Outlaws Target Business Sites
By Jim Bray
Theres a new type of terrorist stalking the World Wide Web.
PageJackers attack corporate web sites, stealing their pages
so they can use them to lure web surfers away from their victims and toward
their clients sites.
The scheme or should I call it scam uses a
cloaking device (though one unrelated to Star Trek) to masquerade
one companys pages as anothers as they list out on Internet
Its part of the ultra competitive search engine strategy
many companies use to ensure they get top billing to the millions of surfers
looking for their type of business.
If you have any kind of e-mail presence, you may have received oodles
of pitches claiming they can get your site listed more prominently on
Internet search engines, if the price is right. I get so many of these
inbox assaults that I nearly wore down my delete key.
The concept is quite valid, however, and it makes sense for many businesses.
Optimizing your search engine placement supposedly ensures
that, when someone types widgets (or whatever it is you do
or sell) into a search engine, your web site is displayed before your
This means the web surfing public is more likely to find your site and
visit it, rather than click through endless pages of matches that may
or may not have anything to do with your business, but which happen to
contain a similar keyword.
Unfortunately, as with so many other things, its open to abuse.
The problem isnt the cloaking technology itself. Cloaking, which
is also called IP Delivery or Spoon Feeding, can
be used to help get around web designs that otherwise wouldnt get
indexed properly by search engines like some pages generated by
So, as with many other technologies, methodologies or car drivers
its the nut behind the wheel that causes the problem.
These less than scrupulous interlopers use cloaking to get their pirated
web pages to show up when the Internet address (URL) of the original company
How? The search engine is fooled into thinking its showing the
real page, but when the searching public clicks on the Joes
Billiard Hall link they found in their search, theyre whisked
instead to Franks Pool Parlor, which just happens to
be a client of the virtual hijackers and pays them by the click through
for the people delivered to Franks site.
What these modern day pirates are doing is stealing the other companys
intellectual property, and using it to present its clients web pages.
Its an online form of the old wolf in sheeps clothing
Rather than doing their own work and getting their clients listed on
the search engines legitimately, they just find top-ranked pages that
contain most of the same keywords they want, file the serial numbers off
them and copy them onto their own servers.
Then, when the robots from the search engines come a poking around, they
see the stolen page, store its fake location, and send traffic there instead
of to the real McCoy (or, in the case of my example, the real Joe).
The issue came to my attention after a data recovery companys search
engine optimizer searched for a listing of web sites linking to
its clients site. The ugly discovery that it had been had opened
up the whole PageJacking can of worms, causing them to file a complaint
with the US Federal Trade Commission.
That supposedly led to some house cleaning and many mea culpas
from the culprit company, which was apparently hijacking pages on a huge
The last I heard, the culprit was no longer online and, needless to say,
the legal ripples are still spreading.
How can a company fight the online plague of PageJacking? According to
a spokesman for one of the firms hit by these modern day pirates, theyve
now been forced to hire two people whose fulltime job is to monitor the
search engines and the companys placement on them.
They made the costly move after going online one Monday and discovering
that, as if by magic, their companys listings which theyd
paid good money to have optimized had disappeared into
unknown reaches of cyberspace.
Which must have been a frightening prospect for a company thats
used to getting forty per cent of its customers via the Internet.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.