Why Can't Google Stop Malware Ads on Adwords?
There has recently been an unfettered flow of advertising for malicious software on Google's AdWords networks. How come Google can't stop the malware?People make much of technical matters in security, but the most important force behind malware is social engineering, not some vulnerability or bad design. The current hot malware is a textbook case of social engineering and an aggressive marketing campaign. You must have seen them by now: ads for "Antivirus XP 2008" or some variant of that name. In fact, here are some of the newer names used for essentially the same attack. The program is not malicious in most conventional senses: It doesn't spread itself to other systems surreptitiously, it doesn't steal passwords or anything like that. Instead it claims to be a security program. It performs a fake scan of the system and then claims to find numerous threats which the user can remove by buying a full license to the product (for $49.95).
I've seen spam pushing it. A series of hijacks of ad networks late in 2007 looks like it was the same malware or a variant of it. The most popular way to distribute it these days, I'm told by Sunbelt Software, is through affiliate-based malware sites. On such sites the user clicks to download something, like a codec for a video, and gets a variety of malware, including this one.
We've set up a number of automated systems to scour our index for potentially dangerous sites, and we add a label to those that appear to be a vehicle for malware. If you're searching on Google and click on a link that we've flagged, a warning page will appear in search results before you move forward. We flag sites that serve malware directly or that contain ads carrying malicious content. Some of the URLs we add to the blacklist are ads. It's important to note that not all browsers check all the resources on a page, such as ads, against the malware blacklist we provide. As always, we are constantly working to increase our coverage of malicious content on the Web.Some time ago I remember quite a bit of controversy over whether users could discern the difference between paid ads and "organic" links in a Google page. I'm sure there are still plenty of people who can't tell the difference, and for those who can some number of them probably assume that the fact that Google is putting up a "Sponsored Link" means that Google has done some sort of checking on it and is somehow vouching for it. This is, of course, completely untrue, just as the sites that host Google ad network advertisements have no responsibility for the Google ads on them. There's no good advice to give users here other than to be suspicious of Google ads just as they would of any potentially unfriendly link. And run a product or service, like LinkScanner, which checks browser links against a list of known bad ones. Yes, you can't even let your guard down on Google. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. For insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer's blog Cheap Hack.