Google vs. Gumblar: Search Engine Abused in New Round of Stealthy Attacks

A wave of Website compromises is infecting users with malware that redirects Google search results to malicious pages. The malware, which so far is targeting users of Internet Explorer, also steals FTP credentials and installs a backdoor.

A multipronged attack targeting users of Internet Explorer is poisoning Google search results and redirecting users to compromised pages.

According to ScanSafe, the stealthy malware is hitting computers via drive-by attacks leveraging PDF and Adobe Flash exploits. Once installed, the malware attempts to swipe FTP credentials from the computer and creates a backdoor on the system. As a final move, it launches a man-in-the-browser attack in order to tamper with and replace legitimate Google search results with links leading to compromised pages.

ScanSafe refers to the Website compromises as Gumblar attacks after, the malware domain involved in the attacks. Already more than 1,500 Web sites have been attacked, including, and

"The stolen FTP credentials are then used to further compromise any Websites owned or operated by the victim," Mary Landesman, senior security researcher at ScanSafe, told eWEEK. "As a result, there is exponential growth of these compromises-as more victims are infected by encountering a compromised site, the number of compromised sites also increases and thus more visitors are exposed."

Google began delisting the malicious sites appearing in search engine results when the attacks were first discovered in March. The attackers responded by replacing the suspect IP address with another IP address, allowing compromised sites to once again be listed by search engines. Both the injection and the redirection occur locally on the compromised computer and not on the search engine itself.

"The cyber-criminals responsible for Gumblar have learned to morph its features quickly," Landesman wrote in a blog post. "This, coupled with Gumblar's other dynamic characteristics, is allowing the compromise to disseminate more rapidly than others we've seen."

So far, the malware has been targeting Internet Explorer. As a result of the hackers' tactics, the compromises are increasing-up 188 percent from the week of May 4 and 61 percent from May 13, according to ScanSafe. Overall, Web malware increased 300 percent throughout 2008, with another 19 percent increase in the first quarter of 2009.

Users are advised to make sure their patches from Adobe Systems are up-to-date.