The next time you visit a search engine with the intention of finding free content online, you may want to think twice. While searching for free music and movies on the net is quite popular at the moment, that does not mean that it is a necessarily wise practice. Many hackers are using the popularity of free searches and the potential victims they bring to their advantage, and that seemingly harmless MP3 from your favorite artist may, in fact, be harmful to your computer.
Recently, security firm McAfee released a study titled “Digital Music & Movies Report: the True Cost of Free Entertainment.” The study centered on online searches and how they can expose users to malicious content. It provided a breakdown of the various risks presented by sites that offer unauthorized content, such as free movie downloads, MP3s, and other downloads related to entertainment and personal enjoyment.
Perhaps the most alarming result revealed by the study was how including the search term “free” could significantly increase the exposure one has to sites with malicious content. As an example, adding the term "free" to a search for music ringtones can increase the chances of hitting a malicious site by a whopping 300 percent. Since many online users attempt to get more bang for their buck, many perform searches that include free. Hackers have caught on to this trend and are now exploiting it to the maximum.
Another search term heavily targeted by hackers is “lyrics.” The study found that within the first five pages of search results, searches for lyrics were twice as dangerous as those for ringtones. To avoid any skewing of statistics, the researchers searched both terms attached to the same artist. The term “MP3” can be dangerous as well, as the study reported that there has been a 40 percent spike in the number of sites that have MP3 files infected with malware.
The top overall risk or threat from sites offering unauthorized content is pornography, at 59 percent. Coming in second place at 16 percent are unknown security risks from changing content, while malware comes in third with 12 percent. Sites that are registered to criminal organizations involved with malware distribution make up 7 percent of the overall risk, and sites used for illegal activities involving credit cards and other scams account for 3 percent of the risk. Finally, browser exploits, spam, and spyware/adware/keyloggers each claim 1 percent of the overall threats from site with unauthorized content.
There are several ways to protect yourself from such threats. First, keep your security software current with the latest update. Abstain from performing searches for content with the term “free.” Don't click on links in forums or those in banner ads. Also, try to use plug-ins that warn you of potentially malicious sites and allow you to search in a safe manner. One such example is McAfee Site Advisor.
For more on this topic, visit http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20016309-245.html?tag=mncol;title
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