Flacks, This Is How to Google-Hack

Posted September 26, 2012 at 3:13pm

We, your intrepid HOH reporters, are not a motivated duo. Therefore, we have a certain grudging admiration for the mischief-makers of this world.

This morning we reported how the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health got Google-hacked by an enterprising and hilarious scoundrel.

Screenshot of the Google search result for the words "House Ways and Means Health."

HOH is now pleased and proud to report one way this might have been accomplished. 

When the Ways and Means hackers changed the text under the website link, they messed with the Google snippets.

The Google snippets are “page titles and descriptions” referencing the website directly above it. According to Google, the snippet is “completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the Web. The goal of the snippet and title is to best represent and describe each result and explain how it relates to the user’s query.”

When it is possible, Google tries to make the snippets as descriptive as possible to help users make sure the results are just what they always wanted. These descriptors are called “rich snippets.”

So far, so predictable.

At the same time, the enormous search engine enlists help from around the Internet to describe every website. It also gets help from DMOZ, the Open Directory Project, which is “the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors.” It is kind of like the Wikipedia of website snippets!

This leads us back to the Ways and Means troublemaker. It seems that someone, according to a tipster, probably exploited Google’s relationship with DMOZ.

Unfortunately for Ways and Means, Google warns users that they “can’t manually change titles or snippets for individual sites.”

To avoid problems, however, Google does suggest that website creators direct them not to use DMOZ. Oops.