The Dark Side of the Search Engine Business

By Ryan Naraine Print this article Print

Paid search is a booming business for Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, but there's a major downside for users. A new study by McAfee's SiteAdvisor finds sponsored search results contain two to four times as many dangerous sites as organic results.

A new study by McAfee's SiteAdvisor Web ratings finds that sponsored results from some of the biggest names in the search engine business contain spyware, spam, scams and other Internet menaces.

The study, which was conducted by anti-spyware activist Ben Edelman and SiteAdvisor research analyst Hannah Rosenbaum, found that all the major search engines—Google, Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN, AOL and Ask.com—returned risky sites in results for popular keywords.

Even worse, sponsored results contained two to four times as many dangerous sites as organic results, according to the survey, which combined data from SiteAdvisor's automated Web crawlers and new searches using popular keywords culled from the Google Zeitgeist and other industry sources.

During the survey, which began in January 2006, the researchers used 1,394 popular keywords to extract top organic and sponsored search engine results and evaluated the site safety against SiteAdvisor's color-coded safety assessments.

Click here to read more about SiteAdvisor.

Overall, across all keywords and search engines, 8.5 percent of sponsored results were "red" or "yellow," suggesting those sites were hosting drive-by exploits, bundling adware/spyware with downloads or hammering in-boxes with spam. By comparison, only 3.1 percent of organic results were considered unsafe.

The survey found there was little correlation between search result placement and safety. Page 1 search results were only "moderately safer" than results for pages 2 through 5, and dangerous sites soared to as much as 72 percent of results for certain risky keywords.

The most dangerous keywords include "free screensavers," "bearshare," "kazaa," "download music" and "free games."

Based on the findings, the researchers estimate that Web surfers in the United States make 285 million clicks to hostile sites every month as a result of search engine results.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: The Dark Side of the Search Engine Business

This article was originally published on 2006-05-12
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