Computer experts discovered that a large-scale referral scam is being done using Google Maps listings redirects that link to hacker-controlled sites.
Large-Scale Google Maps Listings Scam Campaign Discovered
A team of computer researchers from The University of California in San Diego and Google presented their findings about a large-scale scam. According to the specialists this is a new form of black hat search engine optimization which abuses the legitimate business listings. There are several reasons why a malicious party would attempt such a move:
The service can be abused to spam spam a given business on the map to conduct non-ethical advertisement.
Existing listings can be defaced or discredited by the criminal operators.
Black Hat SEO strategies are often used to impact competitors in a negative way when it comes to search engine ranking.
To register a listing on Google Maps the users need to provide a Google account, a physical address and a contact phone number for verification purposes. Thanks to the numerous underground black markets it is very easy to use stolen or even counterfeit information sets. Fortunately there is a team at Google which constantly battles any counterfeit listings. According to the released information the majority of the scam information are conducted in the local directories that serve United States and India. All of the detected listings are short-lived and feature a low visitor count. The bad thing about the listings is that they are used (in some cases) to redirect to malicious sites. Possible scenarios include the following:
Malicious Download Sites – These sites can distribute various types of malware to the victims.
Malicious Ad Networks – These sites generate income for the criminal operators.
Mixed Sites – They combine malware download portals and ad networks.
Related dangers of manipulating the listings can lead to the possibility of reusing the raw materials that are placed in Google Maps’s database. This strategy can be used to construct complex scams that can be cross-referenced and used across the creation of a complete identity. The information can be duplicated on various sites, social networks and other services if the hackers have the needed resources. Using a well-arranged scam identity the hackers can conduct various criminal trade activities. The experts state that the selling of counterfeit goods or ilegal products are usually made through such sites.
All of the data is available in a publicly available research paper titled “Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps”. It mainly discusses the methodology used in the research and shows that the most abusive categories of listings are those of independent contractors, especially locksmiths. However it gives an insight on how hackers abuse this platform for their own criminal gain. A few days ago Google removed one of the most popular functions in Google Maps – the Google Map Maker tool. It allowed end users to make suggestions for listing modifications to the map database.
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