Although Bing is doing well to filter out malware sites in text searches, filtering image searches is more difficult. Photo: AFP
If you're using Bing to search for the latest celebrity gossip or embarrassing paparazzi images, beware. According to new research from SophosLabs, Microsoft's search engine is the most poisonous.
Also known as Blackhat Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in anti-virus and security circles, SEO poisoning occurs when a website is created that contains a number of popular or trending keywords with the sole purpose of redirecting visitors to another nefarious site or to a piece of malware. As the site contains a number of popular search terms, the search engine will often rank it highly enough that it's in the first page of results on a given subject. What's more, by keeping up to date with popular searches via Google Trends, poisoners can always make sure that their sites remain current.
And while search engines and anti-virus software both provide protection from such attacks, this growing sophistication is making it harder to stop, particularly for image searches.
SophosLabs took search data from a two-week period and recorded the instances of malware redirects. Bing was the most affected, accounting for 65% of redirects, followed by Google, which despite being the world's most popular search engine, only accounted for 30% of malware redirects.
When the results were examined more closely, they revealed that rather than text (8%), it was image searches (92%) that were proving the most successful at poisoning search results.
These results show that while all search engines are doing well to block out suspicious URLs in text searches, it's more difficult to identify rogue images -- understandable given that search engines display image searches as a collection of pictures, and therefore users' suspicions may not be raised until after they have clicked through.
The SophosLabs Naked Security blog has posted a visual demonstration of what could happen when a user innocently searches Google for images of Prince William and Kate Middleton: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIZwE1rlNR0.
To make sure that you don't make the same mistake, SophosLabs recommends that you:
* Take care and review the links provided by all search engines. Does it look suspicious or is the domain name unusual?
* Ensure that all filtering options offered by the search engine are activated.
* Ensure that your anti-virus protection is enabled and up to date to catch the redirects that the search engine might have missed.