The U.S. midterm elections have been attracting considerable attention, so it is no surprise that cybercriminals are taking advantage and are running a midterm elections SEO poisoning campaign. It was a similar story in the run up to the 2016 presidential elections and the World Cup. Whenever there is a major newsworthy event, there are always scammers poised to take advantage.
Thousands of midterm elections themed webpages have sprung up and have been indexed by the search engines, some of which are placing very highly in the organic results for high-traffic midterm election keyword phrases.
The aim of the campaign is not to influence the results of the midterm elections, but to take advantage of public interest and the huge number of searches related to the elections and to divert traffic to malicious websites.
What is SEO Poisoning?
The creation of malicious webpages and getting them ranked in the organic search engine results is referred to as search engine poisoning. Search engine optimization (SEO) techniques are used to promote webpages and convince search engine algorithms that the pages are newsworthy and relevant to specific search terms. Suspect SEO practices such as cloaking, keyword stuffing, and backlinking are used to fool search engine spiders into rating the webpages favorably.
The content on the pages appears extremely relevant to the search term to search engine bots that crawl the internet and index the pages; however, these pages do not always display the same content. Search engine spiders and bots see one type of content, human visitors will be displayed something entirely different. The scammers are able to differentiate human and bot visitors through different HTTP headers in the web requests. Real visitors are then either displayed different content or are redirected to malicious websites.
Midterm Elections SEO Poisoning Campaign Targeting 15,000+ Keywords
The midterm elections SEO poisoning campaign is being tracked by Zscaler, which notes that the scammers have managed to get multiple malicious pages ranking in the first page results for high traffic phrases such as “midterm elections.”
However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The scammers are actually targeting more than 15,000 different midterm election keywords and are using more than 10,000 compromised websites in the campaign. More sites are being compromised and used in the campaign each day.
When a visitor arrives at one of these webpages from a search engine, they are redirected to one of many different webpages. Multiple redirects are often used before the visitor finally arrives at a particular landing page. Those landing pages include phishing forms to obtain sensitive information, host exploit kits that silently download malware, or are used for tech support scams and include various ruses to fool visitors into installing adware, spyware, cryptocurrency miners, ransomware or malicious browser extensions. In addition to scam sites, the campaign is also being used to generate traffic to political, religious and adult websites.
This midterms elections SEO poisoning campaign poses a significant threat to all Internet users, but especially businesses that do not control the content that can be accessed by their employees. In such cases, campaigns such as this can easily result in the theft of credentials or malware/ransomware infections, all of which can prove incredibly costly to resolve.
One easy-to-implement solution is a web filter such as WebTitan. WebTitan can be deployed in minutes and can be used to carefully control the content that can be accessed by employees. Blacklisted websites will be automatically blocked, malware downloads prevented, and malicious redirects to phishing websites and exploit kits stopped before any harm is caused.
For further information on the benefits of web filtering and details of WebTitan, contact the TitanHQ team today.