McAfee: Search results can be dangerous

Music, gadgetry results most likely to wreck you

The odds of a search engine directing you to a risky Web site are getting slimmer, but some companies are better at filtering out bad links than others, McAfee Inc. reported Monday.

Google Inc. has improved over the past year, but AOL LLC has the safest search results on the Web right now, McAfee said. The riskiest? Yahoo Inc.

Overall, a significant percentage of Web links are still risky, McAfee said. In its latest study, published Monday, about 4% of search results were found to be risky. A year ago, that number was 5%.

McAfee's study looked at the first five pages of search results provided by AOL, Yahoo, Google, MSN and Ask.com for about 2,300 widely used keywords. It then compared those links to its Web safety database, which records sites that are associated with things like spam, online scams, Web attacks and risky downloads.

The study took a look at both the sponsored links returned by search engines and the "organic" links that are not sponsored, and Yahoo's poor performance is due to a spike in the number of sponsored links that McAfee deemed risky. When looking at organic links alone, Yahoo actually had the best results of any of the five search engines, returning risky links just 2.7% of the time.

The most dangerous subjects to search for are words related to digital music and tech toys, McAfee found. Searches for terms relating to these two categories return risky results nearly 20% of the time.

Some types of these "risky" results are much more common than others. For example, 0.03% of search results lead to a Web site that tries to run attack code on your PC. The chance of a link that is associated with spam is much higher: 1.3%, according to McAfee.

Improvements at Google, which provides search technology to AOL and Ask.com, have been boosting the safety of search results in general, said Mark Maxwell, senior product manager with McAfee's SiteAdvisor group.

Google returned risky results 3.4% of the time. A year ago, it scored 5.3%.

McAfee's top-rated search engine, AOL, gave risky links 2.9% of the time, an improvement over last year's 5.3%. Yahoo, formerly one of the safest engines evaluated by McAfee, jumped from 4.3% in 2006 to 5.4% in the latest study.

Microsoft Corp.'s MSN also took a step backward, jumping from 3.9% in 2006 to 4.2% in 2007. Ask.com went from 6.1% to 3.5%.

Over the past year, the industry has been better at acknowledging that there is a problem with risky search results, and has reduced the percentage of risky sponsored links from 8.5% last year to 6.9% in 2007, Maxwell said. "You're seeing a lot more communication and cooperation towards the goal of trying to improve the online experience."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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