Feeds

Scareware slingers stumped by Google secure search

Scam sites can't game search results

Top three mobile application threats

Last month Google made secure search the default option for logged in users – mostly to improve privacy protection. But there is a beneficial side-effect - it is harder for fraudsters to manipulate the search engine rankings of scam sites.

Users signed into Google are now offered the ability to send search queries over secure (https) connections last. Search queries sent while using insecure networks, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, are no longer visible (and easily captured) by other users on the same network.

When secure search is used Google omits from the HTTP referrer header the search terms used to reach websites. This makes it harder for websites to see the Google search terms that directed surfers to their pages. Also it is harder to tune content without using Google's analytics service.

The change in the referrer header makes life much more difficult for black hat SEO operators, who strive to make scareware portals figure prominently in 'newsworthy' search results. These fraudsters commonly use link farms to manipulate search results.

Fraudsters typically set up multiple routes through to scam sites. Surfers who stray onto scareware sites are warned of non-existent security problems to coax them into paying for fake anti-virus software of little or no utility.

Black hats thwarted

The changes introduced by Google when it launched secure search will leave them clueless about which approaches are bringing in prospective marks and which have failed.

David Sancho, a senior threat researcher at Trend Micro, explains that it is very useful for black hat SEO-promoted sites to know which search term they have successfully hijacked, - information that Google's changes denies them.

"When these sites receive visits from search engine visitors, they will have no idea what search sent them there," Sancho writes. "They won’t have a clear idea which search terms work and which don’t, so they are essentially in the dark. This can have a lot of impact on the effectiveness of their poisoning activities. This is, of course, good for Google as their search lists are cleaner but it’s also good for all users because they’ll be less likely to click on bad links from Google."

Regular no-padlock HTTP searches remain unaltered. Search terms are only concealed where secure search is applied, which means surfers are already logged in to Google’s services.

"Given how many people already use Google Mail and Google+, this may not be such a big obstacle – but it still poses one," Sancho explains. "If people keep using regular no-padlock HTTP searches, they will keep disclosing their search terms and keeping things unchanged."

"The more people use HTTPS, the less information we’re giving the bad guys ... one more reason to use secure connections to do your web searching," he concludes.

Google introduced encrypted search last year but changes that came in last month that make it a default option for logged-in users will inevitably mean that it becomes more widely used, rather than the preserve of security-aware users who are unlikely to fall victim to scareware scams in the first place. ®

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Heartbleed exploit, inoculation, both released
File under 'this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me'
Canadian taxman says hundreds pierced by Heartbleed SSL skewer
900 social insurance numbers nicked, says revenue watchman
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
Burnt out on patches this month? Oracle's got 104 MORE fixes for you
Mass patch for issues across its software catalog
Reddit users discover iOS malware threat
'Unflod Baby Panda' looks to snatch Apple IDs
Oracle working on at least 13 Heartbleed fixes
Big Red's cloud is safe and Oracle Linux 6 has been patched, but Java has some issues
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.