Websense discovered three main paths to malware: Aside from the top websites, there are poisoned search results and malicious links. Among the top 1,000 sites typically at least two mouse clicks away from malware are 72 percent of the top news and media sites; 71 percent of the top message boards and forums; and more than half of all social networking sites, according to the study.
"This suggests a high degree of correlation between the most highly visited websites and malware," says Charles Renert, senior security research director for Websense.
Renert says Websense wasn't sure this was the case when the company began the research. "We went in with open eyes," he says. And interestingly, the proportion of malicious links associated with top news sites, like CNN, were higher than that of traditionally risky sites, such as online gambling or pornography.
"We had a higher hit of malicious content from buzz pop-search terms than from objectionable ones," Renert says. For example, one-fourth of all results from the search term "World Cup 2012" were malicious, according to the report.
That means the bad guys are keeping pace with trending topics and popular websites, he says. And they are able to shift their targets rapidly based on these trends. "That shows there's been a tremendous infrastructure built by the bad guys to go find out what's popular," Renert says.
Websense found that about 40 percent of all Facebook status posts include URLs, and 10 percent of those links host malware or spam. So 10 percent of hundreds of millions of updates each day represents the kind of spam volume circulating on Facebook, Renert says.
Of those websites that harbor malicious links (versus malicious content), 62 percent that link to games also link to objectionable or harmful content; 22 percent of adult or sex-related sites link to malicious ones; 23 percent of blogs link to objectionable or harmful content; and 23 percent of message boards and 21 percent of freeware sites.
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