Consumer Alert: Experts warn of poisoned links on search engines

Cyber criminals target Google, other search engines to plant viruses

By Allison McGinley - News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. - Computer crooks have found a way to target us on search engines and since we can google anything from anywhere, it's time to be aware of what cyber criminals are up to now.

Jim McGrath says his computer was recently held for ransom. While he was searching online, his PC froze and then a warning popped up demanding he pay $60 for a program to get rid of a virus.

"I felt I was being scammed into buying a virus program that I didn't need because I already had virus programs and I couldn't even run a scan on my own virus program," said McGrath.

Experts say McGrath was hit by the new "ransom-ware" scheme, and it's just one way you could be attacked.

Cyber crooks have figured out how to manipulate search engines so their "poisonous" web links pop up in your results. Click on that malicious link and malware or viruses invade. Users will be infected and won't even know it.

Blue coat computer security's analysis found "search engine poisoning" attacks mounting.

In fact, we are now three times more likely to get a tainted link from a search engine than from an email.

"People do trust the search engines and they are predisposed to click on whatever they see in the results, and because they're not aware it could be dangerous this turns out to be a very effective attack for the bad guys," said Chris Larsen of Blue Coat Computer Security.

Blue coat found bad guys usually try to lure you in when you search common topics like health and medical information, samples of business letters          and seasonal searches, like holiday recipes, decorations or costume ideas.

Local 6 contacted some of the major search engines:

  • Google told us they have "built and refined tools over many years to keep malicious content out of our search results."
  • Bing says they are "actively working on new filtering techniques for image searches where the majority of these malicious links were found."

Like many of us, McGrath isn't sure what he clicked on to launch the ransom ware.

While he removed the software from his PC, he wonders if it's still lurking behind the scenes.

"I worry that they still may have access to my computer," said McGrath.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid poisoned links:

  • Look at web site address endings:  "dot-com's" and "dot-net's" are usually safe.
  • But if it ends in something you've never heard of, like "dot cx" or "dot tf" you may want to avoid those.
  • And if the text under the link looks garbled don't click on it.


Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.