The latest case occurred Wednesday when America Online's AOL Search and its technology partner Inktomi began displaying thousands of search results that linked to a Web site based in Russia.
Web spamming, a term used to describe how sites trump legitimate search results with their own pages, has been going on since the birth of search engines. But this time, Web spammers have found a savvier technique.
Spammers copy a Web page and embed metatags into its source code with instructions for a search engine's robots to revisit the duplicate every day but withhold from caching it. The result is effective: False Web pages disguised as legitimate sites appear high in a search engine's rankings.
"This is one way of spamming an engine," according to an Internet consultant who discovered his site was mirrored but did not want his name used. "It's actually brilliant."
AOL and Inktomi pulled the bogus results linking to the Russian site Wednesday and downplayed the attack, saying the number of results was minuscule compare to the billions of results served every day to Web users.
"This minor incident only affected a comparatively very small number of available Web sites off of AOL and on the Internet," AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said.
Beyond its immediate affect, the attack represents the next step in an evolution of the Web's greatest nuisance: spam. Internet users arewith junk e-mail, incessant unsolicited marketing pitches that flood people's in-boxes. In the same way, Web spam has become a tremendous headache for search engines that are constantly trying to provide people with the most relevant and unbiased results.
The battle has led to an arms race between spammers and search engines.
Several commercial software products have been developed to give sites the tools to boost their placement on search engines, such as FirstPlace Software's WebPosition Gold.
Up to their necks
Spam flood forces companies
to take desperate measures
In a sign that the problem is growing, Google in Aprilsome 100 Comcast customers, citing violations of terms of service banning automated queries on its database.
"The spammers out there are constantly trying to get into search engines," said Vishal Makhijani, general manager for Inktomi's Web search. "Cottage industries have been built to help content providers to try to draw you to their sites."