NEWS FROM THE LAB - Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Are you monitoring your business's Google Place? Posted by Sean @ 10:48 GMT

Running a small business can be a difficult job (particularly in today's economic climate). Competition can be very cut-throat… and dirty tricks are sometimes played by the unethical.

For example: In 2003, Saad Echouafni, owner of Orbit Communications (a satellite television reseller), paid for an Ohio botmaster (Richard Roby) to DDoS the websites of two competitors. In 2005, Roby, the botmaster, was convicted of computer crimes in US federal court. Investigation into Roby's crimes revealed a link to Echouafni and a co-conspirator (Paul Ashley) who also pleaded guilty to related crimes in 2005. Echouafni paid bail and fled US jurisdiction.

Reportedly, at the height of the DDoS attacks, Rapid Satellite and WeaKnees were offline for two weeks. It's quite an interesting tale and you can read more here: Feds bust DDoS 'Mafia', by Kevin Poulsen.

Wow, a DDoS Mafia, circa 2003. But what's the situation in 2011?

Well — it's a lot simpler. It's also more "social". And it isn't just about online business anymore.

Today, if you want to hurt a real-world competitor, they don't even need to have a website, you can just take them off the map.

Google Maps, that is.

F-Secure, Google Maps

Monday's New York Times has an interesting article on a trending issue: fraudulent "problem reporting" of Google Places.

It seems that numerous small business owners are discovering their businesses are "permanently closed".

And how does that happen?

Well, here's F-Secure's place on Google:

F-Secure, Google Places

Under the "more" menu is an option to "Report a problem".

One of the problems that can be reported is that the "Place is permanently closed."

Google Places, Report a Problem

A couple of submissions will cause the place to be "reported" as closed, but it doesn't take long before Google labels the place as "permanently closed". At that point, some business owners are finding it difficult to "re-open" their business.

And if you don't exist on Google, you might has well not exist in real life.

According to the New York Time's article, Macadamia Meadows Farm, a bed-and-breakfast in Naalehu, Hawaii suffered a significant decline in business for weeks before the owners discovered their change of status on Google.

Now that's a subtle (and ingenious) "denial of service" attack.

Google is apparently working to provide better tools and preventions (e-mail alerts), especially so after blogger Mike Blumenthal and a friend closed Google's HQ on August 15th.

In the meantime, if you haven't examined the details of your business's Google place, you might want to do so now. Google Maps is a very popular way for people to search for new businesses, especially via their mobile devices.

You don't want your business labeled as "closed" and end up losing out on potential new customers.