Thursday 10 April 2008

Is Phorm a serious threat to search engines?

It occurred to me this evening that given the nature of Deep Packet Inspection it would be a trivial task for Phorm to configure their Layer 7 hardware in such a way that creates a significant threat to search engines.

The technology has the ability to alter the information in the traffic data and so through the use of some fairly trivial regular expressions, the technology could be used to alter search results on their way back to the user. They could potentially insert their OIX partners directly into the top of the search results.

Moreover it would be incredibly difficult to detect (if even possible) that this is happening given the pseudo random manner in which search results are returned by the search engine; at best it would very difficult to detect and even more difficult to prove.

This could have a direct impact on the business models of many search engines including Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft Live Search who are competing in exactly the same markets as Phorm and OIX.

To this end I have emailed Tom Coates at Yahoo! expressing my concerns and have also talked to a close friend who works for Google. I will be talking to another friend who works in Redmond for MS over the next couple of days.

If the major search engines take a consolidated stance on this issue and all implement SSL versions of their search pages; it would go a long way in preventing Phorm building revenue from work which is in essence being done by the search engines.

It is Google's assets which process the search results (at great cost) for Google search pages so why should a company like Phorm be permitted to read and possibly alter the traffic data on the way back to the end users in order to make a profit?

Alexander Hanff

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Tuesday 8 April 2008


My apologies for not posting to this blog for some time. I have been very busy on other web site forums, blogs etc. fighting this issue and am currently in the process of writing my dissertation (which is on Phorm) so I have had precious little time.

I will hopefully have a chance to add some more information to this blog this weekend.

If anyone would like to discuss this issue you can find me on the following url:

Alexander Hanff