Maximum PC readers tend to be ahead of the curve in common sense computing, so it probably won't come as much of a surprise that using the term "free" when searching for stuff online increases the chances of running across a malware infected site. What we did find shocking, however, is just how much a single search term increases that risk.
In a report titled, "Digital Music and Movies Report: The True Cost of Free Entertainment" (PDF), security firm McAfee claims that adding "free" to a search for music ringtones results in a 300 percent increase in the risk of landing on a site booby-trapped with malware.
"Add the world 'buy' to 'ringtones' and search results immediately become safer than searching for ringtones by themselves," McAfee said.
Interestingly, McAfee notes that "searching for the artist plus 'screensaver' yielded an additional 50 percent increase in risk over the risk associated with 'ringtones,'" but "adding the world 'free' before music-related screensavers actually reduces the riskiness of returned search results."
So what's the bottom line? Same as always -- surf safely, avoid suspicious downloads and links, and if you haven't already, grab an AV solution.