Search engine phishing: A malicious search engine

We may not think about it, but we need to be aware when using search engines - they can be exploited by cybercriminals.

04-09-2023 - 5 minute read. Posted in: phishing.

Search engine phishing: A malicious search engine

Search engines have evolved into our go-to resources for navigating the broad internet. They give us immediate access to a vast array of knowledge, products, and services.

But despite how useful they are, search engines can serve as a haven for online fraudsters looking to prey on naïve victims. Search engine phishing is one such danger—a cunning strategy that preys on our faith in search results.

This essay will explore search engine phishing, explain how it works, and go over crucial precautions you can take to protect yourself from this prevalent online menace.

What is search engine phishing?

Cybercriminals use the malicious practice of search engine phishing to deceive users into exposing sensitive data, including usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other personal information.

Search engine phishing, SEO poisoning, SEO trojans - there are many terms for this phenomenon - in contrast to traditional phishing attacks, preys on consumers' trust and extensive usage of search engines. It’s search engines such as,

  • Google
  • Bing
  • Yahoo!

The thing about search engine phishing is that the hackers exploit SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or - in other words - what people are searching for and keywords that get the top result when we search for something online.

Hackers thus exploit the top results that appear once we search for something. They have either typosquatted websites or compromised websites that contain malware. And once we click on a malicious website, we install malware onto our device.

The mechanics of search engine phishing

Search engine phishing targets people when they least expect it, namely when we look things up online. We believe that the websites that appear at the top of the list are the most relevant and visited websites - so of course they should be safe to click, right?

As we’ve established, search engine phishing entails that a hacker creates either a fake URL or they can create fake websites. These websites imitate legitimate ones, so many of us would get fooled by the look of it. The websites can be anything from product or commercial websites, to social media or other services. In the same sense, they also create fake listings using SEO to figure out what we’re searching for the most - in other words, they find trending tags and keywords and implement them into their fake websites or URLs.

What deceives many people is that the hackers use logos, fonts and visuals from the legitimate website they impersonate. That’s why we have to pay particular attention to the domain names, URLs and names.

The last thing we should know about the mechanics of search engine phishing is that once we access the fake website, the hackers install malware onto your device and can thus access your personal information. They do this either with specific malware, or they make pop-ups with surveys and the like, so you enter the personal information yourself.

Protecting Yourself Against Search Engine Phishing

So what can you do to protect yourself from search engine phishing? you might wonder. Well, there’s a list of things you can do to avoid falling into the hacker’s phishing trap:

  • Stay Vigilant: Always exercise caution when clicking on search results, especially if something seems fishy about the website's URL or content. Trust your gut feeling and use caution.

  • Check the URL: Check the URL before entering any sensitive data on a website. In order to mimic legitimate websites, cybercriminals often utilize slightly modified URLs. To identify a secure website, look for misspellings, strange domain names, or the lack of the "https://" prefix - remember that the “s” in HTTPS stands for secure.

  • Verify the source: Instead of depending exclusively on search results, enter the website's URL into the browser if you're looking for a certain website. When you do this, there’s a smaller chance of visiting a dangerous and malicious website.

  • Utilize browser tools: Most modern browsers come with security tools that alert users about potentially dangerous websites. Use these tools and remain alert to their warnings

  • Protect your devices: Use reliable antivirus and anti-malware software to keep your devices safe. This software can detect and block hacked websites before they pose a security threat.

  • Use awareness training: Keep up with the most recent phishing trends and methods. Your best line of defense is to be informed since cybercriminals constantly modify their strategies and methods.

  • Employ multi-factor authentication (MFA): Turn on MFA for your online accounts whenever you can. Even if hackers manage to get your credentials, this adds an additional layer of security, making it more difficult for them to access your accounts.

  • Regular Updates: Make sure your browsers, operating system, and security software are updated. Updates frequently come with patches for identified vulnerabilities, strengthening your security against different types of attacks.

  • Use a VPN: A VPN can encrypt your online activities, making it more difficult for hackers to catch your data or manipulate your online activity.

Beware the search engine

Search engine phishing is a cunning and sneaky technique that takes advantage of our dependence on search engines to provide accurate and trustworthy data. You can confidently navigate the digital environment by being aware of this threat's operation and putting best practices to work to protect yourself.

To stop hackers' attempts to compromise your cybersecurity, be cautious, double-check your sources, and equip yourself with the information you need. Keep in mind that you are responsible for your own online security, and you can prevent unauthorized access to your private data by being educated and proactive.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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