Linux/Cdorked: A Nasty New Apache Hack

A couple of days ago I received this email from Miriam at SolasDesign and my first thought was: what rich Google irony:

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Hey Mike,

I was doing a search in Google today for ‘google+ local error 500′ and one of the results Google returned was this page of your site: Google + Page ‘500 error bug’ work around.

Bizarrely, when I clicked on the link, I was redirected to a page of pornography at http://youdon’treallywanttoseeit.com. I immediately hit the back button.

Even stranger, when I re-clicked the link in the SERPs, I was taken to your page correctly. I am not terribly educated on the awful topic of hacking, and I’ve never encountered any information about something that could intermittently do malicious re-directs, but I wanted to let you know about this ASAP. I haven’t ever seen something like this happen before, but hopefully, your team can figure out if your site has been compromised in some way. So sorry about this. It’s awful.

Miriam

My immediate second thought was that my down home farmland wp theme that Mike Ramsey loves so much had been hacked. When Linda Buquet and Brandon Monchamp contacted me with similar stories I was convinced of it. However none of the external malware test tools from Google or Sucuri could find anything.

I contacted Sucuri (who does a great job of site security by the way) and learned that the reality was worse. The cPanel server hosting my site had fallen victim to a new Apache kernel hack: Linux/Cdorked:

In fact, Linux/Cdorked.A is one of the most sophisticated Apache backdoors we have seen so far. Although we are still processing the data, our Livegrid system reports hundreds of compromised servers. The backdoor leaves no traces of compromised hosts on the hard drive other than its modified httpd binary, thereby complicating forensics analysis. All of the information related to the backdoor is stored in shared memory. The configuration is pushed by the attacker through obfuscated HTTP requests that aren’t logged in normal Apache logs. This means that no command and control information is stored anywhere on the system.

The only tell tale signs were the external reports of redirects to porn sites on Google searches. The symptoms that Miriam described are in fact diagnostic which is my reason for sharing them here. Forewarned is forearmed. Apparently this hack “exploits the fact that cPanel doesn’t use a packaging system to install Apache”.

Hopefully you will not suffer the same fate and if you do you will know what it was quicker than I. The servers were taken down last night for the patch and cleansed. Thanks to all that alerted me to issues.

Google Closes European Places Support Forums

Today, Google announce the closing of foreign language forums for Google Places as of May 13th. It is not clear if language specific support will be available via email. The announcements can be seen in these various forums:

Spanish: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/places-es

Portugese: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/places-pt

Russian: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/places-ru

German: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/places-de/AEah3vEAUlk

Here is the Google translation of the Spanish language announcment:

Important Announcement: We decided to consolidate our resources Google Places Help and close this forum on May 13. The following resources are still available:
– Help Center Google Places
– Forum Help Google and your Business (English only)
– Google and your Business Blog (English only)

Google Showing Sitelinks to Nearest Locations on Brand Searches

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Last week Bill Slawski wrote about Google’s categorization of web pages for use in local search. The patent he writes about is one in a long line of related works that discuss this sort of web page categorization. That or something very similar to it appears to be occurring that allows Google to include multiple locations per brand search in these locallly generated site link results.

Danielle Owens of Powerchordsystem.com sent along these screen shots that clearly show that Google thinks these pages that include local information for nearby locations to be important.
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I don’t look for these sorts of results that frequently so these may have been appearing this way for while. But if the message has not gotten through to brands both large and small with multiple locations this sort of display should make it clear: you need a stand alone local landing page for every location.

Google has never clearly indicated which pages they will include in their sitelinks display or why they will include them but here are some ideas that might help make these pages show for  brand searches.

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1- Have a local landing page for each location that is clearly Title tagged and optimized around location
2- Be sure that all locations are properly claimed and located in Google Places for Business and that it references the local landing page
3- Use that local URL in all directories and upstream providers
4- The location page includes complete address information that is marked up using Rich Snippets formatting
5- Reference each of these local landing pages in the sitemap and the KML file for the site
6- Make sure that the location pages are easily crawlable by Google and are not hidden by some search routine
7- The site architecture should relatively “flat” and the local landing pages are not too distant from the home page

Places Link Removed From Google More Menu

Update from Darren Shaw of Whitespark: You can still access Places through a URL parameter: “tbm=plcs”. Not sure how long that will last though. For example:
https://www.google.com/search?q=chicago%20pizza&tbm=plcs&near=chicago

This came to me from Andy Kuiper of Calgary and Vancouver: the Places search menu option has been removed from Google.

Google has been cleaning up and removing links from Google search and attempting to rebrand Places as a part of Google Plus. Last week they removed the related search option from the search menu.  While Places has been retained as a brand on the business listing side, the branding of the consumer side is still not clear and Places has not really been replaced with any clear forward facing consumer branding.

Google has been discouraging the use of Google+ Local (coined by Marissa Mayer) and is attempting to shift the name of the business pages to simply G+ Pages (although there still is a dizzying array of page types). But the net result is that for the first time in many years there is no local search option available from the front page of Google other than the main search box. Users can only make it to Google’s local search options if they are in Plus. Equally significant is that there is no unique locally focused brand.

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Google Local Bug: Review/Plus Pages Not Loading For SAB Pages

Laura Behny of Attaboy Plumbing and at least one poster in the forums have noted what appears to be a new bug when clicking on the the “Google reviews” link in the pack results. Either a blank page is delivered or these very weird results are shown instead of the local G+ Page. It is not happening on all results and appears to be focused on SAB results.

Update: The bug seems to show regardless of how the page is accessed with most SAB pages that I have tested showing a blank page that include only their business name at the top and no content. Google has been notified of the bug. If you want to chime in at the forums at your comment to the existing post that has been elevated.

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ebay On the Wrong (and self serving side) of the Sales Tax Issue

I received this email from ebay this morning. I think that ebay is on the wrong side of this issue.

I was in retail for many years and struggled with sales tax issues at every turn. “Struggle” is putting it mildly as at one point the NY State government came after me with guns a blaring. I have no love lost on sales tax but not because of those struggles but because it is an intrinsically regressive tax that hits poor people more than it hits the wealthy AND it puts the small business in the middle of tax collection and compliance. That being said it is a reality of the current day tax structure.

If you assume that it is reality and it is going to be then the question should be how to make it as fair, easy and equitable as possible for ALL businesses. As it currently stands it is none of those things. And it is an issue that affects all bricks and mortar retail businesses big and small. There should not be artificial product pricing variations in the market created by sales tax policy.

ebay should either be promoting alternative, more progressive taxation or promoting making this tax fair and simple. Advocating exemptions for certain businesses or sales volumes,as ebay does, only makes the sales tax more complicated, not less. At its best it then appears to be position that seems to be very self serving and not in the interest of all small businesses.

eBay
Dear Mike,Congress is considering online sales tax legislation that is wrongheaded and unfair, and I am writing to ask for your help in telling Congress “No!” to new sales taxes and burdens for small businesses.Whether you’re a consumer who loves the incredible selection and value that small businesses provide online, or a small-business seller who relies on the Internet for your livelihood, this legislation potentially affects you. For consumers, it means more money out of your pocket when you shop online from your favorite seller or small business shop owner. For small business sellers, it means you would be required to collect sales taxes nationwide from the more than 9,600 tax jurisdictions across the U.S. You also would face the prospect of being audited by out-of-state tax collectors. That’s just wrong, and an unnecessary burden on you.Big national retailers are aggressively lobbying Congress to pass online sales tax legislation to “level the playing field” with Amazon. And, as they compete with big retail, Amazon is advocating for this legislation too, while at the same time they are seeking local tax exemptions across the country to build warehouses. This is a “big retail battle” in which small businesses and consumers have a lot to lose. But eBay is fighting, as we have for more than 15 years, to protect small online businesses and sellers and ensure healthy competition, value, and selection that benefit consumers online.

The solution is simple: if Congress passes online sales tax legislation, we believe small businesses with less than 50 employees or less than $10 million in annual out-of-state sales should be exempt from the burden of collecting sales taxes nationwide. To put that in perspective, Amazon does more than $10 million in sales every 90 minutes. So we believe this is a reasonable exemption to protect small online businesses. That’s what we’re fighting for, and what big companies such as Amazon are fighting against.

I hope you agree that imposing unnecessary tax burdens on small online businesses is a bad idea. Join us in letting your Members of Congress know they should protect small online businesses, not potentially put them out of business. Click here to make your voice heard. Together, I believe our voices can make a difference.

Sincerely,


John Donahoe
President and CEO
eBay Inc.

 

 

 

 

Local Weekend Update

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What Else is New Dept: There is a new bug with the Google Report A Problem for SABs: If a user selects the report a problem link via Maps or G+ Local they get a “This page won’t load…We’ve tried everything” message. At least its cute. Although that sad face icon is eerily reminiscent of my first Mac when it had a hard drive failure.

Can You Imagine That? Dept: This came to via me Google Forum  Top Contributor (an unsung hero who you should be sure to follow in the forums) Treebles. “Google received an ultimatum Thursday from German consumer organizations that want it to start answering questions from its users via email. Germany’s Telemedia Act requires businesses to provide an email address to allow customers to contact them quickly. But, said Elbrecht, “It is not enough to just provide an email address that leads into emptiness, you also need to be able to communicate over it.” Responding to users attempting to get their questions answered with automatic replies, as Google does in Germany, is not sufficient, she said“.

Maybe There will Be A Local Competitor to Google Yet Dept: Apple Insider reported that Apple’s iOS Passbook app was used to drive a successful coupon campaign for a UK restaurant chain. “The campaign allowed customers to get £5 off their bill when spending £30 or more. Harvester issued almost 16,000 vouchers in two weeks of campaign operation. Of those, almost 700 were redeemed during the course of the campaign. Overall, the campaign had a cost per action of £3.41. The solution gave a frictionless consumer experience, as with two-clicks a unique voucher code was delivered straight to their device, within Passbook. The voucher was then redeemed whilst  paying the bill, directly from the EPOS terminal, giving the restaurant additional insight into campaign effectiveness.

Thank God for Small Favors Dept: Google, in the fine print of the T&C’s for Glass Developers, are apparently banning ads in products for the new Glass product. Its hard to imagine relevant ads with an always on wearable eye glass computer. Its not so hard to imagine irrelevant ones.

Google Maps Quality Calls: Improving But Still Confusing

Adrew Forster of Adster Creative recently received and recorded a call from the Google Maps listing quality team.

The calls are improving in quality over previous calls that we have heard. For example the caller clearly introduced herself. A definite improvement. But the call was still confusing. The intent of the call was not clear and the questions asked were not asked in a way that lead to mutual understanding.

If they are confusing to Andrew, who knows about the Google calls and expects them, imagine the confusion still on the part of the SMB. Still some room for significant improvement.

Google Category Tool Updated To Include new Places for Business Dashboard Categories

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 4.19.40 PMWe have upgraded the Google Places for Business Category tool and added our categories from the recently released, new Google Places for Business Dashboard.

The new list is designated as Google English (US) (PfB) to distinguish it from the list for the old and still predominant dashboard. Note that the new categories themselves DO NOT have synonyms in the new dashboard but where there was a 1 to 1 match with the old category we have added them from the existing list to facilitate searching.

We have also made the country selection default to the previous country choice selected to make additional searches easier.

In analyzing the category differences between the two lists,  the most obvious change was some clean up work with a number of plural categories having been removed. Approximately 243 categories were removed from the old list. These were mostly either plurals of already existing categories or non-compliant categories. An example of the former was the removal of the category “bakeries” while the category “bakery” remained. An example of the later was the category “rv”. Here is the complete list of categories removed in ascii text: in-old-not-in-new1.

There were 88 additional, non restaurant categories added to the new Google Places for Business list: in-new-not-in-old-others1.

Some were minor changes like “personal injury attorney” became “personal injury lawyer”. Some were cleaned up to be in compliance with the Google Quality Guidelines standards. For example “jewelry” became “jewelry store”.

Given the clean up in some categories, it was odd to still see newly added categories that do not comply with the Category guidelines like beauty, car rental. culture, hair care, laundry and logistics showing up in the new list.

The biggest change in the new list, as I have noted previously, was the inclusion of 168 new restaurant categories, many of which are quite unusual like “kushiage and kushiyaki restaurant” or “okonomiyaki restaurant”. Here is the list new restaurant types added: in-new-not-in-old-restaurants1.

Regardless, the restaurant list is intriguing. Either Google is attempting to create a master list of restaurants for world wide use (as opposed to just the US) or they have broader plans for the list in existing or new restaurant related products.

Hopefully the tool will continue to be useful to you. Please visit the newly updated Google Places for Business Category Tool and let me know what works and what doesn’t in the tool and how you are using it.

 

Google Maps 1.1 for iPhone Not Well Received

reviews-onlyEarly last month, Google released a 1.1 upgrade to their iPhone mapping product that was faster, integrated Google contacts and included more countries. Apparently though the upgrade has not gone over well with users as the bad reviews seem to be flowing into the App store at a significant clip.

Since its release 5 weeks ago there have been 1,179 reviews of which a great many were negative. The initial release was greeted with instant savior status and 10’s of thousands of positive reviews. Complaints about the new version included high levels of data usage, increased difficulty of use, screen dimming issues, directions failures and usability problems.

There is more than a little irony in this. I suppose that there is some possibility of a review smear campaign, although that seems unlikely, it does point out how hard mapping is. Even when you are Google.

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Developing Knowledge about Local Search