Some of the riskiest searches on the Internet today are associated either with finding items for free, such as music or screensavers, or looking for work that can be done from home.
According to Internet security company McAfee, search categories like these are used to lure unsuspecting consumers to their Web sites. Hackers and cybercriminals are often able to persuade searchers to download files carrying malicious software that can cause consumers to expose their personal and financial data.
McAfee's report on TheWeb's Most Dangerous Search Terms describes how cybercriminals maximise their profits by seeking the largest pool of possible victims with popular search terms about current events, gadgets and celebrities. During the recession, McAfee has observed a growing number of malicious search results targeted at people who want to save money or earn extra income working at home.
"Cybercriminals are smart," says Jayson O’Reilly, regional manager for Africa, McAfee. "Like sharks smelling blood in the water, hackers will create related Web sites laden with adware and malware whenever a particular topic increases in popularity. Unsuspecting consumers are then tricked into downloading malicious software that leads them to blindly hand over their personal assets to cybercriminals."
McAfee researched more than 2 600 popular keywords (as defined by Google Zeitgeist, Yahoo! Buzz and others sources) to assess the degree of risk for each. Maximum Risk refers to the maximum percentage of risky sites a user might encounter on a single page of search results.
As defined by McAfee, the riskiest set of keyword variations was "screensavers" with a maximum risk of 59,1%. Nearly six out of the top 10 search results for "screensavers" contain malware. One of the single riskiest search terms in the world is "lyrics", with a maximum risk factor of one in two.
Surprisingly, searches using the word Viagra, a popular keyword that is also common in spam e-mail messages, yielded the fewest risky sites.
Searches with the safest risk profile included health-related terms and searches about the current economic crisis.
Consumers looking to save money, and/or searching for means of additional income, should take note: searchers clicking on results that contain the word "free" have a 21,3% chance of infecting their PCs with online threats, such as spyware, spam, phishing, adware, viruses and other malware.
"Work from home" searches can be as much as four times riskier than the average risk for all popular terms.