Google tops comparative review of malicious search results

A two-month study by Barracuda Labs, reviewing more than 25,000 trending topics and 5.5 million search results, names Google as the most popular search engine used by malicious attackers relying on poisoned keywords.
Written by Dancho Danchev, Contributor

According to a newly released report by Barracuda Labs, based on a two-month study reviewing more than 25,000 trending topics and 5.5 million search results, Google remains the most popular search engine used by malicious attackers, relying on poisoned keywords.

The company, which also sampled Yahoo Search, Bing, and Twitter, contributes Google's leading position to the fact that Google remains the market share leader in online search, and consequently the most targeted search engine.

Key highlights of the study:

  • Overall, Google takes the crown for malware distribution – turning up more than twice the amount of malware as Bing, Twitter and Yahoo! combined when searches on popular trending topics were performed. Google presents at 69 percent; Yahoo! at 18 percent; Bing at 12 percent; and Twitter at one percent.
  • The average amount of time for a trending topic to appear on one of the major search engines after appearing on Twitter varies tremendously: 1.2 days for Google, 4.3 days for Bing, and 4.8 days for Yahoo!
  • Over half of the malware found was between the hours of 4:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. GMT. The top 10 terms used by malware distributors include the name of a NFL player, three actresses, a Playboy Playmate and a college student who faked his way into Harvard.

Interestingly, based on the data gathered, the most popular topic of choice for cybercriminals were spyware related searches, followed by entertainment news, with hosting sites, P2P and proxies related searches showing a significant growth. What's worth highlighting while interpreting the data, is that it's only valid for a specific period of time. How come? Controversial to the common misunderstanding that cybercriminals are picky about popular search terms, what they do is automatically syndicate the Web's buzz for their malicious purposes.

Poisoned search engine results have been an active tactic in the arsenal of the cybercriminal for several years. The practice, known as blackhat SEO (search engine optimization) is now the primary source for hijacked legitimate traffic, which in a combination with the automatic compromising of hundreds of thousands of legitimate sites, exposes end users to everything a cybercriminal has to offer.

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Although, Google's aware of the situation, and is catching up pretty fast, cybercriminals remain ahead of the game, doing nothing else but playing by the SEO book. For instance, in a report released by Google in April, the company found out that scareware accounted for 15% of all malware, and that scareware represented 50% of the malware delivered through malvertising. The thing evasive practice that cybercriminals took advantage of to achieve these results, is by checking for the correct HTTP referrer.

Poisoned search engines are the inevitable result of the real-time Web, allowing cybercriminals to take advantage of the same tools and tactics, that legitimate marketers do. But being the market leader in online search, means that in 2010 your crawlers shouldn't be that easily tricked into loading the legitimate content, with the malicious one served to the average Internet user.

What do you think? Is Google doing enough to protect its users from poisoned search engine results? Most importantly, can Google protect the end user from himself at the end of the day? Would the current situation have been any different if, for instance, Bing or Yahoo was the market share leader in online search?


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