by CIO Staff

Search Engines Expose Users to Malware, Viruses

May 12, 20062 mins

Research slated for release on Friday by McAfee’s SiteAdvisor division suggests that the spread of various forms of malware and viruses is linked to search engine usage, The Wall Street Journal reports.

That conclusion is based on an analysis of thousands of search query results pages from the industry’s leading engines, and the research says those results often link to websites that could damage users’ computers or subject them to spam e-mails, according to the Journal. 

SiteAdvisor says that on average, approximately 5 percent of search results on the first five pages contain links to potentially dangerous sites, of which 3 percent are normal search results and 9 percent are paid ads, the Journal reports. SiteAdvisor found that 2 percent of the 3.3 million websites ranked in its database—representing 95 percent of all Internet traffic—could expose users to risk or unwanted mailings, according to the Journal.

As SiteAdvisor’s main business is to sell software that enables users to scan sites for potential dangers, it would make business sense for the company to exaggerate the research finding; however, it raises the issue of whether search engines should have to monitor their results pages for potentially risky sites.

Chris Dixon, head of the SiteAdvisor staff at McAfee, told the Journal, “The bad guys go where the users are, and the users are in search.”

Google says it doesn’t employ advertisements associated with malware or viruses, and it removes any it finds that link to risky sites, according to the Journal. Microsoft also says it offers tools and features to help consumers combat malware, and it is constantly improving the security measures on its MSN search site, the Journal reports.

SiteAdvisor says that on average, Web searchers will click on a potentially harmful link twice a month, according to the Journal.

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