Security Risks to Increase with Real-Time Searches

Dennis Faas's picture

A range of security experts say the crusade by search engines to include "real-time" results from social networking sites will undoubtedly make life easier for hackers. Such word comes hot on the heels of a report suggesting sites like Facebook and Twitter now pose a risk to businesses.

As we reported last week, Google is trying out a new feature which lists results for a search term in real time. That means that for popular topics there's no longer a lengthy waiting period while web pages are scanned and indexed: instead they are constantly monitored and appear in a special results section almost immediately.

As well as looking at news pages, the search engine is now able to get the latest postings from Twitter, with Facebook a likely addition in the future.

Almost 2,500 Infected Websites Per Day

However, a USA Today report says the new technology could have drawbacks.

With almost 2,500 infected websites detected by security firm Symantec each day (and that's just the ones that are found), one of the most common tactics for hackers is tricking people into following bogus links which redirect them to malicious web pages. If the visitor does not have adequate security protection, they may then be vulnerable to viruses which take advantage of unpatched flaws in their browser. (Source:

Ranked "Now" More Important Than Ranked High

The risk now is that hackers can reach a much larger audience by posting a message on a social networking site and then have it appear on the real-time web search.

To give an example, the phrase "Tiger Woods" is currently attracting a lot of attention from web visitors. In the past, hackers would have tried to create pages which ranked highly for that phrase, but it would have been difficult to get them to appear high enough in the rankings to attract serious traffic. Similarly, attempting to get a page in the Google News results would be difficult as the site only indexes approved news sites.

Now, however, the hackers could simply post a message containing "Tiger Woods" on Twitter and it would appear in the Google results. While it would only appear for a brief time, it could still attract a large audience. And hackers certainly wouldn't have any qualms about repeatedly posting the same message on a social networking site to increase their exposure.

Security is Often a Numbers Game

Of course, the major search engines are already making efforts to detect and remove bogus links. And security firms also work hard to both block such links and limit the consequences once an infected site is visited. The point is that real-time search does not change the basic security challenges; rather, it increases the frequency of those challenges occurring.

Tech firm Cisco warns that this poses a more significant risk to businesses. Today, around 1 in every 50 pages visited on an office computer is a social networking site. If internal connections on an office network are not adequately secured, that means there's much greater potential for a virus picked up in this manner to spread across multiple machines. (Source:

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