Google adds hacked site alerts to search results

Google is introducing a feature in search results to clearly identify potentially malicious sites and help users avoid them.

One of the easiest ways for attackers to lure victims is by planting malware on seemingly innocent-looking Web sites, or actually compromising legitimate Web sites. Google is doing its part to help users make informed decisions about the sites they visit, and avoid having their PCs infected with a new hacked site identification feature being added to Google search results.

Granted, time-tested favorites like simply e-mailing malicious file attachments are still quite effective despite years of security awareness and conditioning to train users not to open them. But, the Web is vast and anonymous -- and with millions upon millions of sites to choose from it is virtually impossible for the average user to tell which are safe, and which are shady.

Traditional malware targets users by attempting to actively spread to the PC. Socially-engineered malware, however, tricks the user into initiating the request for the malware -- either by visiting a Web site with an embedded malicious script, or by luring the user into actually executing the malicious file. Rogue anti-malware products, and the rise of rogue system maintenance and defrag tools are examples of socially-engineered attacks aimed at snaring naïve users.

Browser vendors recognize the rise in Web-based malware and most have introduced features into the browser itself to identify potentially malicious sites as well. A Google spokesperson commented via e-mail to say, "Google Chrome was built with security in mind from the beginning and emphasizes protection of users from drive-by downloads and plug-in vulnerabilities -- for example, we recently introduced a new security sandbox for Flash Player."

But, browsers aside, it is good to have extra layers of security as well. Attackers are exceedingly adept at SEO (search engine optimization) and gaming search engines like Google to gain prime search result placement. Users, on the other hand, are conditioned to believe that the top search results are the best search results -- or at least the most credible and relevant. Without a means of identifying potentially malicious sites within the search results, duping users into clicking on them is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Gideon Wald, associate product manager for Google, explains in a blog post, "We use a variety of automated tools to detect common signs of a hacked site as quickly as possible. When we detect something suspicious, we'll add the notification to our search results," adding "We'll also do our best to contact the site's webmaster via their Webmaster Tools account and any contact email addresses we can find on the Web page."

With the new Google security feature, sites that are suspected to contain malware or be a part of a phishing attack are clearly identified, along with a link stating "This site may be compromised." Clicking on the "This site may be compromised" link directs you to the Google Help Center which explains what that means.

Ultimately the choice is still yours, though, and clicking the link itself will take you to the intended destination Web site -- malicious or not.

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Tags online securityspamantispamGooglebrowser securityvirusessecurityphishingmalware

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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