SEO, or search engine optimization, is a useful tool for businesses trying to get prominent exposure on the Internet. When certain keywords are added into a Web page, search engines take note and deliver this information to us when we do an Internet search. When we type a phrase into our search engine, such as Google, the program reverts back to the keywords it has previously detected on various Web sites. The more exact the match, the higher up the Web site will be in the search results. It’s a simple concept, and we have learned to accept the listed Web sites as the best possible answer to our questions or curiosities.
Of course, the dark side of the computing world has to go and make things more complicated. For every computer application that makes life easier, there is an equal and opposite application that will seek to drive us crazy and destroy our computers. Hackers have discovered the value of SEO and have used it to poison the Internet well. I’m hoping this knowledge will empower you to avoid this trap as it’s becoming more common every day, So here’s what they do:
First, they usually latch on to a breaking news story or relevant topic that will garner lots of Internet traffic. Next, they create phony Web sites and load them with keywords and other coding devices that will get them into the top pages of your search engine results. They use variations of keywords that some people are likely to type into their search engine: Tiger Woods’ affair, Senate health care bill passes, Bengals WR death, etc. You get the Google results and expect the links to be legitimate ... they always have been in the past, right? But once they get you to trust the link, they have won. You go to the Web site; they proceed to infect your computer with their favorite virus-du-jour. Within hours they take down the Web site and leave no trace. But you are stuck with a fake virus scanning program that’s trying trick you into giving them money and your identity.
So what recourse do we have? There are a few simple things that you can do to fight back against this SEO poisoning. First, always check the link before you click on it. If it looks like a cheap impersonation of a real news site, don’t go there. Try to stick with sites that you already know and trust — there should be plenty of reputable sites carrying the news story you are interested in, so don’t settle for just anything.
If you are not sure about a site but are dying to see what it says about the latest news, try to manually check the Web site, for example at http://safeweb.norton.com/. This site will allow you to plug in the URL and find out if it is safe or not. This will add an extra layer of security for you as you peruse the search engine listings.
You could also make sure your security program has link scanner technology like AVG from Grisoft.
If you feel that you may have already been infected, don’t panic. There are a lot of computer geniuses on the good guys’ team, and there’s almost always a way to clean up your infected machine. For a free scan of your computer and more tips on how to keep yourself safe online, call Computer Problem Specialists at (928) 468-0000.
There may be a lot of poison floating around in search engine results, but you don’t have to let it infect your computer. Don’t be afraid to search for that story you heard about at work ... but be aware that somebody out there is trying to ruin your day. Be vigilant and don’t let it happen.
Daniel Taft is the senior network administrator and member/owner of Computer Problem Specialists, LLC with a degree in applied computer science. His career spans more than 20 years.