Friday, July 22, 2011

Valuable Feature: Google Using Data to Protect Online Users from Malware

Originally posted on Google Online Security Blog

The Internet brings remarkable benefits to society. Unfortunately, some people use it for harm and their own gain at the expense of others. We believe in the power of the web and information, and we work every day to detect potential abuse of our services and ward off attacks.

As we work to protect our users and their information, we sometimes discover unusual patterns of activity. Recently, we found some unusual search traffic while performing routine maintenance on one of our data centers. After collaborating with security engineers at several companies that were sending this modified traffic, we determined that the computers exhibiting this behavior were infected with a particular strain of malicious software, or “malware.” As a result of this discovery, today some people will see a prominent notification at the top of their Google web search results:

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This particular malware causes infected computers to send traffic to Google through a small number of intermediary servers called “proxies.” We hope that by taking steps to notify users whose traffic is coming through these proxies, we can help them update their antivirus software and remove the infections.

We hope to use the knowledge we’ve gathered to assist as many people as possible. In case our notice doesn’t reach everyone directly, you can run a system scan on your computer yourself by following the steps in our Help Center article.

More Notes from Google:
  • The malware appears to have gotten onto users' computers from one of roughly a hundred variants of fake antivirus, or "fake AV" software that has been in circulation for a while. We aren't aware of a common name for the malware.
  • We believe a couple million machines are affected by this malware.
  • We've heard from a number of you that you're thinking about the potential for an attacker to copy our notice and attempt to point users to a dangerous site instead. It's a good security practice to be cautious about the links you click, so the spirit of those comments is spot-on. We thought about this, too, which is why the notice appears only at the top of our search results page. Falsifying the message on this page would require prior compromise of that computer, so the notice is not a risk to additional users.
  • In the meantime, we've been able to successfully warn hundreds of thousands of users that their computer is infected. These are people who otherwise may never have known.