Hackers are using Google Alerts to help spread malware

Fake news gives rise to fake alerts that install phony Adobe Flash updates

Hackers have managed to subvert a Google service into tricking unsuspecting users into installing malware.

Cyber criminals have targeted the Google Alerts service, which they have used to push fake updates to the now-defunct Adobe Flash Player. According to reports, hackers have created fake news stories with titles containing popular keywords that Google’s search engine then indexes. When this happens, Google Alerts pushes out notifications to people who follow these keywords.

Since these “stories” come via Google Alerts, hackers hope victims will think the alert is legitimate and will click on the fake story. Doing so leads victims to a malicious site that pushes browser notification spam, unwanted extensions, or fake giveaways.

The latest attack redirects users to a page that states the user’s Flash Player is outdated and needs to be updated. Adobe no longer supports or updates Flash Player, but many victims may not realize this and click on the update button. Microsoft killed Adobe Flash support in its web browsers last January, around the same time as Google, Apple, and Mozilla.

If the victim accepts the update, the page downloads a file that installs a potentially unwanted program called One Updater. This in itself offers to install other potentially unwanted programs. 

Google Alerts users have been advised that if they’re redirected to such websites and are prompted to install an extension or program update to close the browser window immediately.

Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, told IT Pro that by manipulating Google Alerts, cyber criminals are finding ingenious ways to get into users' inboxes, as email gateways and spam filters won’t block alerts. 

"Once in the user's inbox, there is a high likelihood that users will click on the link because the alerts are something they expect and trust,” he said.

“It's why users should keep their guard up even with trusted or expected links and if they end up on a page where there are unwanted pop-ups or downloads, they should immediately close the browser window and alert their IT security team to ensure no malicious software has been downloaded."

Featured Resources

The ultimate law enforcement agency guide to going mobile

Best practices for implementing a mobile device program

Free download

The business value of Red Hat OpenShift

Platform cost savings, ROI, and the challenges and opportunities of Red Hat OpenShift

Free download

Managing security and risk across the IT supply chain: A practical approach

Best practices for IT supply chain security

Free download

Digital remote monitoring and dispatch services’ impact on edge computing and data centres

Seven trends redefining remote monitoring and field service dispatch service requirements

Free download

Recommended

Microsoft touts new cyber security help for nonprofits
cyber security

Microsoft touts new cyber security help for nonprofits

22 Oct 2021
A quarter of all malicious JavaScript is obfuscated
hacking

A quarter of all malicious JavaScript is obfuscated

20 Oct 2021
Organizations warned of ransomware risk from smaller operators
ransomware

Organizations warned of ransomware risk from smaller operators

19 Oct 2021
Iranian hacking group continues to target US citizens
hacking

Iranian hacking group continues to target US citizens

18 Oct 2021

Most Popular

Alibaba unveils custom Arm-based server chip
components

Alibaba unveils custom Arm-based server chip

19 Oct 2021
Windows 11 has problems with Oracle VirtualBox
Microsoft Windows

Windows 11 has problems with Oracle VirtualBox

5 Oct 2021
What is cyber warfare?
Security

What is cyber warfare?

15 Oct 2021