Not even Google is immune to brand hijacking. A message containing text promoting a drug that prevents hair loss and links to a blog on a popular free blogging site bares Google, but according to Symantec's MessageLabs Intelligence business unit, the campaign is a scam.
Those following the link are directed to the spammer's blog containing content and links to a pharmaceutical site.
An image contains the Google logo with the two "o" letters replaced by differently shaped tablets. MessageLabs calls the logo a "realistic technique given Google's famous 'doodles.'"
Paul Wood, MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst at Symantec, told MediaPost it's the first time the online security company has seen Google's brand hijacked to promote online pharmacy sites. "We aren't sure exactly who is behind it, but from its scale most likely a major botnet," he says.
A Google spokesperson responded by saying the company has a track record of fighting similar types of scams, and also recommends users carefully review online offers that look too good to be true before entering any of their information.
Nick Johnston, senior software engineer at Symantec, points to the text below the logo that incorrectly claims Google launched a "pharmaceutical interface," followed by more text and blue underlined text that appears similar to a link. The latest image is not hosted on the blogging platform, but rather a Russian site.
The file name claims that the image is a GIF file, yet it is actually a JPEG file, and the link ("vriagrav - make sesxx" [sic]) points to the spammer's pharmaceutical site. "This is obvious brand hijacking: Google does not host or approve any pharmacy sites," Johnston wrote.
In the past two days, MessageLabs has blocked about 250 similar spam-created blogs, according to Johnston. Google in February 2010 disclosed in a blog post that it would enforce tougher standards on advertisements from online pharmacies. It would restrict Google AdWords ads only from online pharmacy sites in the U.S. accredited by the National Association Boards of Pharmacy VIPPS program, and from online pharmacies in Canada that are accredited by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA).