Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their tactics to exploit human vulnerabilities so they can steal personal information. One such tactic involves search engine optimization (SEO).

Legitimate organizations use SEO to help their websites and documents appear more often in search engine results. Cybercriminals use SEO to manipulate search results and trick users into visiting malicious websites or opening malicious PDF files.

These files look like regular search results and will open in your browser when clicked. They are often designed to look like real websites and contain dangerous links. If you click one of these links, it could take you to a malicious website or download malware onto your device.


Follow these tips to stay safe from similar scams:

  • SEO attacks rely on impulsive clicks, so you can’t always trust the first search result. Read the titles and descriptions of the results to find what you’re looking for. 
  • Before clicking a search result, hover your mouse over it to check the URL. If the URL ends in “.pdf,” the search result leads to a PDF file, not a website.
  • Be cautious before clicking any links in a PDF file. They could lead to malicious websites. 


How cybercriminals use SEO search results to steal your personal information:

Here is a sample list of tactics cybercriminals may use to deceive you into divulging personal information.

Keyword Manipulation: Cybercriminals identify popular and trending keywords related to current events, products or services. They create content and websites optimized with these keywords, increasing the chances of their malicious sites appearing at the top of search results when users search for those terms.

Spoofed Websites: They create fake websites that imitate legitimate ones, often using convincing branding, logos and designs. These sites might closely resemble banking portals, online stores, social media platforms or other sites where users are likely to input sensitive information.

Deceptive URLs: Cybercriminals might use domain names that are visually similar to legitimate domains. These slight variations can easily fool users into believing they are on a legitimate site.

Social Engineering: The content on these malicious sites often employs social engineering techniques to prompt users into taking action. This could involve urgent messages about account security, requests to update personal information or claims of winning prizes.

Phishing Forms: Once users are on these malicious sites, they are presented with forms that request sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card numbers, social security numbers and more. These forms are designed to appear legitimate, further deceiving users.

Drive-by Downloads: In some cases, visiting these malicious sites could trigger automatic downloads of malware onto the user's device. This malware might be designed to capture keystrokes, record screen activity or otherwise harvest personal information.


How to protect yourself from SEO phishing attacks:

  • Be Cautious: Be skeptical of unsolicited messages, especially those that urge immediate action or offer something that sounds too good to be true.
  • Check URLs: Always double-check the URL of the website you're on. Look for typos, unusual domain names or any other signs of deception.
  • Use Security Software: Keep your antivirus and anti-malware software updated to help identify and block malicious websites.
  • Educate Yourself: Learn about common phishing tactics and stay informed about the latest cyber threats.
  • Verify Through Legitimate Channels: If you receive an email or message asking for personal information, don't click on links provided in the message. Instead, visit the official website directly by typing the URL in your browser or using a bookmark.

Cybercriminals are constantly adapting their methods, so stay vigilant and practice safe online habits to protect your personal information.


This article is intended for educational purposes only. The information provided does not constitute professional or legal advice. For personalized recommendations, consult your financial advisor or a qualified legal representative.