McAfee Identifies the Most Dangerous Web Searches

by CXOtoday Staff    Jun 02, 2009

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.

McAfee s report on 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.

McAfee said it noticed a growing number of malicious search results targeted at people who want to save money or earn extra income working at home during the recession.

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%. 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.

Consumers looking to save money, and/or searching for means of additional income, should take note: searchers clicking on results that contain the word free have a 21.3% chance of infecting their PCs with online threats, such as spyware, spam, phishing, adware, viruses and other malware. Work from home ideas searches had a 25% risk.

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 %) and Brazil (12.1 %). And 12 countries were overall riskier than the average, including Mexico (1.9 %) and India (1.8 %). This could be early evidence of a troubling new trend of scammers targeting non-U.S. victims.