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Tomorrow, on January 18, 2012, dozens of popular websites covering a diverse range of subjects will be blacking out their home pages in protest of the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Some of these websites are well-known, such as the English language web site for the encyclopedic Wikipedia and quirky news site Boing Boing, while others may be familiar to gamers (Red 5 Studios and Rock, Paper, Shotgun), social media cognoscenti (the Cheezburger Network, Imgur and Reddit) and other special interest websites. A fairly complete listing of striking websites can be found at the SOPA Strike web site provided by Fight for the Future.
Of course, not all companies who oppose SOPA will be blacking out their websites. eBay, Google, Twitter and Yahoo! are amongst some of the companies whose web properties will remain open during the strike, as will ESET.
While the SOPA blackout may not be affecting websites you visit on a daily basis, it has become big news. Like other newsworthy events these days, it is likely to generate attempts by organized criminals to promote malicious websites by manipulating search engine results through black hat search engine optimization (BHSEO) technique, which we frequently discuss in the ESET Threat Blog.
While we cannot be certain exactly what sort of scams may appear, keep in mind that the websites listed above will resume normal activity around their announced times. It is unlikely they will resume much earlier, and some may even be slightly delayed in returning to normal activity.
If you see any pronouncements about sites returning to operation early or an option to bypass the blackout by visiting a new website, ignore them and wait for the site to return at its preannounced time: The “new” site being promoted may perform far more malicious actions than simply showing pictures of kittens, providing discussions about ents, bacon and narwhals or sharing jokes about arrows to the knee.
Instead, you might want to use some of the time you normally spent on blacked-out sites to back up your computer, or perhaps even turn it off for the day. Even though SOPA hasn’t been quashed, it is still very likely the Internet will be there when you turn it back on.
Aryeh Goretsky, MVP, ZCSE
Author Aryeh Goretsky, ESET