276 Million Searches per Month Lead to Risky Sites

June 8, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Privacy & Security

Search engines are getting better at not sending searchers to risky websites, but some are better than others, reports the IDG News Service, citing a McAfee report, which found that some 4% of search results were risky, down from 5% last year.
AOL has the safest search results, Google has improved, and Yahoo is the riskiest, according to McAfee, which looked at both organic and sponsored links in its update to “The State of Search Engine Safety” report.

“Yahoo’s poor performance is due to a spike in the number of sponsored links that McAfee deemed risky. When looking at organic links alone, Yahoo actually had the best results of any of the five search engines, returning risky links just 2.7% of the time,” writes IDGNS.


Overall, McAfee estimates, U.S. search users conduct approximately 276 million monthly searches that lead to Websites that could compromise online safety.

McAfee studied the five major United States search engines – Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Ask – which account for 93% of all search engine use.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • 4.0% of all search results link to risky websites
  • AOL returns the safest results with 2.9% rated red or yellow*, down from 5.3% in May 2006. Yahoo returned the most red or yellow results, 5.4%.
  • Sponsored results contain 2.4 times as many risky sites as organic sites; 6.9% of all sponsored results are rated red or yellow – an improvement from 8.5% last year, primarily due to Google’s improvements in paid search safety.


  • Categories related to music and technology remain among the most dangerous search terms: “Digital music” returns the highest percentage of risky sites (19.1%), followed by “tech toys” and popular keywords like “chat” and “wallpaper.”
  • File-sharing programs were also prominent among top risky keywords. Dangerous file-sharing searches include “Bearshare” (45.9% risky results), “limewire” (37.1%), “kazaa” (34.9%) and “winmix” (32%).


  • Scam sites remain prevalent, accounting for 3.2% of all sponsored listings. Typical scams include download sites selling free software, ringtone sites with misleading billing practices, and work-at-home sites with deceptive terms.
  • Among adult keyword search results, risky sites increased by 17.5% since December 2006, and risky sites now number 9.4% of overall adult search results – driven by a dramatic 72.2% increase in the percentage of risky adult sites within sponsored results.

About the study: McAfee analyzed the first 50 search results returned by each search engine for 2,300 popular keywords selected from lists like Google Zeitgeist and Yahoo! Buzz, among other industry sources. Each result was compared with McAfee SiteAdvisor’s Web safety database of 8.2 million site safety ratings. The data for the study was analyzed in May 2007. The study was co-authored by spyware researcher Ben Edelman, an advisor to McAfee SiteAdvisor.


  1. “Red” rated sites failed McAfee SiteAdvisor’s safety tests.
  2. “Yellow” rated sites engage in practices that warrant important advisory information.
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