McAfee identifies the most dangerous and safest Web Searches
Some of the riskiest searches on the Internet today are associated either with finding items for free, such as music or screensavers, or looking for work that can be done from home, according to Internet security company McAfee. Search categories like these are used to lure unsuspecting consumers to their Web sites. Hackers and cybercriminals are often able to persuade searchers to download files carrying malicious software that can cause consumers to expose their personal and financial data.
The keywords were grouped by categories and popularity in certain countries. Furthermore, search intelligence company Hitwise was contracted to generate popular variations for each popular keyword, which provided a much better insight into the risk factor of each category of keywords. McAfee researchers ranked keywords both by the number of malicious links found on the riskiest result page, and by their overall percentage spanning all results.
"Cybercriminals are smart," said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Product Development & Avert Labs. "Like sharks smelling blood in the water, hackers will create related Web sites laden with adware and malware whenever a particular topic increases in popularity. Unsuspecting consumers are then tricked into downloading malicious software that leads them to blindly hand over their personal assets to cybercriminals."
McAfee researched more than 2600 popular keywords (as defined by Google Zeitgeist, Yahoo! Buzz and others sources) to assess the degree of risk for each. Maximum Risk refers to the maximum percentage of risky sites a user might encounter on a single page of search results.
As defined by McAfee, the riskiest set of keyword variations was "screensavers" with a maximum risk of 59.1 percent. Nearly six out of the top 10 search results for "screensavers" contain malware. One of the single riskiest search terms in the world is "lyrics," with a maximum risk factor of one in two. Surprisingly, searches using the word Viagra, a popular keyword that is also common in spam e-mail messages, yielded the fewest risky sites. Searches with the safest risk profile included health-related terms and searches about the current economic crisis.
The study also revealed some surprises. For example, "the phrase 'www google com' was searched approximately five million times on Google itself." Meanwhile, variations of "Viagra," a highly popular spam keyword, surprisingly scored very low in terms of risks.
Outside of the U.S., popular keyword categories were often significantly riskier than those popular in the U.S. Fourteen countries had keyword categories that exposed users to a higher maximum risk than what McAfee identified on average, including the Czech Republic (14.2 percent) and Brazil (12.1 percent). And 12 countries were overall riskier than the average, including Mexico (1.9 percent) and India (1.8 percent). This could be early evidence of a troubling new trend of scammers targeting non-U.S. victims.