• Yes, Search Engines Can Infect Your Computer

    Search engines, like Google, Yahoo and Bing offer users the ability to scour the plethora of information on the Internet. These search engines index content on websites and often maintain cached copies of these sites so that, in the event that the site is unavailable, visitors can still view the contents of the website.

    Unfortunately, the idea of page caching has not been implemented well. In fact, page caching has opened up new opportunities for malware. The primary problem being that, from a security perspective, when search engines cache copies of websites, they are storing any malware that is present on the site on their own infrastructure as well.

    Hackers Exploit Search Engine Page Caches

    Most large search engines use some kind of malware analysis to determine if a website is compromised or not. Google for example, has a well tuned system with high accuracy. In our meeting with the Google malware team, some months ago, we were glad to find that they were already aware of this problem. In the weeks following our interaction, cached copies of infected websites were no longer easily available via searches.

    Not so long ago, we wrote an article about our efforts to alert Yahoo of the presence of malware in the cached versions of various web pages served up by their search engine. Our efforts were not successful, although the occurrence of malware in Yahoo cached pages seems to have gone down significantly. Perhaps our messages were not entirely ignored.

    Recently, an article came up on ISC SANS discussing this very same issue.

    Recently, we have found instances of Bing serving up malware in their cached pages. It seems that Bing’s malware detection methods are not able to reliably detect malware on cached web pages. This keeps Bing from securing cached pages which contain malware for its users. We have provided screen shots below as an example of the issue. In this particular case, the strain of malware found in Bing cached pages has been around since 2009.

    Search Engines Ignore the Problem

    Consider the case where a malicious individual deliberately infects a website with malware and Bing (or another search engine) indexes it. The malicious individual can then send out hyperlinks pointing to the cached web pages hosted by Bing. Any kind of “reputation-checking” for the cached link will confirm that the page is hosted by a reputable company, in this case, Bing (Microsoft). However, the malware will still be able to deliver its payload. Just in case you’re thinking, “my antivirus will protect me from the malware on the cached page,” you may like to read this article.

    It is surprising to see that search engines like Bing, which claim to implement malware detection, cannot correctly determine if a cached copy of a web page hosts malware! In these cases, Bing ends up an excellent attack vector for malicious individual.

    It remains to be seen if search engine companies will continue to serve up cached pages laced with malware at the same time as they are touting active scan and detection mechanisms. Let’s hope this article can get attention in the upper echelons of management at these large search giants and they start to pay attention to this problem.

    Screen shots follow below: