It’s 2018, and you can still end up with your computer compromised by searching for the world’s most popular browser.
That fact was brought home once again by Twitter user Gabriel Landau who, immediately upon firing up his brand new Windows 10 laptop and trying to download Google Chrome, was directed instead by Bing (the default search engine used by Windows 10’s default Microsoft Edge browser) to a bogus website.
Landau discovered that Bing was displaying a promoted search result to users who searched for the phrase “download Chrome” that linked to a non-official site (googleonline2018[dot]com).
If he hadn’t had his wits about him, Landau might easily have fallen for the scam and downloaded malicious code from the unauthorised site.
That’s all the more likely because – in the Bing promoted search engine result – the domain was listed as google.com, but actually took anyone who clicked to the dangerous link at the different domain instead.
In a tweet Gabriel Landau posted a short video of his experience:
Brand new Win10 laptop. Attempt to install Chrome. Almost get owned with my very first action. Why is this still happening in 2018, @bing? Please explain. pic.twitter.com/uYJhu7xa9H
— Gabriel Landau (@GabrielLandau) October 25, 2018
In the video Landau takes the step of downloading the bogus Chrome installer (not something I would recommend to typical users!) and determines that it has been signed by a company named “Alpha Criteria” rather than Microsoft.
Microsoft responded to Landau, saying that it has removed the offending Bing ads and banned the associated account. It has also pointed to a webpage where “low quality” ads (such as malvertising) can be reported by users.
That doesn’t, of course, explain how the ad in the Bing search results was able to claim it would take users to the genuine google.com domain.
But worse still, it doesn’t explain why the problem didn’t get fixed six months ago, when Bleeping Computer reported the same trick being used!
Back in April, Lawrence Abrams of Bleeping Computer described how using Bing to search for ‘chrome download’ resulted in an ad being displayed which appeared to direct users to the official Chrome download page at the google.com domain but actually took them to googlechrome2018[dot]net.
On that occasion, Microsoft responded within 24 hours by removing the ad.
But the problem is – this keeps happening. Microsoft removing dodgy ads from its Bing search results is all very well, but it isn’t stopping them from appearing.
Microsoft needs to more to prevent these misleading and malicious ads from appearing in search results in the first place.
All we can hope is that Microsoft Bing will now take the problem more seriously – and do a better job of policing its Bing search results ads in future. That, of course, should include verifying that the URLs displayed in the results match where users will actually be taken.
Landau has asked Microsoft’s Bing team what steps it is taking to prevent ads being listed with misleading URLs, but so far has received no response.
And as for googleonline2018[dot]com? Thankfully, most browsers are now blocking access to the URL and warning visitors of the danger.
But, of course, there’s nothing to stop scammers, confidence tricksters, and other online criminals from creating other domains that they might try to dupe users into visiting.