Read this before clicking on the first search result.
Earlier this week, while I was recuperating from CES 2023, a reputable PC subreddit posted a warning for AMD graphics card owners regarding a malicious website that appears as the top search result for “AMD drivers” on Google and Bing.
Notably, the link circumvents Google’s algorithm; it is not the top search result, but rather a sponsored advertisement that appears above the results. Many AMD Radeon owners could have been duped into downloading the malicious, fraudulent drivers due to the deceptive labeling employed by the cyber criminals.
If you’ve been tricked by these text-based advertisements, don’t feel bad; they’ve been around forever and are quite devious, using subtle labels and styles that can fool anyone, especially if you’re busy and a bit distracted.
Another terrifyingly brilliant aspect of these hackers is that they do not always use this method; rather, they only release these occasionally. It is a shady tactic to find ways to sneak malicious software onto your computer. To gain access to your data, hackers will use text-based ads to trick you into clicking and downloading their malware.
What will Google do?
Sadly, the answer is probably nothing, as Google has been aware of this issue for years but has left it to consumers to police the situation by reporting malicious ads.
This particular poison ad was eliminated, however, as a result of countless Reddit users sharing it and reporting it to Google. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s Bing search engine still displayed the bogus AMD driver advertisement. Microsoft, this is not a good look.
It appears that this issue will persist in part because of how much money search giants make from advertising and sponsored links. Users are responsible for policing search results, a dirty job to be sure, but we must remain vigilant because the web is our community and we are all a part of it.
Here are a few safety precautions you can take
- Always verify the link’s address before clicking. Always verify that you are visiting an official website. If you cannot see the full URL, move your mouse and cursor over the text link, and the full URL will appear in the bottom left corner of your screen without visiting the site.
- Take the time to scroll down the results list. Text advertisements from reputable companies will appear as normal search results, typically within the top five.
- Do not click on sponsored or advertising results. You won’t fall victim to malicious fake advertisements if you remember to avoid clicking on them, especially the first results. Always verify the URL first.
- Report any malicious links you encounter. Take the time to report fake ads to Google, and understand that you may have to do so multiple times before the offending ad is removed. Obtaining cooperation from others will expedite the completion of tasks.
- Remember to be cautious when browsing the Internet and to take additional precautions before clicking search results. Hackers are continuously enhancing their techniques and cons. All that hackers seek is your information, be it financial or personal. A few extra seconds spent verifying a URL could save you a ton of money.
In the interim, I would investigate our top antivirus applications of 2023. safer is better than sorry.