Cybercriminals promoting malware-friendly search engines

The cybercriminals behind the ongoing blackhat search engine optimization attacks hijacking swine flu related queries in order to serve scareware, have re-introduced an old social engineering tactic - the use of fake and malware friendly search engines.Researchers from PandaLabs have recently uncovered a similar malicious search engine part of the blackhat SEO campaign, where the majority of searches lead to malware serving sites.

The cybercriminals behind the ongoing blackhat search engine optimization attacks hijacking swine flu related queries in order to serve scareware, have re-introduced an old social engineering tactic - the use of fake and malware friendly search engines.

Researchers from PandaLabs have recently uncovered a similar malicious search engine part of the blackhat SEO campaign, where the majority of searches lead to malware serving sites.

Three of the legitimately looking search engines have been in operation since January, 2009, and are operated by the same group of cybercriminals whose blackhat search engine optimization practices are so successful, that according to publicly obtainable traffic data two of the sites have already passed the 250,000 unique visitors benchmark in March, 2009.

The first one has approximately 257,512 unique visitors +63.64% increase since last month, followed by the second one which has approximately 279,665 unique visitors with a +64.26% increase since last month, and the third one is apparently lacking behind with 39,175 unique visitors, a +22.63% increase since last month.

Where is all that traffic coming from? 60.08% of the traffic to the first one came from Google,  12.87% of the traffic to the second one came from Google, and 26.55% of the traffic to the third one also came from Google. Google is appearing on the top of the their (approximate) traffic referrers due to the active blackhat SEO campaigns hijacking traffic from the search engine.

Interestingly, the search engines themselves are not visible in Google's results, an evasive practice applied by the cybercriminals who only serve malicious content to users visiting their sites upon clicking on a link from a pre-defined search engine where the blackhat SEO campaigns are active, in this case - Google, MSN, Yahoo, Comcast and AOL.

Upon following a sample link from the phony search engines, we're redirected to domains operated by services that have been in the cybercrime-facilitating neighborhood for years, on further redirect to scareware (Trustedwebsecurity; Spyware Cease) and online casino scams. From instance, searchadv.com, which was serving WMF (Windows Metafile) exploits in 2006 to users searching through it, and 7search.com, a Pay Per Click Search Engine Advertising network :

"7Search.com has been a leading Pay Per Click Search Engine Advertising and Affiliate Network since our inception in 1999. As a Search Engine who is dedicated to value and service for online businesses, 7search.com provides thousands of Web entrepreneurs with an economical and measurable opportunity to obtain Internet traffic and generate revenue through their online presence."

The company sued McAfee in 2008 for labeling it as a spyware and potentially dangerous site, which isn't the first, and definitely not the last time when affiliate networks attempts a frontal attack against vendors/researchers.

The use of these fake and malware-friendly search engines demonstrates the complexities of the cybercrime ecosystem, due to the double-monetization approach applied by the cybercriminals, earning pay per click revenue from the affiliate networks, and earning more revenue from serving search results serving scareware and pharmaceuticals with their own affiliate code.

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