Redirecting Your Google Search

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Search engine giant Google makes huge sums of money by directing Internet users to goods and services.  Scam artists try to get their hands on some of that money by intercepting Google searches and redirecting them.  How do they do it?   They construct clever fake Web pages and then trick Google into marking the pages as important results. Click on one of those links and you'll get frustrated while the bad guys get credit for your clicks.

We recently found an instance of this while checking a Google Alert on our own company, Barracuda Networks. The alert led us to this page:

The page above was hosted on the site of a compromised blog.

Search Engine Optimization experts call this sort of page a “Doorway Page”. It is filled with text retrieved from Google's suggestion feature, with just enough HTML inserted to make the page look ‘legitimate' rather than computer generated. There were links on the page that pointed to other pages on the same site. This use of relevant terms and cross-linking on an existing site that has a good reputation causes Google to raise its estimation of the page.

Done properly, the bad guys can place one of these pages high up in Google search results. A search for one of the automatically gathered terms on the page, “wholesale distributor gerber knives” returned this page:

Out of 29,000 matches (more or less), the bogus page places 9th from the top.

So, why go to all this trouble? Simple – your ‘click' is a valuable tool to companies doing business on the Internet. The creators of these pages are trying to insert themselves in Google's place so that they get credit, and perhaps a fee, for delivering you to your eventual destination.

Moving forward, when we clicked on the 9th link shown above – we were delivered another page that is automatically generated using the “Gerber Knife” keywords that were part of the link.

This page has far fewer links, none of which have anything to do with Gerber Knife, and most of them go to one questionable site –  Clicking on one of those links offers yet another page with even fewer ‘choices'.

The links on this page were legitimate, although not always relevant. Even though the search term that carried along was “Gerber Knife,” the first choice on this page takes you to the Gerber Baby food site. If you find you've clicked into one of these fake search pages, back up to your original search results to find what you really want.   Don't let the scammers use you to steal from Google. And don't find yourself on a compromised, or often even malicious (see our Midyear Security Report located off –goto_labsblog/2010/07/28/barracuda-labs-2010-midyear-security-report/ for more details on search result malware), site.

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