Google bug bounty for security exploit that influences search results

Short version:

For the $12 cost of a domain, I was able to rank in Google search results with Amazon, Walmart etc. for high value money terms in the US. The Adwords bid price for some these terms is currently around $1 per click, and companies are spendings 10s of thousands of dollars a month to appear as ads on these search results, and I was appearing for free.

Google have now fixed the issue and awarded a bug bounty of $5000.

Google provides an open URL where you can ‘ping’ an XML sitemap which they will fetch and parse – this file can contain indexation directives. I discovered that for many sites it is possible to ping a sitemap that you (the attacker) are hosting in such a way that Google will trust the evil sitemap as belonging to the victim site.

I believe this is the first time they have awarded a bounty for a security issue in the actual search engine, which directly affects the ranking of sites.

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Googlebot’s Javascript random() function is deterministic

I was conducting some experiments on how Googlebot parses and renders Javascript, and I came across a couple of interesting things about the way it does so. The first is that Googlebot’s Math.random() function produces an entirely deterministic series. I created a small script which uses this identify Google in an obfuscated fashion:

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How to confirm a Google user’s specific email address (Bug Bounty Submission)

I recently reported an issue to Google, which allows an attacker to confirm whether a visitor to a web page is logged in to any one of a list of specific Google accounts (including GSuite accounts). It is possible to check about 1000 email addresses every 25 seconds. Google have confirmed this as working as intended, and not considered a bug.

You can test it out yourself on this demo page.

Firstly, a video of a proof of concept, where I identify an account (myself) against a list of 20 accounts:

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Googlebot now accepting Cookies

In the last couple of days Google announced that they were going to start executing javascript on most pages they visit and thus rendering pages far more akin to how our browsers do it. It was inevitable they’d need to do this, so it is a welcome update.

Then today, they announced an updated tool in Webmaster Tools that extends the previous “Fetch as Googlebot” feature with an additional option which enables this new javascript capabilities and returns you a screenshot of the rendered page. Very cool!

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Google Exploit – Steal Account Login Email Addresses

tl;dr I found a bug that allowed me to find anyone with a Google+ account’s login email address (even if they chose not to share it). This could be used to target specific people or just crawl Google+ collecting emails, and tying them easily to other social accounts as step one of something nefarious (e.g spear phishing, or other account compromise). This has now been fixed by Google’s security ninjas.

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Machine Learning for SEOs (on Moz)

Since the Panda and Penguin updates, the SEO community has been talking more and more about machine learning, and yet often the term still isn’t well understood. We know that it is the “magic” behind Panda and Penguin, but how does it work? Why didn’t they use it earlier? What does it have to do with the periodic “data refreshes” we see for both of these algorithms? I think that machine learning is going to be playing a bigger and bigger role in SEO, and so I think it is important that we have a basic understanding of how it works.