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Search Engines Could Deliver Risky Sites

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-05-12

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Querying for risky keywords puts the searcher at risk of being sent to a site that could prove malicious, but even queries for popular keywords poses some risk too.

Search engines may process as many as 285 million clicks to unsafe sites every month, a study by Ben Edelman and SiteAdvisor reported. Sponsored sites were from two to four times as dangerous as organic results, meaning that malicious site owners are paying to attack unprotected visitors.

"To compare the safety of search engines' listings, we compiled 1394 popular keywords using lists of common searches from Google Zeitgeist, Yahoo!, AOL, Lycos, Wordtracker, and other industry sources," the study said.

"Some lists included adult search terms, which we excluded to maintain consistent keyword content. We considered the first five pages of results for each keyword from each of the five biggest search engines: Google, Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, and Ask."

Out of those search engines, MSN proved the safest with only 3.9 percent of results proving unsafe or risky. Yahoo followed at 4.3 percent, and there was a tie between AOL and Google, 5.3 percent; that duplication is likely due to AOL using Google search results. Ask proved the least safe of the group, with 6.1 percent results in the test being unsafe.

"We recommend extra caution when searching at Ask," the study said.

The paid search dangers prove unsettling. Search advertising sellers should be able to impose safety requirements when it comes to who buys ads from them. Apparently adware and spam purveyors can purchase ads with impunity, so the guidelines in place for those major ad sellers may not be strong enough.

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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