KnujOn and LegitScript teamed up for the report, which also found some Bing ads for legitimate online U.S. pharmacies that had been hijacked to redirect users to a phony pharmacy's site.
The report also says some of the pharmacies have links to Russian and Eastern European organized crime syndicates, which it says run thousands of phony Internet pharmacies, including Glavmed, 33Drugs, gold-rx, and Rx-Commission. Illegal pharmacies advertise everything from male enhancement drugs to addictive pain medications and sleep remedies like Ambien, but many of the pills these phony sites sell are counterfeit, according to the report.
Microsoft declined to comment on the report.
But this is not just a Bing problem, the authors of the report say. They plan to also examine other search engines to look for the same abuse. "We want to cover all of the search engines," says Garth Bruen, creator of KnujOn.
"The most striking factor is these people are paying for marketing. They're not just hacking and sending spam and using 'free services.' They are actually investing in their products, and that tells me they are making lots of money," Bruen says.
Though the report (PDF) and research focused on fake pharmacies, such search engine abuse is occurring in other industries, as well, Bruen says. "When I search for 'Discover Card' on Google, the first three pages are all fake banks and phishing sites. And Discover Card had to pay for a static search ad at the top of the engine. All the organic searches were for phishing sites."
According to the report, Internet pharmacy dailymedrx.com's advertisement on Bing doesn't go to dailymedrx.com, but instead to store.k2med.com, a rogue pharmacy that doesn't require a prescription for Viagra or other prescription drugs.
LegitScript first began studying Bing's sponsored search results for pharmacies in early 2008.
Bruen says search engine providers, such as Microsoft, need to better enforce verification of URLs, as well as whether pharmacies purchasing paid ads are licensed.
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