It has been less than six months since Google Webmaster Tools was rebranded as Google Search Console, but recent security research suggested the technology is becoming nearly as popular with cybercriminals as it is with legitimate webmasters.
According to a recent post on the Sucuri Blog, cybercriminals have been using Google Search Console to suggest they have owner status over a site they have somehow hijacked. This allows them to ensure legitimate webmasters don’t receive notifications when their site is compromised. There is also evidence to suggest actors are using the online service’s features to manage their malicious online campaigns and fine-tune attacks.
Experts told SecurityWeek that some webmasters mistakenly believe they can resolve any issues with hijacked sites by simply changing FTP passwords or deleting an HTML-based file from the root folder. However, by the time these problems are detected, cybercriminals may already be so deep inside they can prevent webmasters from learning if their accounts become unverified in the Google Search Console.
CSO Online suggested that cybercriminals may use their access to exploited sites to prolong malware attacks or spam campaigns by engaging in deceptive search engine optimization tactics, sometimes known as black-hat SEO. Ironically, Google Search Console is supposed to help webmasters learn about potential attacks more quickly, but in this case it could mean legitimate sites see traffic plummet and their online reputation harmed.
A story on The SEM Post said malicious actors could also use Google Search Console to do other kinds of damage, such as de-indexing a site and making it nearly impossible to find. Certain pages within a site could also be removed at will or changed. For organizations that depend on their websites to drive business in some way, the threat could be considerable.
Fortunately, as Search Engine Journal reported, there is a fairly immediate — albeit manual — way of dealing with attempts to manipulate the Google Search Console. Companies should be vigilant about any email messages regarding newly verified owners. And in the meantime, Google may need to beef up some of the ways legitimate webmasters can defend themselves from cybercriminals.