An updated McAfee study has shown that, while the risk has declined in the last six months, users are still at significant risk of clicking through to risky sites from search engines. 

The follow-up report to the May study and conducted by McAfee Site Advisor, studied the five major US search engines (Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Ask) and found that the overall chance of clicking through to a risky site declined by 12%.
However, McAfee still estimates that consumers click through to risky sites more than 268-million times each month.
The study was co-authored by Ben Edelman, noted spyware researcher and an advisor to McAfee.
McAfee SiteAdvisor adds intuitive red, yellow or green ratings to sites and search results based on proprietary tests of sites representing more than 95% of the trafficked Web.
Red ratings are given to risky sites that fail one or more of McAfee's tests for adware, spyware, viruses, exploits, spammy e-mail, excessive pop-ups or strong affiliations with other red rated sites. Green rated sites passed each of these tests. Yellow ratings are given to sites which pass McAfee's safety tests but which still have nuisances warranting a user advisory.
Among the study's key findings are:
* All search engines return some risky results. AOL returns the safest results with 3,6% of results rated red or yellow by McAfee SiteAdvisor. On average, 4,4% of search results link to risky Web sites.
* 8% of sponsored results are rated red or yellow – almost three times the 3% of organic results rated red and yellow.
* Adult search terms are twice as likely to lead to unsafe results as non-adult search terms: 8% of results for adult terms are red or yellow vesus 4,1% for non-adult terms.
* 41% of risky ratings are due to e-mail signups that result in spam. Risky downloads and scams (such as selling software like the Firefox or Internet Explorer browsers which are free) each account for a quarter of the results. 3% of red and yellow search results contain browser exploits – particularly serious threats which can damage a PC once consumers merely browse to a site. Just under one-third of risky results are due to sites aggressively linking to other risky sites. Many sites exhibit multiple dangers.
* Overall riskiness of search engines declined by 12%, while the percentage of red and yellow sites in sponsored ads decreased by almost 6%.
"It's good to see that clicking on search engine results has become modestly safer," says Chris van Niekerk, regional director: Africa at McAfee.
"But when almost one of 12 sponsored links still clicks through to a risky site, there remains significant room for continued improvement."
The study was conducted by compiling a list of approximately 2 500 popular keywords derived from lists of common searches from the search engines themselves and other industry sources. The first five pages of search results for each keyword were then analysed for each of the five search engines.
Among a number of popular but risky searches, queries containing the word "free" are particularly likely to lead users to sites with unsavory practices. For searches containing the word "free," 14,5% of search results link to sites rated yellow or red.
Of the Google Zeitgeist search terms analysed, the most dangerous category is "tech toys," examples of which include "ipod nano", "mp3 music downloads" and "winmx." 23,3% of results for this category are rated red or yellow by McAfee SiteAdvisor.
Another dangerous Google Zeitgeist category of note includes "childhood favorites" (6,7% risky results) which includes keywords such as "Winnie the Pooh" and "Tweety".
McAfee SiteAdvisor's May 2006 study of the safety of search engines was the first comprehensive review of the riskiness of the site results returned by major search engines. The study was made possible by the unique database of site safety tests built by McAfee SiteAdvisor.
The percentage of red and yellow sites in search results decreased overall from 5% to 4,4%, a 12% decline. In addition, the relative rankings of
the search engines changed. Google, AOL, and Ask now return safer results, while Yahoo! and MSN return riskier results. The percentage of red and yellow sites in sponsored ads decreased overall from 8,5% to 8%, a 5,9% decline.
"Search engines continue to play vital roles in the consumer's online experience," notes Van Niekerk. "But the risks of clicking on unsafe search results are real, so consumers should make use of tools like McAfee SiteAdvisor to make their searching safer."
To see a full report on the McAfee search engine study, please visit http://www.siteadvisor.com/studies/search_safety_dec2006.html