7 August 2006
Google, by partnering with the StopBadware Organization, has begun to issue warnings when users click on search results that lead to dangerous websites.
StopBadware keeps a list (so far it appears to be quite limited) of user-submitted websites that are known to host spyware, adware, and other malware. After receiving submissions, the organization analyzes the purported malware using a list of seven categories of bad behaviour that help to identify malicious software.
This list includes:
…deceptive installations, unclearly [sic] identification, causing harm to other computers, modifying other software, transmitting user data, interfering with computer use, and being difficult to uninstall completely.
You can see one of the warnings in action by doing a search for “seriall” and clicking on the first result (SeriAll.com is a website that publishes serial numbers for pirated software). After clicking on the link, you should see a screen similar to the one shown at the top of this post.
Will Google and StopBadware prevail?
Most solutions to this problem, such as downloadable antispyware scanners, are reactive rather than preventative. They help minimize the damage from malware that has managed to nestle into a user’s computer, but do little to prevent the installation in the first place.
Preventative initiatives like Google’s have the potential to greatly decrease the harm and reach of malware. Many websites, including those that deal in malware, depend on search engine results for a good number of their visitors; if this source of internet traffic dries up, malware providers will need to look elsewhere for their victims.
Still, let us hope the execution of this strategy is transparent and level-headed. Because a website’s fortunes can change dramatically depending on the traffic it receives from search engine results, collateral damage to websites that are mistakenly or negligently targeted would be unfortunate indeed.
Happily, the idea so far is not to irrevocably block traffic to a searcher’s intended destination, but to provide a warning en-route. If someone wishes to continue to the website, even after reading the warning, it is fully possible. I hope the policy remains that way and abstains from taking up a censorship position.
Another way to avoid spyware
There is another way to use search engine results to help you vet software before you download it, and I will provide a detailed how-to in an upcoming post. I think you will find it quite useful.