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Source: USA Today

Posted on December 14, 2009

The race to include up-to-the-minute postings from popular social networks atop search results from Google, Microsoft Bing and Yahoo Search should trigger a boon - for spammers and cybercriminals.

That's the consensus of search and tech security experts following Google's announcement that it has now matched Microsoft's and Yahoo's recent moves to integrate Twitter micro-blog entries prominently in search results. The Big Three search services are also moving to incorporate Facebook postings into search results in near real-time.

Meanwhile, spammers and hackers are out in force. Spam accounts for 88% of all e-mails, and the number of newly compromised websites detected and blocked by Symantec's MessageLabs division averaged 2,465 per day this year, up nearly 8% from 2,290 in 2008.

Links to corrupted websites continue to turn up in search results. And spam messages and infectious postings continue to infest social networks. Combining the two seems likely to tilt the advantage to the bad guys. "This is just going to amplify the bad effects and make it easier for spammers and hackers to get their stuff to the top of search results," says Michael Greene, security analyst at PC Tools.

Google uses "automated and manual processes" to weed out malicious links, and warns users when a website appears to be compromised, says spokesman Nate Tyler. Spokesmen for Microsoft and Yahoo said they, too, take great pains to deliver safe results. "We will continue to improve and refine these systems," says Google's Tyler.

Yet anyone can now post a Twitter message on a hot topic, say, "Copenhagen." In less than a minute, a reference to that tweet will appear as part of the results for anyone Googling "Copenhagen." It's simple to attach spam or a link to a corrupted website, says Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Tainted posts moving quickly and intermittently into search results could be very hard to filter. "It's an entirely new cat-and-mouse game," says Sullivan.

Spammers and hackers are very enterprising. Some trick the search services into giving high rankings to infection-spreading websites they control. Others continue to evolve new ways to spread spam and tainted postings via the top social networks. These developments don't bode well. "Even if the initial barriers work, don't expect clean results," says Roel Schowenberg, senior researcher at Kaspersky Lab. "It's likely cybercriminals will find ways around them."

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