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  • Writer's pictureChenyun Chu

Google Flights vs. Google Ad: The Battle of Ad Squatting Attacks

In an age where digital advertising is paramount, Google Ad Squatting emerges as a sophisticated cyber threat. It's a practice where attackers exploit Google Ads to mimic established brands, misleading users into visiting malicious websites. This tactic not only undermines user trust but also poses significant risks to businesses. Understanding and combating Google Ad Squatting is crucial in safeguarding digital interactions and maintaining online integrity.


Understanding the Threat: Attackers performing Google Ad Squatting cleverly create deceptive advertisements that appear legitimate. They typically bid on keywords linked to specific brand or service names of the organizations to be attacked, ensuring their false ads appear prominently in search results. When clicked, these ads redirect users to phishing sites or platforms loaded with malware.


Google vs. Google: A notable instance of this involved attackers using "Google Flights" in their ad squatting campaign. The attackers created ads that appeared legitimate, redirecting users to a malicious site when they searched for Google's own flight service. The below video illustrates this attack revealed the sophistication and convincing nature of such schemes, demonstrating how easily users can be deceived.



Note: The link of the Google Flights Ad points to monkfish-app... hosted in DigitialOcean, instead of the official https://www.google.com/travel/flights.


Google Ad Squatting and Domain Squatting: Google Ad Squatting marks a departure from traditional Domain Squatting, where cybercriminals register domains resembling well-known brands to exploit user typos for phishing. With Domain Squatting increasingly being countered with improved proactive monitoring, Google Ad Squatting attacks surged. Recent cases include fraudulent Cisco Webex ads and the Royal ransomware group’s Google Ads campaigns.


Mitigation Strategies:

Effective strategies against Google Ad Squatting involve a combination of vigilant brand monitoring, consumer education, and technological solutions.


  • Brand Monitoring: Regular internet monitoring for unauthorized use of brand names in ads.

  • Consumer Education: Raising awareness among customers about identifying suspicious ads.

  • Collaborating with Google: Reporting fraudulent ads for quick removal.


C2SEC's Extended Security Posture Management platform features a dedicated module to monitor and detect potential Google Ad Squatting attacks. This proactive approach is crucial for businesses to safeguard their online service presence such as online banking. Additionally, C2SEC offers services to represent clients in taking down malicious ads, providing an extra layer of defense against this subtle yet dangerous threat.


Conclusion: Google Ad Squatting presents a growing challenge in the realm of cybersecurity. Constant vigilance and innovative solutions like C2SEC's XSPM platform are vital in this ongoing battle. By combining technology, awareness, and proactive measures, we can significantly reduce the impact of these deceptive practices and create a safer digital ecosystem.

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