As Search Engines Blacklist Fewer Sites, Users More Vulnerable to Attack

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Turns out, it’s a lot harder for a website to get blacklisted than one might think. A new study found that while the number of bot malware infected websites remained steady in Q2 of 2018, search engines like Google and Bing are only blacklisting 17 percent of infected websites they identify. The study analyzed more than six million websites with malware scanners to arrive at this figure, noting that there was also a six percent decrease in websites being blacklisted over the previous year.

Many internet users rely on these search engines to flag malicious websites and protect them as they surf the web, but this decline in blacklisting sites is leaving many users just one click away from a potential attack. This disregard of a spam attack kit on search engine results for these infected sites can lead to serious disruption, including a sharp decline in customer trust. Internet users need to be more vigilant than ever now that search engines are dropping the ball on blacklisting infected sites, especially considering that total malware went up to an all-time high in Q2, representing the second highest attack vector from 2017-2018, according to the recent McAfee Labs Threats Report.

Another unsettling finding from the report was that incidents of cryptojacking have doubled in Q2 as well, with cybercriminals continuing to carry out both new and traditional malware attacks. Cryptojacking, the method of hijacking a browser to mine cryptocurrency, saw quite a sizable resurgence in late 2017 and has continued to be a looming threat ever since. McAfee’s Blockchain Threat Report discovered that almost 30,000 websites host the Coinhive code for mining cryptocurrency with or without a user’s consent—and that’s just from non-obfuscated sites.

And then, of course, there are just certain search terms that are more dangerous and leave you more vulnerable to malware than others. For all of you pop culture aficionados, be careful which celebrities you digitally dig up gossip around. For the twelfth year in a row, McAfee researched famous individuals to assess their online risk and which search results could expose people to malicious sites, with this year’s Most Dangerous Celebrity to search for being “Orange is the New Black’s” Ruby Rose.

So, how can internet users protect themselves when searching for the knowledge they crave online, especially considering many of the most popular search engines simply aren’t blacklisting as many bot malware infected sites as they should be? Keep these tips in mind:

  • Turn on safe search settings. Most browsers and search engines have a safe search setting that filters out any inappropriate or malicious content from showing up in search results. Other popular websites like iTunes and YouTube have a safety mode to further protect users from potential harm.
  • Update your browsers consistently. A crucial security rule of thumb is always updating your browsers whenever an update is available, as security patches are usually included with each new version. If you tend to forget to update your browser, an easy hack is to just turn on the automatic update feature.
  • Be vigilant of suspicious-looking sites. It can be challenging to successfully identify malicious sites when you’re using search engines but trusting your gut when something doesn’t look right to you is a great way of playing it safe.
  • Check a website’s safety rating. There are online search tools available that will analyze a given URL in order to ascertain whether it’s a genuinely safe site to browse or a potentially malicious one infected with bot malware and other threats.
  • Browse with security protection. Utilizing solutions like McAfee WebAdvisor, which keeps you safe from threats while you search and browse the web, or McAfee Total Protection, a comprehensive security solution that protects devices against malware and other threats, will safeguard you without impacting your browsing performance or experience.

To keep abreast of the latest consumer and mobile security threats, be sure to follow me and @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable? and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

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