McAfee, the Internet security company has published a study done with spyware-expert Ben Edelman on the security risks of Internet searching. The study covers the period January – April 2006 and the search engines Google, Yahoo!, MSN Search, Ask and AOL Search. The study has been elaborated in a blogpost. Here is the skinny-
What is a risky site?
McAfee has made use of SiteAdvisors gigantic “site-safety-ranking” database (McAfee bought
SiteAdvisor earlier this year). The five first search engine result pages (SERPs) for 1394 especially popular search queries was tested for all five search engines.
McAfee defines “risky sites” as web sites that takes advantage of technical weaknesses of web browsers in order to install software on the users’ computers without their knowledge or acceptance. These programs may make the computer vulnerable or more or less useless.
Furthermore there are web sites that offer free software that — unbeknown to the user — also includes spyware and adware- components (i.e. software that gives hackers access to parts of your computer or adds ads to web pages and programs).
There are also web sites that uses your personal information for unintended purposes, including the distribution of spam emails. Web sites that generates a large number of pop-ups have also been included by McAfee.
Here a few of the findings:
* There is no correlation between search engine ranking and security, i.e. you will find high ranked unsafe sites.
* MSN Search has the lowest number of unsafe web sites (3.9%), followed by Yahoo! (4.3%), AOL and Google (both 5.3% — given that AOL is powered by Google), and Ask (6.1%)
* Sponsored links (i.e. text ads) contain 2 to 4 times as many unsafe web sites as regular,
organic, search results.
* Some search queries — like “free games”, “download music” and “kazaa” — generated as many as 72% dangerous web sites!
It is interesting to note the similarity between this study and Intralink’s recent study of search result quality and relevance. MSN is best in both studies, followed by Yahoo. The public’s search engine darling, Google, is number three in both.