When first discussing with a potential client about dealing with a hacking issue on their website what often comes up are questions about who hacked them and why. On a fairly regular basis they suspect it was a competitor or someone previously involved with the website. In reality the person hacking the website is almost always going to be someone who has no knowledge of the specific website, much less has any connection to it. These hackers are not targeting specific websites, instead they are just trying to gain access to as many websites as possible to use for their own purposes. To get a better idea of what is going on lets take a look at a hacking on a fairly high profile company’s website.
A recent hack we looked at involved a website having a set links added to the website’s page when Google crawled them (this is referred to as cloaking). Several of the links stood out, as they were to pages on justborn.com. You might not recognize the company the website belongs to, Just Born, but you probably are familiar with their products, which include Peeps, Mike and Ike, and Hot Tamales. When visiting one of the linked pages, http://www.justborn.com/services.cfm, the website looks normal at the top but then as you look farther down the page it has repeating text about soccer jerseys:
In fact all of the main content of the page is like that (click to enlarge):
Creating a page on their website with a bunch of text about soccer jerseys wouldn’t make much sense for a competitor or a former employee to do, so what is the purpose of this? Well if you come to the page through a search engine you are redirected to http://www.jerseysokbuy.com/, which as the address suggests is selling jerseys. If you do a search on their address on Google the second result is a page on ScamGuard that describes the website as a “Fake merchandise web-store operating from China. Consumers are advised to avoid making purchases from this site.“. Due to how Google ranks pages this type of hacking can lead to getting pages on websites otherwise unrelated to the product to rank highly. For example, earlier this year we found that a hacking campaign was able to get a website to rank in the top ten for UGG boots, the problem as shown in one of the screenshots in that post is that Google will usually catch up with this eventually and label the website as being hacked. That is part of why the hackers try to get access to as many websites as possible so they can switch to new websites when the old websites get labeled or the webmaster catches on and cleans up the hack.
Interestingly, while someone involved with the webiste is hacking other websites to direct to traffic to jerseysokbuy.com, they don’t appear to be interested in getting traffic directly to their website as the listing for their own website in Google says “A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txt – learn more.”.