Dangerous side of search engines

Search engines may lead you to a risky site

Be careful what you search for, you may end up at a risky site loaded with adware or spyware, according to researchers at McAfee.

Searches for peer-to-peer file sharing clients and digital music on major search engines have a good chance of delivering you to a questionable Web site serving up spyware, adware, and spam instead of the latest from Coldplay, according to a study released today by McAfee called "The State of Search Engine Safety".

The study conducted by McAfee's SiteAdvisor division revealed search categories such as "digital music", "tech toys", and "to do online" produced between 35 to 50 per cent "risky" sites on average when using search engines owned by Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL.

Overall, 4 per cent of all search results link to risky Web sites. The good news is search engines have gotten safer compared to data from last year when McAfee found 5 per cent of sites linked to questionable Web sites.

According to the results of the study, the top four most dangerous searches on Google are:

1. bearshare: yielding 46 per cent "dangerous" links

2. limewire: yielding 37 per cent "dangerous" links

3. Kazaa: yielding 35 per cent "dangerous" links

4. winmx: yielding 32 per cent "dangerous" links

The study defined dangerous sites as those that have one or a combination of the following characteristics: its downloads contain spyware and/or adware; its pages contain embedded code that performs browser exploits; the content is meant to deceive visitors in some way; it sends out inordinate amounts of spam to e-mail accounts registered at the site.

McAfee's SiteAdvisor browser toolbar identifies risky sites by flagging them (should you visit one) with a "red" warning or a "yellow" cautionary label that appears in your browser. You can download a free version of the McAfee SiteAdvisor toolbar here.

Also at risk are sponsored ads which show up alongside search results. According to the study, these links have even a greater chance of linking to risky sites. McAfee says 7 per cent of such link to suspect sites (down from 8.5 per cent in 2006).

For its part, Google has made efforts to remove risky ads from its Google Sponsored Links.

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