There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Don’t Google Zuma Rossdale – Who is Zuma Rossdale? Gwen Stefani’s son of course….

There’s a sucker born every minute…. and it seems a lot of them love surfing the Web.

A worrisome new study by McAfee found that scammers are turning to search engine technology to attract a steady supply of marks. Apparently, hackers are identifying search terms that deliver the largest audiences—and then embedding their hacking code in these often legitimate sites. In some cases, McAfee found that scammers simply boost the search engine results of their own fraudulent sites. The cybercriminals then capture credit card numbers and personally indentifiable information from visitors.

Either way, web surfers are at risk. According to McAfee, the single most dangerous search term is ‘word unscrambler,’ with an average risk of more than 16%. In other words, out of 250 search results across a number of pages, close to 40 hits took visitors to risky web sites. Worse, McAfee found that the maximum risk for ‘word unscrambler’ (that is, a single results page with the greatest danger) was around 50%. In other words, up to half of the hits for the term “word unscrambler’ on that one page led users to bogus or infected web sites.

Given the growth of smart phones and netbooks—and the number of parents buying their kids smartphones and netbooks—it’s not surprising that search terms targeting kids dominated the results. Indeed, anything to do with music can be a bad bet. The keywords ‘lyrics,’ ‘free music downloads’ and ‘free music’ made the list of the top ten riskiest search results.

McAfee searched for more than 2,600 popular keywords, examining more than 413,000 unique URLs. Their security specialist found that the average risk level of all results pages was just 1.7%. In other words, only four out of 250 hits were dangerous. The average for the most dangerous pages, however, was much higher. For those pages, a list of 250 results produced about 25 risky hits.

Beyond music-related terms, the worst maximum risk profile was for searches that contained the word “free.” That category generated a 21.3% maximum risk profile. “Work from home” was another high-risk term–understandable given the current economic condition and unemployment rates.

In fact, it appears that hackers are keeping tabs on current events in an effort to attract the most victims. For example, three popular female celebrities generated high risk profiles: Angelina Jolie (8.3% maximum risk) Oprah Winfrey (10%) and Beyonce Knowles (10%). But searches for Zuma Rossdale, the son of trendy rockers Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani, can be as risky as 25%

Let’s not forget that US Corporations were not immune from these cyber deceptions either. Both ‘Lowes’ and ‘Costco’ made McAfee’s list of the top 50 most dangerous search terms.

What to do?
As always – keep your anti-virus protection up to date and ALWAYS turned on. Lately, we’ve found that many of these exploits (also known as drive-by downloads) are written specifically for Microsoft Internet Explorer v6. I strongly recommend updating to Internet Explorer v8 for better built in protection and/or simply using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox as your browser of choice for surfing. As these two browsers are still the underdogs in the Internet browser wars, hackers haven’t written as many exploits or malicious code to attack them.

Below is McAfee’s list of the “50 riskiest search terms”. Take a look – are you searching for any?


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