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.
Let's face it, no one's going to topple Google in the search game, at least not any time soon. That means the real race is for second place, and it's there that Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo's Yahoo Search run neck in neck.
Which search engine leads the pack from second place depends on who you ask, and if you put your faith in Nielsen's numbers, then Bing just inched ahead of Yahoo in the international search game.
"Nielsen's search data only counts genuine intentional searches that people type into a search box," Nielsen explains. "It does not include non-intended or 'contextual' searches that are automatically generated by search engines based on a person's browsing behavior."
With Nielsen's formula in place, the research firm says says Bing controlled 13.9 percent of the search market in August, up just barely from July. Yahoo, meanwhile, slid backwards 1.5 percentage points from 14.6 percent in July to 13.1 percent in August.
Yahoo plans to revamp its Yahoo Mail service, in part to improve the speed of the service in overseas markets where connections are typically slower than here in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reports.
It's part of a project codenamed "Minty," and in addition to a faster underlying architecture, Yahoo will also be giving its email service a bit of a facelift, one that will make the service better resemble the simple design of the downloadable email app.
"We continue to innovate our product experiences, and specific to Yahoo Mail, we have been previewing our next version of email that provides higher performance, sleeker design, and great integration" with social-networking services, a Yahoo spokesman said.
The makeover comes at a time when Yahoo Mail still ranks as the No. 1 Web-based email service in the U.S. with 97 million unique visitors in August. Not only is that more than Gmail, but it's more than Gmail and Hotmail combined. At the same time, that number is down from about 107 million visitors Yahoo Mail recorded in August, 2009.
The next time someone tells you antivirus software is a waste of time, money, and resources, keep this in mind. According to PandLabs, every day hackers put up another 57,000 fraudulent website designed to trick users into handing over thier personal information, such as bank login credentials and other tidbits you don't want falling into the wrong hands.
One way around this is to surf with common sense, but with or without antivirus software, you can ill afford to let your guard down.
"The problem is that when you visit a website through search engines, it can be difficult for users to know whether it is genuine or not," Panda says. "For this reason, and given the proliferation of this technique, it is advisable to go to banking sites or online stores by typing in the address in the browser rather than using search engines which, although they are making an effort to mitigate the situation by changing indexing algorithms, cannot fully evade the great avalanche of new Web addresses being created by hackers every day."
According to Panda, the 10 most targeted brands among all fake websites include:
eBay - 23.21 percent
Western Union - 21.15 percent
Visa - 9.51 percent
United Services Automobile Association - 6.85 percent
HSBC - 5.98 percent
Amazon - 2.42 percent
Bank of America - 2.29 percent
PayPal - 1.77 percent
Internal Revenue Service - 1.69 percent
Bendigo Bank - 1.38 percent
All told, bank and transaction companies account for around 65 percent of the fake sites.
Hop over to Craigslist and you'll no longer find a censored bar over its "Adult Services" link. That's because the online classifieds service tossed the baby out with the bath water and removed the entire section.
Founder Craig Newmark isn't saying much on the matter, though he did re-tweet a link to an Electronic Frontier Foundation blog post on the topic.
"Through this now years-long struggle, Craigslist's legal position has been and remains absolutely, unequivocally correct: the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (or CDA) grants providers of 'interactive computer services' an absolute shield against state criminal law liability stemming from material posted by third parties," the EFF wrote. "Put simply, the law ensures that the virtual soapbox is not liable for what the speaker says: merely creating a forum in which users post ads that may violate state law plainly does not lead to liability for a web site operator.
"The federal statutory immunity upon which Craigslist relies is not some clever loophole. Rather, the intermediary immunity provided by the CDA represents a conscious policy decision by Congress to protect individuals and companies who would otherwise be vulnerable targets to litigants who want to silence speech to which they object, illegal or not."
So why the sudden move on Craigslist's part to block and now fully remove the controversial section? Undoubtedly playing a part is an open letter (PDF) signed by 17 attorneys general pleading with Craigslist to remove the section and potentially setting the stage for a legal battle to follow.
"We recognize that Craigslist may lose the considerable revenue generated by the the Adult Services ads," the letter states. "No amount of money, however, can justify the courge of illegal prostitution, and the suffering of the women and children who will continue to be victimized, in the market and trafficking provided by Craigslist."
Microsoft made a compelling case to the U.S. District Court of Eastern Virginia, which has granted a motion essentially handing over to Microsoft permanent ownership of 276 Web domains used as command and control centers by the Waledac spam botnet.
District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema issued the temporary restraining order to take all 276 domains offline, an unusual move since the owner of the domains weren't in court to plead their case. This procedure is known as "ex parte," and normally a judge wouldn't give away property without the rightful owners present. As far as the judge is concerned, however, the registrants had every chance to step foward after being provided notices online and in print publications.
"It's open season on botnets," Microsoft senior attorney Richard Boscovich Sr. said in a statement. "The hunting licenses have been handed out, and we're coming back for more."
Microsoft said that during one recent seven-day period, it counted 58,000 PCs attempting 14.6 million connections to the 276 Waledac domains. At its peak in 2009, Waledac was responsible for some 1.5 billion spam messages per day.
Look around your office and spot two other people. According to a new study by Symantec, one of you has fallen victim to some type of cybercrime, including viruses, identity theft, online hacking, online harassment, online scams, phishing, and sexual predation.
The study, titled "Norton's Cybercrime Report: The Human Impact Reveals Global Cybercrime Epidemic and Our Hidden Hypocrisy," pegs the victim rate of U.S. based surfers at 73 percent, one of the highest victimized nations in the world behind Brazil and India (tied at 76 percent) and China (83 percent).
"Are we just passively accepting our fate? No, of course, we feel extreme and varied emotions ranging from anger (58 percent) to fear (29 percent), helplessness (26 percent) and guilt (78 percent)," the study says. "Associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University Josepth LaBrie, PhD, describes a 'learned helplessness' for online victims. 'It's like getting ripped off at a garage -- if you don't know enough about cars, you don't argue with the mechanic. People just accept a situation, even if it feels bad.'"
According to Symantec, most victims never report cybercrime, and the vast majority don't expect cybercriminals to be brought to justice. One of the reasons for this is that most online crooks reside in foreign countries, which presents a challenge for law enforcement.
Okpako Mike Diamreyan, a 31-year-old citizen of Nigeria, was sentenced to 151 months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release by United States District Judge Janet C. Hall for his role in an Internet "advanced fee" scam.
"The dependent and his accomplices preyed on vulnerable victims in Connecticut, the United States, and around the world, leaving many individuals and their families in financial ruin," stated U.S. Attorney Fein. "The lengthy prison term imposed today should send a strong message to others who intent to commit similar crimes -- we will pursue these cases wherever they lead us and bring you to justice. I want to single out the DCIS and their agents who worked this case tirelessly and thoroughly and helped achieve justice for victims."
According to U.S. officials, Diamreyen ran his operation from August 2004 through August 2009 by sending out emails claiming he had a consignment stored in Ghana. He told his victims the loot was worth anywhere from $11.5 million to $23.4 million and offered them a 20 percent cut if they'd help him transfer the money to the U.S.
The scheme worked at least 67 times, netting Diamreyan more than $1.3 million. Diamreyen was also ordered to pay a little over $1 million in restitution.
Browsers grow up so fast, don't they? Just a short while ago, Google Chrome was nothing more than an idea, and now it's a spunky two-year-old browser with a 7.52 percent share of the market, trailing only Internet Explorer (60.40 percent) and Firefox (22.93 percent). To celebrate the occasion, Google has gone and released a new version of its open source browser, Chrome 6.
Chrome's two menus are now combined into one, and Google slightly "adjusted the color scheme of the browser to be easier on the eyes." Not yet part of the package is hardware acceleration, though Google says it's in the pipeline.
You can get the update by clicking on the wrench icon and selecting 'About Google Chrome,' or grab the download from here.