How Hackers Are Using SEO to Rank Malicious PDFs for Phishing?

Jun 14, 2022
4 min read

According to a recent survey, phishing downloads have surged by 450 percent in the previous year, and attackers are ranking malicious PDF files on search engines using Search Engine Optimization (SEO). We've all heard about data breaches and cybersecurity issues, but according to the latest figures from Netskope, phishing downloads have increased by 450 percent in the last year. To rank malicious PDF files on search engines, attackers use search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO is the art of optimizing the contents of certain websites so that search engines can index and track them more easily. These websites will appear higher on search results pages if they check all the proper boxes during indexing and monitoring, which is considered the "holy grail" of digital marketing. The report's findings show that phishing assaults are evolving and that attackers aren't just targeting employees through email inboxes; they're now using popular search engines like Google and Bing. Fake file sharing requests, fraudulent invoices, and even fake Captchas are common examples of these files, which route users to phishing, spam, scam, and malware websites.

What is the definition of phishing?

Phishing is a type of cybercrime in which a person posing as a genuine organization contacts a target or targets via email, phone, or text message to persuade them to provide sensitive data such as personally identifying information, banking, and credit card information, and passwords. Phishing communications trick users into doing things like downloading a harmful file, opening a malicious link, or disclosing personal information like login credentials. The most popular sort of social engineering is phishing, which is a broad word for attempts to mislead or deceive computer users. In practically all security events, social engineering is becoming a more common threat vector. Phishing and other social engineering assaults are frequently integrated with additional threats including malware, code injection, and network attacks.

The data is then utilized to get access to sensitive accounts, which can lead to identity theft and financial loss.

What is the definition of search engine phishing?

Hackers use search engine phishing, also known as SEO poisoning or SEO Trojans, to try to get the first result on a search engine. When you click on their link in the search engine, you'll be taken to the hacker's website. When you engage with the site and/or enter sensitive data, threat actors can steal your information. Hacker sites can imitate any sort of website, although banks, money transfers, social media, and shopping sites are the most common targets.

Phishing: A grave Issue

Traditional security measures like secure email gateways have persistently failed to solve the challenge of phishing efforts, according to the report.

According to research, 83 percent of organizations will be subjected to an email-based phishing attack in 2021, in which they will be fooled into clicking a broken link, downloading malware, submitting credentials, or transferring money.

The amount of successful phishing attacks has increased and may continue to climb now that hackers are resorting to SEO methods, as attackers now have a new channel via which they may persuade employees into revealing critical information outside of the protection of other security protections.

"People are aware of the dangers of clicking on links in emails, text messages, and social media from strangers. But what about search engines? "This is a far more tough challenge," stated Ray Canzanese, Director of Netskope Threat Labs.

What is the best way to determine whether PDF files are malicious?

The most successful method, according to Ray Canzanese, is to use a system that decrypts and monitors online traffic for harmful material. At the company level, security teams should encourage users to check all links before clicking them, especially if they lead to an unknown website.

When an employee opens a malicious PDF, they will see a captcha on the first page, followed by text on subsequent pages. The user should close and delete the file right away. Users must also report fraudulent URLs that appear on search engines like Google and Bing, according to Cazanes. It will assist the provider in removing them from the site and preventing other users from becoming victims of a scam.

Here are a few ways you or your company can protect yourself from phishing attempts.

  1. Employee Education and Awareness

Employees must be trained to recognize phishing tactics, recognize symptoms of phishing, and report suspicious instances to the security staff.

Similarly, before dealing with a website, firms can urge employees to check for trust badges or stickers from well-known cyber security or antivirus providers. This indicates that the website is concerned about security and is unlikely to be a hoax or harmful.

2. 2FA (two-factor authentication):

It offers an extra degree of authentication when logging in to critical applications, making it the most effective approach for preventing phishing attacks. Users need two things to use 2FA: something they know, like a password and user name, and something they have, like their smartphones. Even if an employee's credentials have been compromised, 2FA stops them from using them to obtain access since they are insufficient.

3. Email Security Solutions Should Be Implemented

Malware and other malicious payloads in email communications can be protected by modern email filtering solutions. Emails with harmful links, attachments, spam content or language that could indicate a phishing attack can be detected using solutions.

Email security solutions block and quarantine questionable emails automatically, and sandboxing technology is used to "detonate" emails to see if they contain harmful code.

4. Make use of endpoint protection and monitoring.

Many new endpoints have emerged as a result of the increased use of cloud services and mobile devices in the office. Endpoint assaults will compromise some endpoints, therefore security teams must plan accordingly. Endpoints must be monitored for security threats, and compromised devices must be remedied and responded to quickly.

5. Carry out phishing attack simulations

Simulated phishing attack testing can assist security teams in evaluating the effectiveness of security awareness training programs as well as helping end users better comprehend assaults. Even if your employees are skilled at spotting fraudulent messages, they should be put through phishing tests on a regular basis. Because the threat landscape is constantly changing, cyber-attack simulations must as well.

6. User access to high-value systems and data should be limited.

The majority of phishing techniques are intended to deceive human operators, and privileged user accounts are particularly appealing to hackers. Access to systems and data might be restricted to prevent sensitive data from being leaked. Use the least privilege approach and only grant access to users who require it.