Search engines are increasingly being used by hackers to target Web applications that hold sensitive data.
Even with rising awareness about data security, it takes all of a few seconds to pluck Social Security numbers from Web sites using targeted search terms, said Amichai Shulman, founder and chief technology officer for database and application security company Imperva, at the RSA Europe conference in London.
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Shulman said Imperva recently discovered a way to execute a SQL injection attack that comes from an IP (Internet Protocol) address that belongs to Google.
In a SQL injection attack, a malicious instruction is entered on a Web-based form and answered by a Web application. It often can yield sensitive information from a backend database or be used to plant malicious code on the Web page.
Shulman declined to give details on how the attack works during his presentation at the RSA Conference, but said it involves Google's advertising system. Google has been notified, he said.
Manipulating Google is particularly useful since it offers anonymity for a hacker plus an automated attack engine, Shulman said.
Tools such as Goolag and Gooscan can execute broad searches across the Web for specific vulnerabilities and return lists of Web sites that have those problems.
"This is no more a script kiddy game -- this is a business," Shulman said. "This is a very powerful hacking capability."
Another attack method is so-called Google worms, which use the search engine to find specific vulnerabilities. With the inclusion of additional code, the vulnerability can be exploited, Shulman said.
"In 2004, this was science fiction," Shulman said. "In 2008, this is a painful reality."