11 Apr, 2022

Search Engine Traffic: How Can Malware Affect It and What You Can Do

Hackers are now coming up with sophisticated ways to use malware in stealing search engine traffic. But how can you avoid this from happening? Read on.
Every day, millions of people scour the internet for the solution to one of their specific problems. Businesses are counting on this fact. In many cases - or at least in the cases of the most successful businesses - they've developed a strategy to help attract customers based on internet search engine results.

This is a common tactic, and it's something pretty much any business with a digital presence is attempting to do. But as with any marketing strategy, businesses should be aware of the challenges - particularly those challenges related to website security.

Let's take a closer look at how hackers use sophisticated malware to steal your search engine traffic - and what you can do about it to optimize your own website security.
The Role of Search Engine Optimization in Attracting Website Visitors (and Customers)
Think about your website. No matter what your site's purpose - the industry you're in, the product or service you're offering - all sites have one thing in common. They all have some type of content.

That content might be as complicated as a detailed series of blog posts. It can be as simple as a single landing page. But all of your content has one goal: to attract potential website visitors searching the internet.

You'll integrate keywords into your content that match the intent of your target audience. This is what we call "search engine optimization," or SEO.

This is one of the major sources of organic internet traffic. The more interested visitors you're able to attract, the more likely you are to convert those visitors into customers. If a customer finds you via a search query and then decides to click on a link within your website, you've got a good chance of this interaction leading to a sale.

Of course, some malicious actors attempt to take advantage of this for their own nefarious reasons.
How Hackers Use Search Engines to Prey on Your Site
Like many businesses, you're trying to attract internet searchers to your content and your site with the goal of making a sale. The problem is that unfortunately, malware authors understand this. They use this knowledge to steal your high-quality traffic.

We recently handled several cases where a malware infection replaced the website content if the request originated from search engine bots located on Google, Yahoo, or Bing. These are three of the most popular search engines, with Google being the top source by far.

Below is the example of such malware:
The impact of this was bad for the site. Due to this infected injection, the infected site's search engine results presented content that was significantly altered from the original website. The infection eventually led to a drop in the number of visitors being fed to the site via search engines.

If the effect on the site's search engine results wasn't bad enough, the malware also led to the site being blacklisted.
Why This Malware Represents a Major Problem for Your Site
One of any website's strongest marketing strategies is to attract search engines. This can be an effective and inexpensive way to build your audience, building your customer base.

This malicious traffic presents a roadblock to this goal. It changes what your visitors will see, radically shifting their expectations on what to expect from your business. This can lead to confusion and an overall loss of consumer trust. Not only that, but having your site blacklisted does even further damage. Losing your search engine results is bad, but having any visitors completely unable to access your site is even worse.

You can spend countless billable hours building an SEO strategy, developing the right content to get eyeballs on your site. All of that hard work can be undone due to this malware, rendering your careful planning obsolete.

So what can you do to ensure this does not happen to you and your website?
How to Protect Your Website
While the effects of these malicious traffic direction systems can be catastrophic if left untreated, there are preventative measures you can take to avoid this unfortunate situation.

For one, you should engage in rigorous and comprehensive malware monitoring. Scanning your system for threats and detecting where those threats might exist is the foundation of good cyber hygiene. This will enable you to maintain awareness of your site's overall health. While having a proactive approach to website security works best, malware monitoring also helps you react quickly as well for those times you don't catch a threat before it infects your site.

Setting up a web application firewall (WAF) is another preventative measure to take. This will help prevent malicious actors from accessing your site in the first place, keeping your site more secure.
Regularly updating your passwords is also critical. Common passwords that are easy to guess are a hacker's dream. Ensure that any systems you use to update your website have properly complex passwords, applying best practices for having a sufficient password in place.

You'll also want to regularly update and patch your software. This ensures you'll have the latest and greatest upgrades and technologies serving your site. You'll be less likely to fall victim due to a vulnerability if your site is appropriately patched.

While these measures might seem simple, they aren't necessarily easy. It can be difficult for a website administrator to keep up with all of them on top of building the best website possible. To help you maintain optimal website security, you'll want to partner with an IT service provider with a track record of success.
How ThreatSign Can Help You Keep Your Search Engine Traffic
Quttera's ThreatSign platform has a full suite of website security services that will both keep your site secure and keep search engine users flowing into your site. It can scan and detect threats. When it senses a problem, it can apply a fix to avoid further damage.

Rather than let malware compromise your site's integrity, you can operate confidently knowing that search engine users are seeing what they're supposed to be seeing. All of your hard work around content development and SEO will pay off.

For more on how the ThreatSign website protection platform can keep your website secure, contact us today.