By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
In the mid-1990s, as people started flocking to the Internet and websites began appearing left and right, there came a need for a more systematic way to search for information, leading to the birth of search engine optimization (SEO). Today, in addition to making it easier for users to look for information online, SEO is also used for driving traffic to websites, increasing website usability, and for marketing purposes, among other things. SEO was introduced in order to make users’ online experience more enjoyable. But some people are taking advantage of what it can do to advance their malicious interests. Filling seemingly legitimate websites and search results with infected links, this malicious SEO practice, called SEO poisoning, is not just crippling, but also dangerous.
SEO poisoning in a nutshell
In SEO poisoning, cybercriminals use social engineering to create malicious websites filled with malware, making these websites appear authentic to fool unwitting users. They then use SEO to populate search results with links leading to these sites. To get more victims, the creators take advantage of the high search volume associated with trending topics and currently popular websites when creating spoof websites.
Another attack method used in SEO poisoning is by infecting the links within an authentic website such as images and headers. Victims who unknowingly click an infected website link are then transferred to a malicious site where they become exposed to a number of threats including Trojan files and bots, just by browsing through the infected website.
Once a device has been breached, hackers will be able to do their bidding: access personal information such as credit card transactions, prevent users from accessing their files and demand a ransom for the decryption key, steal identities, and turn a device into a component of their botnet, etc.
Tips to protect yourself
SEO poisoning is a serious threat and you can become a victim of you don’t know how to protect yourself. Here are a few tips:
- Stick to trusted sites – When browsing online, be wary of sites you’ve never heard before, or better, stick to the ones that you’re familiar with. While legitimate websites are still susceptible to being poisoned, they have a significantly lower chance of infecting you.
- Make sure your antivirus is updated – Your antivirus acts as a wall between a malicious website and your device, and making sure that it’s updated can keep a lot of new threats at bay. While it won’t provide full coverage, antivirus protection can still go a long, long way.
- Use the latest version of your browser – Modern browsers are equipped with features that use the latest technologies to identify malicious and spoofed sites, so it’s important to always update your browser to the latest version.
- Be extremely cautious when opening attachments – A of files with Trojan components are currently being circulated around the Internet, so you need to be cautious when opening attachments. Make sure they are from trusted sites.
- Install a VPN on your device – Installing a trusty virtual private network (VPN) on your device can protect it from malware attacks resulting from SEO poisoning. The best VPN for this purpose is Hotspot Shield.
Free malware protection using Hotspot Shield
Installing Hotspot Shield on your Windows, Mac, Android and iOS device protects it from sites that are known to contain malware, the main mode of attack in SEO poisoning. Using a regularly-updated database of more than 3.5 known malware sites, Hotspot Shield protects you by blocking access to the infected site that you’re trying to open. Best of all, you can get this added protection as a free download!
Aside from this, there are other features that make Hotspot Shield VPN a must for your device, such as: website unblocker, a secure and encrypted connection, IP address masking, access to US-restricted content, Wi-Fi security when connected to a public hotspot, and anonymous Internet browsing.
What are you waiting for? Get Hotspot Shield for your device for better security against SEO poisoning!