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Be Careful What You Search For

06/02/2009 -McAfee has a warning for search-happy netizens: be careful what you search for.

Collecting the most popular keywords from places such as Google Zeitgeist and Yahoo! 2008 Year in Review, McAfee, a security technology firm, searched for those terms in the five most popular U.S.-based search engines—Google, Yahoo!, Live, AOL, and Ask—to see which terms had the greatest chance of infecting a surfer with something nasty.

According to McAfee's new report,The Web's Most Dangerous Search Terms, these terms are the ten riskiest to search for on the Web.

1. word unscrambler

2. lyric

3. Myspace

4. free music downloads

5. phelps, weber-gale, jones and lezak win 4x100m relay

6. free music

7. game cheats

8. printable fill in puzzles

9. free ringtones

10. solitaire

In general, McAfee discovered the two riskiest categories to search for on the Web are lyrics keywords, with one out of four links risky, and any phrase with the word "free" in it, with one out of five links risky. The safest general searchers had to do with health and the economic crisis. For example, searching for "Viagra" was safe, surprisingly, even though the term clogs spam filters.

There was, however, a bright spot in the study, according to McAfee.

Previous McAfee® studies of web safety have shown about 4% of sites to be risky. This is a broad measure of the overall risk we face when we use the web. By contrast, the average risk level of all results pages we studied was just 1.7%.

In other words, when you search for a keyword and dive deeply into the results, only four out of 250 links pose any risk.

♦ Photo by Bramus!/Flickr