Searching the web can be dangerous

According to a new study conducted by Ben Edelman, reputable anti-spyware expert, and Hannah Rosenbaum, McAfee SiteAdvisor research analyst, searching the web can be dangerous. Search results, especially the sponsored ones, from popular search engines often contain links to spyware and malware sites.

During the study, the experts used almost 1,400 popular keywords to find out whether organic and sponsored search results can lead to malicious Internet resources. Those keywords have been entered into the most popular search engines – Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL and Ask.com. As it turned out, around 8.5 percent of sponsored results were actually links leading to web sites distributing malicious parasites, hosting drive-by exploits or gathering e-mail addresses for spam. About 3 percent of organic, not sponsored search results were considered harmful.

According to the study, the most dangerous search keywords include “free screensavers”, “bearshare”, “winmx”, “limewire”, “music download” and “kazaa”. For instance, the keyword “free screensavers” produces results, which 64 % are links pointing to malicious web sites. It is also interesting that specific keywords used searching for singers, bands and other celebrities also produce a lot of dangerous results.

The researchers found out that the safest results are produced by Microsoft’s MSN (3.9 percent of malicious links) and Yahoo! (4.3 percent), while the most dangerous are from Ask.com (6.1 % dangerous). Search results from Google and AOL are less harmful – only 5.3 %of them lead to dangerous web sites.

As you can see, searching the web sometimes can be very risky. As Ben Edelman and Hannah Rosenbaum write, “it’s a jungle out there”.

Users should be careful where they go and what they do when choosing sites based on search engine results. Despite search engines’ efforts, we see too many sites trying to deceive unsuspecting users. These tricky sites span a range of content areas, keywords, and business models – so there is no simple advice as to how to stay safe. Users can’t count on search engines to protect them; to the contrary, we find that search result rankings often do not reflect site safety. Users are at especially high risk when visiting search engine advertisers — even though search engines are well equipped to impose strict guidelines on sites buying prominent placement.


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