Model's Lawsuit Against Google Prompts Malware Bloom

The Liskula Cohen defamation case has translated into a marketing opportunity that is now preying on social networking manipulation.
On the Internet, no salacious news goes unexploited.

On Tuesday, the New York Daily News reported that model Liskula Cohen is suing Google to force the company to reveal those responsible for an allegedly defamatory blog called Skanks In NYC that the company's Blogger service hosts.

"We think we have a case," Steven Wagner, Cohen's lawyer, told the Daily News. "This is libelous, it's defamatory, and you shouldn't just get away with this."

In the language of scammers, however, scandal means marketing opportunity.

Recognizing that the story includes some of the elements that make for an effective social networking scam -- sex and a famous person -- scammers have manipulated Google's search system to feature their malware sites near the top of search results lists when people search for the keywords "skanks in nyc."

"Unfortunately, the bad guys have poisoned Google with the term 'skanks in nyc,' with links that push Antivirus 2009," warned Alex Eckelberry, CEO of Sunbelt Software, in a blog post on Tuesday.

Antivirus 2009, Sunbelt explains on its site, is a rogue security program that purports to scan and detect malware on one's computer and then attempts to dupe or badger the computer's user into purchasing the software.

Google has struggled to keep up with efforts to poison its search results. In November 2007, the company removed tens of thousands of Web pages from its index that attempted to game Google's algorithm for prominent placement following searches with specific keywords. But scammers quickly poisoned more search terms after the purge.

Attempts to capitalize on the Cohen story recall a similar campaign to exploit the death of actor Heath Ledger in January 2008. Last year, only hours after Ledger's death was reported, malicious URLs began showing up in Google searches for the actor's name.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer