search results, taking advantage of spikes in a topic’s popularity to redirect computer users to misleading applications such as fake antivirus scanners. Clicking on these poisoned search results could infect a user’s PC and result in exposing personal information to cybercriminals.
Norton has introduced a free downloadable tool that identifies risky sites before users click on them in search results. Once downloaded, it is accessible as a small toolbar within either Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.
The toolbar is powered by Norton Safe Web site-rating technology, which is included in Norton Internet Security and Norton 360. Catching risky results before clicking through is critical because nearly 60 percent of unsafe sites identified by Norton Safe Web are found to contain drive-by downloads – threats that can infect a PC without requiring the user to download or install files.
Additionally, the Norton Safe Web scanner for Facebook, which is also free, now offers a convenient “Enable Auto-Scan” option to identify any malicious links on users’ news feeds. The Norton Safe Web scanner for Facebook is available at http://apps.facebook.com/nortonsafeweb.
“Cybercriminals are always looking for the next opportunity to find victims, as evidenced by the high volume of SEO poisoning. Unfortunately for consumers, simply searching for a popular topic and clicking on a poisoned link can have serious consequences,” said Jens Meggers, vice president of engineering, Norton. “Consumers need to arm themselves with tools like Norton Safe Web Lite that are specifically designed to defend against these types of threats.”
Norton Safe Web Lite can be downloaded from http://safeweb.norton.com/lite