Report Identifies The Most Dangerous -- And Safest -- Search Terms

Viagra is surprisingly safe, but "screensaver" is a dangerous search, McAfee report says

Dark Reading Staff, Dark Reading

May 30, 2009

2 Min Read

Some of today's riskiest searches on the Internet 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 a study published earlier this week.

Security vendor McAfee's report, "The Web's Most Dangerous Search Terms," describes how cybercriminals maximize their profits by seeking the largest pool of possible victims with popular search terms about current events, gadgets, and celebrities. During the recession, McAfee says it has observed a growing number of malicious search results targeted at people who want to save money or earn extra income working at home.

"Cybercriminals are smart," said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee product development and 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."

McAfee researched more than 2,600 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, the company says. 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 email messages, yielded the fewest risky sites. Searches with the safest risk profile included health-related terms and searches about the current economic crisis.

Outside of the United States, 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. This could be early evidence of a troubling new trend of scammers targeting non-U.S. victims, the report says.

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Dark Reading Staff

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