Pagejacking Case Study

Pagejacking - identifying and dealing with pagejackers

This article on pagejacking is the result of a recent experience we had with a competitor who thought it would be a good idea to copy an entire page from our site using a sneaky method. It turned out he had done the same to dozens of others. I think he's regretting that strategy now :).

What is pagejacking?

In essence, pagejacking is the copying of a page by unauthorized parties in order to filter off traffic to another site. The copying doesn't include just the wording - it's the whole box and dice. Traffic to the illegitimate page is then usually redirected to a competing, or at times, totally unrelated offer. 

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Why do people pagejack?

When you have the good fortune of having a page that ranks highly in the SERP's (Search Engine Results Pages); it brings you both good and bad attention. Some unscrupulous individuals make take copies of your pages in an attempt to get equally high, or higher rankings and therefore capturing some of the traffic that really should have gone to your site. 

In the instance where the pagejacker is also well versed in search engine optimization; it can be the case that the *majority* of search engine traffic that usually arrives on your site is redirected to the pagejacker. As you can imagine, this can be very costly to your online business.

How is pagejacking executed?

The "newbie" pagejacker simply copies your page in it's entirety and pastes it into another page on his own site. They may add some of their own offers to the page and adjust the links in your content to point to other pages on their site. Only the most stupid of pagejackers use this process. 

The more advanced pagejacking strategy is quite clever. First, a copy of your page is taken. A page is then created on the pagejackers site that is basically a carbon copy of your content - including meta-tags. The pagejacker then adds extra scripting to allow only search engine robots to be able to read the content of the page. A 302 .htaccess redirect or meta-refresh is then used to automatically redirect human viewers to a totally different page - they never see your content.

How do I detect pagejacking?

You can detect pagejacking quite easily as most pagejackers will only bother with pages that have decent search engine rankings. Use the following process:

  • Identify a couple of phrases that are rather uncommon in a popular page on your site.

  • Run these phrases through a query on the most popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. When querying the engines, ensure your encapsulate your query with quotes; e.g. "the flomble is pink with black stripes"

  • In the results that come back, as long as the phrase you have used is uncommon, you'll probably only see your page and instances of pagejacking. Even if you're not able to use an uncommon phrase as the basis of your search criteria, or you allow the reproduction of some of your content on other sites and you wind up with 100 results, go through all the results pages anyway. Yahoo, Google and MSN always show extended snippets from the page which will make it easier to identify a site that is using pagejacked content.

  • To confirm that the suspect listing is in fact pagejacked content, instead of clicking on the link to the page in the search engine results, click on the "cached" option. It will display the page as it appeared to the search engine robot the last time it was crawled. High ranking pages are usually crawled quite regularly, so the cached copy should be reasonably fresh.

How do I deal with pagejacking

Pagejackers by nature are a snivelling, cowardly breed and easy to deal with if you go about it in the right way.

If you have identified pagejacked content, the first thing you need to do is to save the cached copy of the page - this is very important as it is solid evidence. 

One of the great features of Google is that when it displays cached copies of pages, it adds a box to the top of it with identifying information, including the URL and the date the cached copy was taken.

If you are using Internet Explorer, to save a copy of the cached page, simply go to "File", select "Save as" and in the "Save as type" dropdown option, choose "Web archive, single file (*.mht)". This option will download everything, including images and the Google info box into a single file. Having a single file makes it easier to transmit to other parties during the follow up process.

Once you have the archive file safely stored on your own computer, it's time to swing into action.

The first thing you should do is to contact the owner of the site. There is no need to be overly polite in the notification, but also do not be abusive. Bear in mind that in some cases, the pagejacker may *not* be the actual site owner. The owner of the site may have employed an unethical optimization company who used the pagejacking technique. Regardless, it is the site owners' responsibility to deal with the situation.

I recommend writing a brief note along these lines:

Subject = "Copyright infringement - (Domain Name)"

Body =

"It has come to my attention that you have made an unauthorized use of my copyrighted work located here; (copyrighted work URL), by reproducing it on your site (their URL with infringing copy). At no time have I given permission for you to reproduce my original content in such a way.

A cached copy from Google of the illegally copied content on your site is attached, along with details as to its location on your site and the date it was gathered. It appears that my content is being used on your site as part of a pagejacking strategy and is visible only to search engines.

As the legal owner of this copyrighted content, I demand that you remove my property from your site immediately.

You have 72 hours to remove this content. If the content is not removed within this time frame, then I will find it necessary to take further action; including contacting Google, your hosting service and any other legal avenues I have at my disposal.

Sincerely
Your name
Your contact details"

Ensure you flag the email as urgent and select the read receipt option in your email software. If after 72 hours, the content is not removed, you should first contact the company hosting the site. These details, as well as the domain name registrant, can usually be found on the WHOIS record for the domain name by looking at the nameserver information, or by running a trace on the domain name.

If you do find it necessary to contact the hosting service, check the host's site first for guidelines for copyright complaints. Each company may differ slightly in terms of copyright infringement complaints processes and it's important that you follow their submission guidelines carefully - usually a US company will direct you to follow a process as laid out in the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

If the infringement has caused you a major loss in profit, then it is advisable that you contact your lawyer before taking any sort of action if it is within your means to do so.

How do I prevent pagejacking

In short - you don't. It gets to a point where you can spend so much time in trying to protect your online business from parasites and copycats that you may as well not bother with having a site at all. Monitoring is the key in relation to pagejacking.

Other possible negative effects of pagejacking

I've read a number of reports on the subject of pagejacking that appear to indicate that some search engines will favor the pagejacked page over the original one to the point that the original page will be dropped from the SERPs altogether. The reason for this is that most search engines employ duplicate content filters - and the way some work is that the higher ranking page is usually the one that is kept.

One very important negative effect of pagejacking is damage to your brand. For instance, a pagejacker may copy a page that contains multiple instances of your business or product name. If the pagejacker is successful in achieving consistently higher rankings than your own content, unsuspecting surfers may begin to associate the brand with misleading content and steer clear of it altogether.

Protecting your site from online parasites is an ongoing battle; I hope this article has assisted you in dealing with one aspect of this multi-faceted war. 

Related learning resources

Preventing credit card fraud.

Pay per click fraud - ppc anti-fraud strategies and tools

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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The Federal Trade Commission has asked a U.S. district court to hold three Internet pagejackers in contempt and order them to give up their ill-gotten gains for violating a previous order barring their unfair and deceptive practices.

According to papers filed by the FTC with the court, Walter Rines, his company, Online Turbo Merchant, Inc., and his business partner, Sanford Wallace, diverted users of MySpace.com to different Web sites and barraged them with ads to earn advertising commissions. The agency alleged that the defendants targeted MySpace users with “phishing,” “pagejacking,” and “mousetrapping” tactics in violation of a previous federal court order.

In October 2005, the FTC charged Odysseus Marketing, Inc. and its principal, Rines, with luring consumers to their Web site by offering free software including a program that supposedly allowed them to engage in anonymous peer-to-peer file sharing. According to the FTC, the bogus software was bundled with spyware that intercepted and replaced search results and barraged consumers’ computers with pop-up ads. The FTC alleged that the defendants’ software captured consumers personal information and transmitted the information to the defendants’ servers. Consumers were unable to locate or uninstall the spyware through reasonable means, the agency charged. The court ordered a preliminary halt to these practices pending trial, and in October 2006 Odysseus and Rines settled the charges by stipulating to a permanent injunction.

The permanent injunction prohibits the defendants from redirecting consumers’ computers to sites or servers other than those selected by the consumers; from changing any Web browser’s default home page; and from modifying or replacing the functions of any computer application. It requires them to obtain consumers’ express consent before downloading or distributing any content to their computers and bars the defendants from installing software that cannot be readily uninstalled. It also bars them from exploiting any security vulnerability to download or install software, computer code, or other content. The injunction also prohibits the defendants from making deceptive representations and bars them from misrepresenting the benefits, efficacy, performance, cost, or features of any software program. It also required the defendants to destroy the personal information they previously collected and prohibits them from obtaining personal information in the future unless they have consumers’ express consent.

The permanent injunction further requires Rines to obtain a $500,000 performance bond before downloading or installing computer code or other content that causes the display of ads, modifies Web browsers or operating systems, or collects personal information. Finally, the settlement imposed a $1.75 million judgment, of which all but $10,000 was suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay.

In its most recent filing, the FTC alleges that Rines, his company, and his business partner Wallace knew of the permanent injunction and violated that order by diverting users from MySpace.com to their Web sites and barraging them with ads. Specifically, the agency charges that the defendants distributed online content to consumers without their consent; obtained personal information about MySpace users without their consent by sending “phishing” messages that appeared to be from MySpace or other MySpace users; redirected users to Web sites other than those they chose to visit by “pagejacking” them to Web sites displaying advertisements; and modified and disabled users’ Web-browser navigation controls by “mousetrapping.” The agency also alleges that Rines violated the previous order by failing to obtain the required bond before participating or assisting others in the display of online advertising.

The FTC has asked the court to order the defendants to give up the money they earned from their scheme. The contempt motion for violations of a permanent injunction was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.

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