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June 6, 2007 20:49 - Beware Of Search Engine Sponsored Links

Search engines are still driving users to spyware and other malware, although there is a very slight improvement compared to last year, according to McAfee's State of Search Engine Safety.

The study also concluded that the sponsored links that often accompany search results are still twice as risky as organic search-engine results, with 6.9% of paid links leading to suspect sites, compared to 2.9% for organic links.

Last year, 8.5% of paid links led to potentially dangerous sites. McAfee researchers attributed some of the recent improvement to Google's tweak last year to its AdWords system, when Google changed its criteria for paid search ads. Now, just 5.4% of pay-per-click ads at Google lead to a suspect site.

While Google became safer for searchers, rival Yahoo has become more dangerous. 9% of paid links at Yahoo led to suspect sites, up from 6.5% last year, according to the report.

Other search engines using Google search results have been favourably impacted as a result. AOL, for instance, saw a drop in sponsored link risk from 10.2 percent to just 4.4 percent, and Ask.com dropped even further, going from 11.1 percent to 4.1 percent.

The lessons from this study?

  • When conducting your searches, do not click on the sponsored links - usually clearly indicated
  • Keywords most likely to lead to suspect sites include terms related to digital music and free file-sharing programs, including Kazaa and Bearshare
  • Remember Yahoo is the riskiest search engine leading to spyware and other malware

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June 11, 2007 21:33 - Google At Bottom Of Privacy League

Google's commitment to consumer privacy has been lambasted by Privacy International (PI), which conducted research into privacy practises at 20 Internet service companies.

The London-based group's report -- "A Race to the Bottom--Privacy Ranking of Internet Service Companies" -- ranked Google with "comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy" and was in last place of all of the companies surveyed.

Much of the criticism of Google centered on its lack of transparency -- PI described its data retention policy as "unclear" and its privacy policy as "vague, incomplete and possibly deceptive".

With each search on Google, the company gathers information about a customer's tastes, interests and beliefs that could potentially be used by third parties such as advertisers. But the company says it never passes on personal data.

Also on the list was Microsoft, which was accused of "serious lapses" around Windows Genuine Advantage and Passport. AOL, Apple, Facebook, Hi5, and Reunion.com were all labelled red, posing a "substantial threat" to users' privacy. Other companies on the list include eBay, Friendster, LiveJournal, MySpace, Orkut, Skype, and Wikipedia.

In an open letter to Google's CEO Eric Schmidt, Privacy International accused the search giant of launching a smear campaign. PI said: "Two European journalists have independently told us that Google representatives have contacted them with the claim that 'Privacy International has a conflict of interest regarding Microsoft'."

The letter said no company had made a similar accusation in the 17 years Privacy International has existed.

In 2004, Privacy International called on European Union regulators to set limits on Google's free e-mail service Gmail, which targets relevant advertising at users based on a machine reading of the contents of a consumer's e-mail.
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June 18, 2007 21:10 - FBI Tackles Botnets

More than a million PCs under the control of spammers are threatening the US national security, its economy and its information infrastructure, according to the FBI.

The FBI is reaching out to new partners, both in the private sector and in the international community, to help fight online identity thieves, computer hijackers, and other digital criminals using botnets.

Botnets are collections of computers -- known as bots or zombies -- whose respective owners have no idea their PCs have been hijacked and are being used for identity theft, denial-of-service attacks and the transmission of malware and spam.

The ongoing effort has been dubbed "Operation Bot Roast", an initiative aimed at revealing the scale of the botnet problem and prosecuting those responsible. It is being carried out in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University, Microsoft and the International Botnet Task Force.

Because of their widely distributed capabilities, the FBI says, botnets are a growing threat to national security Relevant Products/Services, as well as the national information infrastructure Relevant Products/Services, and our economy as a whole.

The assistant director for the FBI's Cyber Division, James Finch, urged computer users last week to "protect themselves from botnets and the associated schemes by practising strong computer security habits".
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