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What is Pagejacking?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pagejacking is a technique used to siphon Internet traffic from intended websites to unintended sites, usually containing pornographic content. Once at the site, surfers might find it difficult to leave, as clicking the “back” button of the browser might only redirect them to new pornographic sites. Pagejacking is unlawful, under the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), falling under the purview of a deceptive practice that interferes with commerce.

To set up pagejacking, an unscrupulous vendor copies a popular webpage from a legitimate site along with its underlying HTML code. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and is what Web browsers process into the visual graphics we see when we visit sites. You can view the source code, or HTML of a webpage by right-clicking on a site and choosing “View Page Source” from the popup menu.

The source code of a webpage includes meta tags. Meta tags are keywords and key phrases that describe page content. Search engines use the meta tag section to classify and rate the page. High-rated webpages are presented first by search engines, making it easier for surfers to find good information fast.

Pagejackers steal the coding of a highly rated webpage to trick search engines into listing the copied page. The pagejacker then adds a small bit of code to the copied page, causing it to redirect surfers to a completely different website. For example, a surfer might enter “party supplies” in a search engine, and of the many returned links, the copied site will be one of them. Clicking on this seemingly legitimate link will reroute the surfer to the offending site.

Once pagejacked, it’s often difficult to leave the pornographic site. Clicking the “back,” “forward” or even “close” buttons might redirect the surfer to even more objectionable sites with windows popping open like fireworks. This is referred to as mousetrapping, commonly accomplished using JavaScript or other coding. Disabling JavaScript can prevent it in most cases, but JavaScript is also used to enhance legitimate websites, so many people prefer it enabled.

Traffic is the basis for revenue on the Internet and pagejacking increases traffic to websites through illegitimate means. With every click to leave, a redirect to another offending site boosts that site’s traffic statistics and earns the pagejacker a small revenue for funneling traffic. Pagejacking is also used to increase advertising revenue and can be utilized to boost the selling price of a domain by presenting bloated traffic statistics to the buyer.

If you find yourself pagejacked, manually enter a legitimate address in the URL (address) field of the browser, or click on a bookmark. Check for lingering open windows that might be behind the main window, or minimized to the task bar. If concerned about minors, consider a filtering program that will block pornography, preventing a browser from redirecting to offending sites. You can also report pagejacking to the FTC.

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