Adding the word ‘free’ to your search string could lead you to malicious sites.
McAfee, Inc. (NYSE: MFE) today announced the findings of its 2010 “Digital Music & Movies Report: The True Cost of Free Entertainment” http://newsroom.mcafee.com/images/10039/DMMRReport_UK_25Aug2010.pdf, revealing the growing number of cyber threats associated with the popularity of online music and videos. McAfee researchers found that adding the word “free” to searches increases the risk of landing on a malicious site. McAfee also revealed that cybercriminals hide malicious content in music and movie-related sites, and even fan clubs sites.
In recent years, as consumers have increasingly watched video or downloaded music online, cybercriminals have shifted their attacks to include more dangerous websites, malicious ads, and video viewing tools. According to comScore, more than 177 million U.S. Internet users watched online video in June, up from 157 million a year ago. As downloading of digital content has increased, so have the dangers associated with it.
Summary of Key Findings
In the report, researchers outlined several specific threats including the threat of “free” software, MP3s and streaming video, dangerous fan pages and malicious ads that appears even on well-established, reputable web sites. The research found that adding the word “free” to a search for music ringtones resulted in a 300 percent increase in the riskiness of the sites returned by major search engines in English. The word “free” in other languages yielded similar results.
Searching for “MP3s” added risk to music search results, while searching for “free MP3s” made those searches even riskier. Even when a consumer indicated that they wanted to pay for the MP3 in their search, results still sent them to pirated content.
McAfee also discovered thousands of malicious and highly suspicious URLs associated with fan clubs or comments made on social media sites, such as YouTube and Twitter. Malicious advertising or “malvertising,” where an ad is used to distribute malware or exploit the user’s browser, is a common means of infection. For instance, McAfee identified “malvertising” on perezhilton.com as recently as June that redirected users to a domain that delivered malicious software.
“Consumers are visiting fan sites, downloading movies and reading celebrity news, but generally aren’t aware of the risks,” said Paula Greve, director of web security research for McAfee. “They can access ‘free’ content quickly and easily, but it actually comes at a price. Consumers must stay aware of the risks and be on the lookout for potential new dangers.”