The Internet is driving our perception of the world today in many ways. Because of this, we would like to think that it remains a mainly democratic place where only the most interesting and compelling information comes to the surface by virtue of us the users looking for it and reading it.
As small business owners and managers we are well aware of the benefits of optimizing our websites for search. The rise of so-called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) technology exists to affect the “visibility” of a website in terms of what should be a search engine’s “natural” or “organic” search results.
As SEO considers how people use popular search terms to look for the content they want, a website “optimization” process can involve the editing of site content to include those terms both in the surface text that is presented and in its deeper HTML technology behind.
Now do the math and follow this theory through for a second.
If for example the term “breaking sports news” gets great search engine ranking because a lot of users search for it and a lot of genuine sports sites use it in their body text, then what’s to stop bad guys from designing websites loaded with malware peppered with the same term at both front and back end?
Search engine algorithms go some way to protecting us here. They now look for “keyword density” and can spot attempts to manipulate ranking much more effectively than the early- to mid-1990s when search technologies were in their infancy.
But it’s a race and the bad guys are always looking at ways to stay one step ahead of the algorithms. They will develop websites harboring malware that hijack popular topics with content that will earn search ranking value, even when the content itself has nothing to do with the terms used on the page.
Web developers now have the opportunity to use tools from Google and other vendors to ensure that their websites are not compromised by malicious search engine optimization techniques.
Microsoft TechNet’s Jimmy Kuo uses a working dummy example of SEO manipulation to explain how these techniques play out in the real world. It’s only a fairly small step from here to fully functioning SEO optimized malware.
The emergence of these techniques speaks volumes for the way the web itself is developing behind the home pages that we see every day. Firms today need to pay more insight into these engine room mechanics and realise that the pressing need for comprehensive antivirus protection layers across their business is more urgent than ever before.