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Google's fight against malware

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Wendy M Grossman Wendy M Grossman | 10:58 UK time, Friday, 12 August 2011

Google have begun placing a yellow warning banner at the top of their search results pages for some users. Most people will never see it: the warning is triggered by a particular type of malicious software known as 'malware' that is thought to infect about 2 million computers. When you click on the warning, you are taken to a page of advice on how to remove and prevent such infections and links to helpful sites.

It's the first time a search engine has done something like this. It makes a lot of sense, since it ensures that the warning is seen by – and only by – the people who need to see it. But it may confuse some users because for many years security experts have warned against clicking on banners, ads or pop-ups that claim your computer is infected. There's a simple reason: most of the time such warnings are fakes.

Typically, clicking on one of the fake ads downloads and installs software on your computer that claims to be an anti-virus program. Instead, this program is itself malware that hijacks your computer until you enter credit card information to pay for the program. A recent study showed that these fake anti-virus programs account for 15% of all malicious software.

So, how do you tell the difference between a good warning and a bad one? It isn't always easy, especially when the warning has you worried and uncertain.

The first thing is, don't panic, particularly if your computer shows no other virus symptoms (such as running unusually slowly, crashing frequently, or popping up many unfamiliar warning messages).

Next, if you're worried and have anti-virus software installed, make sure it's up to date and then have it scan your machine. If you don't have anti-virus software installed, the WebWise guide will help you choose a suitable program and review your computer's security.

If you're still worried, you can run a second anti-virus scanner. Either download one of the free programs mentioned in the above-linked WebWise guide or go to a site such as Panda Security's Active Scan, F-Secure, or Kaspersky Lab that offers a free online scan of all or part of your system.

As a rule of thumb, whenever you get a warning on the web or via email that asks you to take action by following a link, check the link first rather than just clicking on it. One way is to copy and paste it into your browser's address bar and look at it to make sure it's taking you to the site you expect. Another is to type the address in directly or use a search engine to find the site.

Note that Google's warning obeys this general rule. The search engine does not try to download anything onto your computer. The page you reach by clicking on the warning offers only advice and links to other sites. Remember, though: if you see the warning and need to download an anti-virus scanner, do so from an uninfected machine. Read Google's explanation of its malware warning.


Wendy M. Grossman is a freelance technology writer and author living in London and is founder of The Skeptic magazine.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    MALWARE PROBLEMS: Good thing from Google to display "Yellow Warning Banner" on a Google results page. However speaking from my experience anti-virus software won't always stop your PC from being infected. I subscribe to McAffee, recently I had my PC infected with Malware. I did not open any emails but a web page I was looking at redirected me to another web site. I then got a warning telling me my PC was at risk. Unfortunately this Malware took over my PC and would not allow me to access McAffee to scan for a solution. My PC was frozen out of all programmes and the internet. These Malware Merchants were insisting payment for their anti-virus software. Of course I knew this was a scam and would not disclose any of my details, But it took a phone call to McAffee service department and £60.00 to get rid of this Malware. So BEWARE and know that as quick as one Malware type is removed another type will takes it place. SCAN ALL EMAILS FROM UNKNOWN ORIGINS FIRST before you view them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Google is trying to be more committed to its users by protecting them from various security risks. They are taking the right initiatives by providing warnings for search results related to a website that may contain something that may harm the visitor’s computer. It helps the user by not viewing the website and also ensures the user system is safe. This involves a lot of software development research to provide a safer environment for search engine users.


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