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Google says ‘bad actors’ evade policies after Mark Cuban blames web search for $900,000 crypto hack

Google says ‘bad actors’ evade policies after Mark Cuban blames web search for $900,000 crypto hack
People & Culture
Billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he found a fraudulent version of MetaMask during a Google search. Credit: Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock
  • Mark Cuban said he believes he downloaded a compromised version of MetaMask that he found in a Google search.
  • Ads that link to malicious websites have long plagued search engines and social media.
  • Google says the number of ads it removed in 2022 jumped more than 50%

The hack that cost billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban almost $900,000 in cryptocurrency spotlights an overlooked threat: malicious internet ads.

“I’m pretty sure I downloaded a version of MetaMask with some shit in it,” Cuban told DL News.

He said he found the fraudulent version of the popular cryptocurrency wallet during a Google search.

It’s not clear whether Cuban had indeed clicked on a malicious ad. But such ads are widespread, according to Google, security researchers, and consumer rights groups.

And Google says it’s facing a ramped up effort by scammers pretending to be popular brands.

“Bad actors often employ sophisticated measures to conceal their identities and evade our policies and enforcement,” Google spokesman Davis Thompson told DL News. “To combat this over the past few years, we’ve launched new certification policies, ramped up advertiser verification, and increased our capacity to detect and prevent coordinated scams.”

The problem has become so acute that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation recommends using an ad-blocker while browsing the web, saying that advertisements have been used to impersonate finance sites, “particularly cryptocurrency exchange platforms.”

DL News’ sister company DefiLlama was among the victims — pseudonymous DefiLlama developer 0xngmi said that the data tracker was impersonated by fraudulent ads that he reported to Google in August.

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Google told DL News this week that it has since removed those ads, “for violating our policy against malware,” Thompson said, adding that the company “took appropriate action against the accounts associated at that time.”

In 2022, Google removed more than 5.2 billion ads, according to its most recent Ads Safety Report. That was 2 billion more than it removed in 2021.

Of the 5.2 billion ads Google removed in 2022, 1.3 billion were flagged for “abusing the ad network,” a category that includes advertisements that link to sites containing malware.

“At the end of 2022 and into the new year, we faced a targeted campaign of scammers creating thousands of accounts to spread malware by impersonating popular software brands,” Google said in the report.

0xngmi told DL News that many had come to DefiLlama to say they fell for the scam, with some saying they lost as much as $10,000.

“Scammers change stuff up so it’s harder to detect them,” 0xngmi said. “One scammer for DefiLlama ran an ad that would randomly redirect you either to our real page or to a scam site.”