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While computer security researchers have seen small-scale attempts to subvert search results before now, the sheer scale of this attack dwarfed all others.
"This was fairly epic," said Alex Eckelberry, head of Sunbelt Software - one of the firms that uncovered the attack.
Mr Eckelberry said tens of thousands of domains, many based in China and only a couple of days old, were used in the vanguard of the attack.
Websites loaded on these domains were booby-trapped with malicious software that looked for vulnerabilities in copies of Microsoft's Internet Explorer used to browse them.