By Dan Goodin in San Francisco
1st December 2007
Raising troubling questions about the security of America's government
websites, more domains ending in .gov have been found hosting links that
push porn and malware.
They include the Marin County Transportation Authority, which has has
watched its site get hacked at least twice before. In early October the
domain forced the shutdown of all California government websites until
admins could remove the links. A week after the sites were disinfected,
the rogue pointers returned.
On Friday, more than 24 hours after this post  from Sunbelt Software
first reported the reemergence of the links, the gov site was riddled
with at least a dozen pages that, when clicked, redirected users to smut
sites. Users then got a messaging saying they had to install a special
codec in order to view the content. The codecs contain Trojans that
By Friday evening in California, the tainted pages were finally removed,
and the executive director of the agency apologized for the problem.
The other site actively pushing smut and malware at the time of writing
was USAid, a federally operated agency that extends aid to countries
recovering from disasters. Perhaps they should attend to their own
Over the past several months, the poisoning of search caches belonging
to Google and other search engines has emerged as a chief tactic by
miscreants in inflating rankings of their malicious websites. At the
moment, Google security pros are scrambling to eradicate a flood of
malicious links. Problem is, the purveyors of smut and malware are
quickly able to taint the cache with a new batch of domains. The
whack-a-mole battle finally prompted Google to issue this request for
help from its users.
The infections of the gov sites, which are easily documented by these
two Google searches (safe to click if you don't mind "porn" in your url,
but you probably shouldn't click on any of search results), appear to be
yet another attempt to boost the rankings of the malicious sites.
Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Marin County
Transportation Authority, said she thought the problem was fixed in mid
September, after her agency dumped its old web host, StartLogic, and
contracted with a new one.
"Even though we quit any web hosting with them, they had a publicly
accessible web page with our name on it," she told The Register. "They
still had a web service under our name, and that was a complete
Hackers were able to create the porn- and malware-infested pages by
infiltrating StartLogic's system, she said. The pages became
inaccessible after her office directed the web host to remove the
web-accessible service, she said.
"I am exceptionally apologetic for anyone that was contaminated by
virtue of our name," she said.
Attempts to reach representatives of StartLogic and USAid were not
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