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Websense using Google's binary search to dig up malware

It discovered thousands of malicious Web sites

By Robert McMillan
July 10, 2006 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - A little-known capability in Google Inc.'s search engine has helped security vendor Websense Inc. uncover thousands of malicious Web sites, as well as several legitimate sites that have been hacked.

By taking advantage of Google's binary search capability, Websense created new software tools that sniff out malware using the popular search engine, Dan Hubbard, senior director of security and research at Websense, said Friday. Websense researchers Googled for strings that were used in known malware like the Bagle and Mytob worms and have uncovered about 2,000 malicious Web sites over the past month.

Though Google is widely used to search the Internet for Web pages and office documents, its search engine can also peek through the binary information stored in the normally unreadable executable (.exe) files that run on Windows-based computers. "They actually look inside the internals of an executable and index that information," Hubbard said.

Hubbard and his team plan to share their Google code with a select group of security researchers but will not make the tools public, for fear that they could be misused. Virus authors, for example, could use the Websense software to search for worms and viruses to use in their attacks, Hubbard said. "Instead of buying them on the black market, [an attacker] could search for them and download them on his own," he added.

Some bloggers have pointed out that hackers might also be able to manipulate the binary search feature to trick Google users into downloading malicious software.

Hackers could add common search terms into their malicious code in order to be included in search results, for example, and then show up alongside legitimate Web sites. Google has seen that happen "on occasion" and is making an effort to shield users from malicious software, a Google spokeswoman said.

Such an attack wouldn't work unless users clicked on the standard Windows prompt indicating that they wanted the executable code to run on their systems.

And that's something most Web surfers are smart enough to avoid, according to Johnny Long, a security researcher at Computer Sciences Corp. "I think the 'tricking your browser into running an executable file' trick is a little old," said Long, who wrote the book Google Hacking for Penetration Testers. "There are other, more elegant attacks to worry about."

The most interesting thing about Google's binary search capability is not its security implications, Long said, but the fact that it shows that Google may be thinking about becoming a file searching service. "There is this whole wealth of files out there that Google's not touching," he said. "This indicates that they're spreading out into more avenues and that they're probably going to be crawling more content than what they're looking at now."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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