ScanSafe tests search-engine protection tool

U.K.-based ScanSafe, which provides Internet and email scanning services, has begun publicly testing a tool designed to warn users when malicious links pop up in their search results.

The service, called Scandoo, arrives on the heels of a report by security giant McAfee which found search engines have become one of the most common ways for malware to spread.

Scandoo links into the infrastructure ScanSafe uses to vet content for corporate web users. The company analyses search results in real time, and displays a check, cross or question mark beside links, depending on the results of the scan. Passing a cursor over the mark displays more information about the link.

Currently, the beta works with Google, and ScanSafe plans to add support for MSN, Yahoo and Ask.com in the coming weeks. The company has a toolbar in the works.

The tool doesn't yet deal with what McAfee found to be the most pernicious source of malicious code, however -- sponsored search results. These form a huge part of the revenue for search engines such as Google, and McAfee found that they were two to four times more risky than unsponsored links.

The company said prominent results usually reflect a site's willingness to pay rather than its quality, relevance or safety, with search sites making millions every year from selling ads to untrustworthy sites.

McAfee's own SiteAdvisor is similar to Scandoo in concept, but relies on desktop software. Symantec is working on another variation on the theme.

Between January and April of this year, all engines surveyed by McAfee returned numerous sites that could be classified as "risky", with the risky site percentage reaching 72 percent of returned sites for apparently innocuous searches such as "free screensavers," "digital music," and "popular software".

MSN emerged as the best of the bunch with 3.9 percent of risky sites returned overall, with Google on 5.3 percent and Ask the worst at 6.1 percent.

McAfee's report claims U.S. consumers are now making 285 million clicks to hostile sites each month as a result of search engines alone, a figure which is an extrapolation of the estimated 5.7 billion searches made by the U.S. population over the same period.

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Matthew Broersma

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