Volcanic Ash Cloud May End Up Harming Your Computer

Searching for related information can lead to malware

By on April 17th, 2010 10:57 GMT
The recent volcanic eruption at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, which caused major air travel disruptions across Europe due to the resulting ash cloud, is being exploited by cybercriminals to infect users. Searching for information or images related to the event poses an increased risk of leading to malicious pages.

On 14 April 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted for the second time in 2010, leading to the formation of an ash cloud that is unusually rich in glass particles. The eruption is still on-going and experts claim the volcano might produce ash for weeks to come.

Because the ash plume has quickly spread across Europe, many countries were forced to completely or partially suspend air traffic over their territories. At the moment, all major European airports are closed down and thousands of travelers are stranded, in what might become the most severe air travel disruption in history.

As the event is affecting flights all over the world, it is understandable that a lot of people use the Internet to keep informed about new developments in real time. A quick look on Google Trends reveals that "volcano iceland," "uk airspace" or "flights canceled" are amongst the hottest search topics in the USA at the moment.

Unfortunately, cybercrooks are also paying attention to what people are searching for and waste no opportunity to exploit it to their advantage. By employing artificial page rank inflation techniques, collectively known as black hat search engine optimization (BHSEO), they succeed in pushing malicious links to the top pages of search results.

At the moment, a predictable search query such as "Iceland volcano pictures" produces malicious results beginning with the second page. These links take users to web pages displaying fake security alerts, that try to convince them to download and install fake antivirus programs on their computer.

Called scareware or roguware, such applications produce bogus reports about fictitious infections on the users' systems, in an attempt to convince them to pay for a fix. Such scams usually result in users losing their money and compromising their financial information.

Google is making significant efforts to counter these attacks and tag the fake search results as malicious through its Safe Browsing service. However, as demonstrated by past experiences, this is an endless game of cat and mouse in which cybercriminals currently have the lead.

Because of this, Internet users are strongly advised to rely on additional forms of protection, such as capable antivirus programs or browser security extensions. Practicing extra caution when it comes to visiting links listed on Google search result pages is also a must - get your news only from trusted and reputable sources.

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