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6/4/2007
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Online Search Dangers: Music And Tech Are The Riskiest

McAfee's study found that AOL returned the safest results, while searching for words like "digital music" and "tech toys" runs the highest risk.

Every month, users make about 276 million searches that lead them to risky Web sites, according to a new study from McAfee.

Despite coming up with such a large number, McAfee's researchers report in a release that it's actually down by 1%. The study also showed that people who do their searches on advertising-sponsored sites are at much greater risk than people using nonsponsored sites.

"We're encouraged to see some improvement in search engine safety this year. But with four out of five Web site visits starting with a search engine query, consumers are still exposed to hundreds of millions of risky searches per month," said Tim Dowling, VP of Consumer Growth Initiatives at McAfee, in a written statement. "In fact, an active search engine user, one that performs more than 10 searches per day, is likely to visit a dangerous site at least once a day."

McAfee reported that its researchers studied the five major U.S. search engines -- Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and Ask.com -- which account for 93% of all search engine use. The security company analyzed the first 50 search results returned by each search engine for 2,300 popular keywords. The keywords were selected from lists like Google Zeitgeist and Yahoo Buzz. Each result was compared with McAfee SiteAdvisor's Web safety database of 8.2 million site safety ratings.

Red ratings are given to sites that have adware, spyware, viruses, exploits, excessive pop-ups, or strong affiliations with other red sites. Yellow ratings are given to sites that merit some caution before use.

McAfee also found that:

  • Four percent of all search results link to risky Web sites.
  • AOL returns the safest results, with 2.9% given a red or yellow rating. That's down from 5.3% in May 2006. Yahoo returned the most red or yellow results with 5.4%.
  • Categories related to music and technology continue to be among the most dangerous search terms. "Digital music" returns the highest percentage of risky sites at 19.1%, followed by "tech toys" and popular keywords like "chat" and "wallpaper."
  • Sponsored results contain 2.4 times as many risky sites as organic sites. In fact, 6.9% of all sponsored results are rated red or yellow. This does, however, represent an improvement from 8.5% last year, largely because of Google's improvements in paid search safety.
  • Searching for keywords related to file-sharing programs also called up a lot of risky sites. Dangerous file sharing searches include "Bearshare" (45.9% risky results), "limewire" (37.1%), "kazaa" (34.9%), and "winmix" (32%).
  • Among adult keyword search results, risky sites increased by 17.5% since December, and risky sites now number 9.4% of all adult search results.

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