Use Google, Bing, Wolfram Alpha or Yahoo and, when you search for certain terms, you have up to a 20% chance of encountering a malicious Malware Website (Malware is designed to perform some unknown or unwanted activity on the targets computer system and often is in the form of Spyware, Trojans, viruses and even spam). A research report by U.S.-based antivirus software company McAfee shows that there is a high chance of encountering Malware when using the following terms in a search; word unscrambler, lyrics, myspace, free music downloads, phelps, game cheats, printable fill-in puzzles, free ringtones and solitaire. The categories of search which contain the most Malware propogating websites are; screensavers, free games, work from home, Olympics, videos, celebrities, music and news.
This is worrying and again shows that the best defense against Malware is knowledge about the threats and how they are propagated. In the same report McAfee states that ’50 percent of the world’s PCs are unprotected’ against Malware. There is little excuse to have no protection at all against Malware, Spyware, Viruses, Trojans and the like. AVG anti-virus, for example, provides free virus and Malware detection software with free updates.
How does Malware Spread?
In general, Malware requires the target (i.e. the person visiting the Website) to execute code to initiate the propagation of the Malware. As people have become more aware not to run unknown programs, the Malware is often ‘hidden’ in what appears to be safe content. Good Internet Browsers (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, IE8, Opera and Safari) also have various mechanisms of warning the target of potential Malware however if the target chooses to run the ‘hidden’ code then the Browser will allow this.
All of the riskiest search terms have a common theme; word unscrambler, lyrics, myspace, free music downloads, phelps, game cheats, printable fill-in puzzles, free ringtones and solitaire all lead to some sort of content being downloaded and run or even run directly from a website. As an example, malicious websites may target the term ‘phelps’ because people will want to watch videos of Michael Phelps at the Olympics. The propagating website may look very innocent however a video of Michael Phelps on the website may well contain malicious code and when the target accepts to watch a video the Malware is given free reign to infect the computer of the target.
What to do about Malware
Unfortunately, cyber-crime is advancing very rapidly both in terms of the number of Malware affected websites and the professionalism of the criminals themselves. It is therefore essential that basic protection against these threats is active on your PC. Basic protection includes; keep software updated (e.g. download Microsoft updates), installing anti-virus software (and keeping it updated) and not downloading or running content from Websites which appear suspect in any way