Search Engine Results – Malware Heaven!

google-logo Since many of us now have access to GPS, finding the way to Grandma’s house (if you’re Little Red Riding Hood) has never been easier.

Not many of us would question the output of a GPS inquiry since it is a technology we are familiar and comfortable with.

An even more familiar technology to the seasoned web surfer is the Internet search engine, and just like most familiar technologies we are comfortable with, we are not likely to question a search engines output.

The question is though, should we question the output? How sure are we that the results are untainted and free of potential harmful exposure to malware or worst?

Recent comments on this issue in Panda Security’s Oxygen 3 E-bulletin on IT security, indicates that Cyber-crooks continue to be unrelenting in their chase to infect web search results. According to Panda “there is a steady increase in the use of custom-built websites designed to drop malicious code on computers, or even the manipulation of legitimate pages in order to infect users with malware.”

PandaLabs maintains that cyber-crooks have begun to opt for a new technique: the manipulation of search engine results, or seeding websites among the top results returned by these engines. When a potential victim visits one of these sites the likelihood of the downloading of malicious code onto the computer by exploiting existing vulnerabilities is high.

Cyber crime 2

Let’s take, as an example, a typical user running a search for “great vacation spots” on one of the popular search engines. Unknown to the user, the search engine returns a malicious or compromised web page as one of the most popular sites. Users with less than complete Internet security who visit this page will have an extremely high chance of becoming infected.

There are a number of ways that this can occur. Cyber-crooks can exploit vulnerabilities on the server hosting the web page to insert an iFrame, (an HTML element which makes it possible to embed another HTML document inside the main document). The iFrame can then activate the download of malicious code by exploiting additional vulnerabilities on the visiting machine.

Alternatively, a new web page can be built, with iFrames inserted, that can lead to malware downloads. This new web page appears to be legitimate. In the example mentioned earlier, the web page would appear to be a typical page offering great vacation spots.

One more common method is the insertion of false dialogue boxes, fake toolbars, and more on sites; all designed to load destructive malware which could include rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots.

Unfortunately, since Cyber-crooks are relentless in their pursuit of your money, and in the worst case scenario your identity, you can be sure that additional threats are being developed or are currently being deployed.

So what can you do to ensure you are protected, or to reduce the chances you will become a victim?

The following are actions you can take to protect your computer system, your money and your identity:

Install an Internet Browser add-on such as WOT (my personal favorite), which provides detailed test results on a site’s safety; protecting you from security threats including spyware, adware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, and online scams

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable hidden filename extensions

Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible

Disable scripting features in email programs

Make regular backups of critical data

Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer

Install a personal firewall on the computer

Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet

Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments

Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected.

The free software listed below, in my view, provides better than average malware protection.

avast! 4 Home Edition

This anti virus app is a real fighter, scanning files on demand and on access, including email attachments. Let’s you know when it detects mal-ware through its shield function. An important feature is a boot-time scan option which removes mal-ware that can’t be removed any other way.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition

Similarly, this program scans files on access, on demand, and on schedule. Scans email; incoming and outgoing. For those on Vista, your in luck, it’s Vista-ready. I have been using this application since its release and it now forms part of my front line defenses. I recommend this one highly.

Ad-Aware

In my view, Ad-Aware is the best free adware remover available. It does a relatively good job of protecting against known data-mining, Trojans, dialers, malware, browser hijackers and tracking components. The only downside with the free version; real-time protection is not included.

ThreatFire

ThreatFireblocks mal-ware, including zero-day threats, by analyzing program behavior and it does a stellar job. Again, this is one of the security applications that forms part of my front line defenses. I have found it to have high success rate at blocking mal-ware based on analysis of behavior. Highly recommend this one!

Comodo Firewall Pro

The definitive free firewall, Comodo Firewall protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. It resists being forcibly terminated and it works as well, or better, than any firewall I’ve paid for. This is one I highly recommend. Amazing that it’s free!

WinPatrol

Do you want to get a better understanding of what programs are being added to your computer? Then WinPatrol is the program for you. With WinPatrol, in your system tray, you can monitor system areas that are often changed by malicious programs.

You can monitor your startup programs and services, cookies and current tasks. Should you need to, WinPatrol allows you to terminate processes and enable, or disable, startup programs. There are additional features that make WinPatrol a very powerful addition to your security applications.

Sandboxie

Surfing the Internet without using Sandboxie is, to me, like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Deadly! This application creates a “Sandboxed” protected environment on your machine within which you browse the net.

Data that is written to your hard drive is simply eliminated, (or not, your choice), when the sandbox is closed. Utilizing this application allows you to surf the web without the risk of infecting your system with mal-ware or other nasties. This is another security application I have been using for over 6 months and it has yet to let me down. Highly recommended.

Snoop Free Privacy Shield

Snoop Free Privacy Shield is a powerful application that guards your keyboard, screen and open windows from all spy software. If you’re serious about privacy, this is a must have addition to your security toolbox. Unfortunately this application does not operate under Vista.

A big thank you to Dave Brooks, a professional techie from New Hampshire, and a frequent guest writer on this site, for reminding me that this very real security problem has not gone away.

Checkout Dave’s last article “Let’s Talk About Backups”, which was a huge hit on this site.

12 Comments

Filed under Don't Get Hacked, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Safe Surfing, Search Engines, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, Windows Tips and Tools

12 responses to “Search Engine Results – Malware Heaven!

  1. Another Bill Mullins “must read”. I tip my hat to you sir.

    Sadly, you tell people these facts, and they look at you like you’re insane. You can’t trust Google? Doesn’t compute.

    They can’t quite grasp that simply visiting a website can infect them, either.

    It’s too shocking, I guess.

    • Bill Mullins

      Techpaul,

      “They can’t quite grasp that simply visiting a website can infect them,
      either” – the crux of this problem lies within your observation.

      If Internet users were more educated, and more conversant, with the traps
      waiting for them while surfing, this particular problem (along with many
      others), could be reduced substantially. I can’t see user responsibility
      coming to the forefront, as an issue, any time soon, however. We live in a
      world where we have learned to look to others to protect us, and we are
      generally unimpressed with advice that suggests we have a responsibility to
      protect ourselves.

      Bill

  2. … until it takes the cops/firefighters 45 minutes to respond to your call?
    (If 911-dispatch even works..)

    I am a “belt-and-suspenders man” man myself. My backups have backups. Why? Because I’m a tech. Everyday I see what happens to folks who don’t follow basic procedures… whether that be enabling Windows Update, installing an antivirus, listening to that scrape-rattle in the hard drive …

    Maybe one day there’ll be a computer that does all that stuff for us, and automatically uploads a copy of our files to “the cloud” by default — but there isn’t one that does it yet!

  3. And trying to explain these infections to customers can be futile. Even just a few years ago it was safe to assume the customer visited a “questionable” website, opened a questionable email, or installed trialware that started his infection, nowadays it’s quite possible that no such sites were visited and no such software was installed, we now have hijacked websites doing the work. Even having a recommended security app installed doesn’t mean your 100% safe. It’s a sad state of affairs, as I saw on a site somewhere, I think a format and reload of the internet is in order 🙂

  4. g

    you can lead the horse to water….

    you might do a segment on hazardshield. it is now part of my arsenal.

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Glenn,

      I’ve done a few on Hazard Shield – the last one on December 20,
      2008
      .

      Appreciate the suggestion – thanks for that. I think I’ll rerun that one.

      Bill

  5. Now that ma-formed websites are the primary vector I think all browsers going forward should be run “sandboxed”. Unfortunitly Sandboxie will only ever work on 32 bit operating systems, so the browsers themselves need to be sandbaoxed, to date Google Chrome is the only browser to do this. I hope the other browsers going forward include this feature, I think Microsoft and Firefox need this feature to stay competitive.
    Great Post as usual!
    Mark

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Mark,

      Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely!!

      It’s long since time that this should have occurred.

      Thanks for this observant comment Mark.

      Bill

  6. g

    i know, i got it on your recommendation. it’s just that it’s such a great program!!

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