Cyber Criminals SEO Poisoning Attack Attempts

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Safeguard Your Business From An SEO Poisoning Attack

In an era where digital presence is paramount for businesses, the threat of an SEO poisoning attack looms large, posing a significant risk to the online visibility and reputation of companies. In this blog we will cover why understanding and implementing robust strategies to safeguard against malicious attacks is essential for business resilience in the virtual landscape.

SEO: The Basics  

The higher your website ranks on search engines like Google, the more traffic, leads and conversions you’ll get. This in turn, impacts your business’ revenue and profitability. With more and more businesses relying on the internet for brand awareness and sales, competition to appear on the first page of results is fierce, cementing the need for SEO (search engine optimisation). 

SEO involves refining the content and performance of your website to a standard that pleases search engine algorithms. The more you please the algorithms, the higher you’ll rank. There are lots of facets that impact SEO performance, and as such, there are plenty of loopholes that malicious website operators can exploit to negatively affect your SEO and push you down the rankings – whilst simultaneously pushing themselves up. This is known as SEO poisoning – something every business that operates online needs to be aware of.

What is SEO poisoning?

SEO poisoning is when a malicious website operator, also known as a threat actor, uses blackhat SEO techniques to manipulate search engine rankings and appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) – posing as a legitimate site or organisation – with the intention of accessing user information or infecting devices with malware.

How does SEO poisoning work?

Most internet users assume that websites that appear at the top of SERPs are trustworthy, so will click on links or enter sensitive information without thinking too much about cybersecurity. This is what malicious website operators are striving for when launching an SEO poisoning attack. 

They take advantage of the trust users place in search engines when determining SERP positions in order to exploit users for their data or access to their devices, sometimes resulting in financial losses or even identity theft.

Types of SEO poisoning attacks

There are several types of SEO poisoning attacks or blackhat SEO techniques that threat actors may use to manipulate SEO rankings. Some of the most common include: 

#1 Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is when a website uploads content with a high keyword density that is unnatural and repetitive. The goal is to trick search engines into assuming that the content is relevant to a specific search, therefore pushing it up SERPs. Most search engines have advanced their algorithms to crack down on keyword stuffing, but it can and does still happen. 

#2 Redirects

Redirects are when a user clicks on a link and gets taken to a different variation of the page – typically because old URLs and slugs have changed when the sitemap has been amended. Redirects are considered best SEO practice because they mitigate error pages and poor user experience. Threat actors will implement sneaky redirects that redirect users to unrelated and often malicious websites that they didn’t consent to.

#3 Link building

Search engines look at how many external websites are linking to your website to determine how credible it is. High ranking sites have a good number of externally linked sites. Malicious website operators often publish private link networks (websites specifically published for link building) to link to their sites and push them up SERPs. 

#4 Typosquatting

Typosquatting is when threat actors take advantage of typos and create websites with false URLs. For example, a user might accidentally type ‘applw.com’ instead of ‘apple.com’. A threat actor will replicate the legitimate apple.com website but under the applw.com URL. A user might not realise their error because the site appears to be legitimate, so they may be tricked into entering their credit card information. 

#5 Cloaking

SERPs are determined by crawlers that scan websites. Website operators can present specific information to crawlers that indicate what the website or webpage is about. Threat actors may present crawlers with false information that looks legitimate in order to scale the rankings, but when users click on the SERP link, they get something different to the crawlers. 

How to spot an SEO poisoning attack

Threat actors are getting more advanced in-line with advanced search engine algorithms, making it difficult to spot an SEO poisoning attack. That being said, there are a few signs that can help you identify an attack, including:

  • Lots of website popups 
  • Being redirected to third-party sites
  • A high number of spammy backlinks 
  • Blocked pages 
  • Deindexed pages 
  • A sudden change in website traffic and/or SERPs rankings

Tips for preventing SEO poisoning

Whilst you can’t always stop threat actors, you can reduce the chances of falling victim to an SEO poisoning attack through things like internal training. Giving your team a session on safe browsing and phishing awareness can make them more aware of the dangers and make them more able to spot potential threats. 

Another way you can prevent an SEO poisoning attack is to implement web filtering and security software to minimise the likelihood of your team clicking on malicious links. 

If you have a member of your team who looks at your search rankings, it’s worth getting them to keep an eye on your SERPs positions, as any sudden fluctuations can indicate an attack. Also get your team to keep a note of your website’s performance, looking for things like bad links or popups.

Cybersecurity and SEO poisoning protection with One2Call

SEO poisoning attacks are becoming more frequent and can pose a serious threat to your cybersecurity. One2Call offers a FREE Cyber Security Assessment for businesses to complete, as well as a full Cyber Security Audit which allows us to assess your current cyber security protection level. From here, we can then recommend and implement necessary products and services to make sure you are protected from any cyber threats out there. Click the link below to enquire about your Security Audit. 

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