Denial-of-insight attacks could cripple enterprise search

Denial-of-insight attacks could cripple enterprise search

Firms will need defences against a new type of online threat

Online firms and search vendors face a new form of attack which could cripple their ability to gain meaningful data from analysing search results, according to Whit Andrews, research vice-president at analyst firm Gartner,

So-called "denial-of-insight" attacks are similar in nature to denial-of-service attacks. They involve a coordinated effort to pollute particular data streams by flooding them with a large number of meaningless words, or words and phrases captured from a retailer's site that appear plausible.

Organisations have placed more and more value on the analysis of search results to understand the needs and interests of their customers, and this is likely to be exploited by criminals and others intent on extortion or vandalism, said Andrews.

"Search streams - the logs in which the contents of users' search requests are recorded - are a wealth of data about what people want and how they express their desires," Andrews wrote. "The owner of such a search stream possesses a powerful asset, once user attributes may be calculated to determine how they relate to the target market."

Andrews said denial-of-insight attacks could be a problem for companies as early as next Christmas. "As time passes we will see the introduction of scripts and bots which will make [the attacks] easier to carry out and [therefore attract] people who are financially motivated," Andrews added. "The most firms can do [to mitigate this risk] is to know as much about their search data as possible, then they can ignore searches from suspect locations [or times]."

If they suspect an attack, enterprises should ask for analysis and reports of search results from their search vendor. But as the attacks become more sophisticated - and geographically and temporally dispersed - it will become increasingly hard to decide which data can be trusted, Andrews predicted.