Jan 31, 2009 113 reads by Navneet Kaushal

Google is warning that spammers can take advantage of your site without even making use of your server! They do so by abusing open redirect URLs. In this case the spammers or the hackers take advantage of your website rather than exploiting any security flaw or some other means of spamming.

According to the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog,

"We have noticed spammers going after a wide range of websites, from large well-known companies to small local government agencies."

What can you do to solve this problem?

  • Change the redirect code to check the referer, since in most cases everyone coming to your redirect script legitimately should come from your site, not a search engine or elsewhere. You may need to be permissive, since some users' browsers may not report a referer, but if you know a user is coming from an external site you can stop or warn them.
  • If your script should only ever send users to an internal page or file (for example, on a page with file downloads), you should specifically disallow off-site redirects.
  • Consider using a whitelist of safe destinations. In this case your code would keep a record of all outgoing links, and then check to make sure the redirect is a legitimate destination before forwarding the user on.
  • Consider signing your redirects. If your website does have a genuine need to provide URL redirects, you can properly hash the destination URL and then include that cryptographic signature as another parameter when doing the redirect. That allows your own site to do URL redirection without opening your URL redirector to the general public.
  • If your site is really not using it, just disable or remove the redirect. We have noticed a large number of sites where the only use of the redirect is by spammers-it's probably just a feature left turned on by default.
  • Use robots.txt to exclude search engines from the redirect scripts on your site. This won't solve the problem completely, as attackers could still use your domain in email spam. Your site will be less attractive to attackers, though, and users won't get tricked via web search results. If your redirect scripts reside in a subfolder with other scripts that don't need to appear in search results, excluding the entire subfolder may even make it harder for spammers to find redirect scripts in the first place.
  • You can also use Webmaster Tools to remove URLs. Chances are that the spammers have also hacked and abused other sites to generate links to the spammed section of your site. If you see suspicious sites or spammed forums linking in, feel free to report those to us, preferably with the verified spam report form in Webmaster Tools.

Tune in to the official blog for more information.

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
Navneet Kaushal
Navneet Kaushal
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