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Glitch Causes Google To Issue False Malware Warnings

Programming error renders search engine inoperative for 40 minutes
A glitch in Google this weekend rendered the site virtually inoperative for almost an hour and falsely warned users that the sites they were searching contained malware.

According to a statement by Marissa Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, the problem was "very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message 'This site may harm your computer' if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers.

"We periodically receive updates to that list and received one such update to release on the site [Saturday] morning," Mayer continued. "Unfortunately, the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and '/' expands to all URLs.

"Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file," Mayer said. "Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes."

Google initially blamed StopBadware, an industry group that collects and updates a list of malware sites, for the problem. However, the source of the problem actually resided in Google's own malware list, according to news accounts. Google says the problem is now fixed, so if users get a message that a particular site may contain malware, they should heed it.

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