At least two new pieces of surreptitiously installed software can hijack the most popular search engine, placing ads amid legitimate Google search results on infected PCs, a computer security company recently revealed.
"It uses your search term and then replaces the Google results with their own results," said Paul Piccard, director of threat research at Webroot Software Inc., an anti-spyware software company in Boulder, Colo. The search results look "just like Google. You’d never know it’s not Google."
Google, which has become popular by providing relevant search results and clearly identifying ads, recognizes the potential pitfalls. In its annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year, the company said "hijacking queries to Google.com, altering or replacing Google search results, or otherwise interfering with our ability to connect with our users" could harm Google and reduce traffic to its site.
A Google spokeswoman had no comment regarding these particular hijackers, but said users should read the site’s "help" area, under a section titled "unexpected results," to avoid becoming infected with such adware – unwelcome advertising software installed on PCs.
The hijacking programs, named by computer security companies as 2search and premiumsearch.net, place ads in the primary search listings of the Google screen, instead of on the advertising section areas labeled "sponsored links."