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Browser Plug-in Warns Of Surfing Risks Before Clicking

A company founded by several MIT engineers launched free Internet Explorer and Firefox plug-ins Wednesday that reveal dangerous Web sites listed by popular search engines.

With the plug-ins installed, users see green, yellow, or red tags beside hits in search results on Google, MSN, and Yahoo, said Boston-based SiteAdvisor. The tags -- red represents sites that heavily spam visitors, host spyware and adware, or hijack browser home pages -- give users a heads-up before they click on a link.

"We believe consumers want to know, in plain English: 'If I download this program, will it come with adware?' Or, 'if I sign up here, how much and what kind of e-mail will I receive?'" said chief executive Chris Dixon. "SiteAdvisor zeros in on the moment of decision, when users are about to interact with a dangerous site. We can tell them: 'We've been here before, and here's what happened to us.'"

The company's ratings were with the help of automated Web spiders, which crawled the millions of sites that represent more than 95 percent of the Internet's total traffic. Nearly half a million downloads were analyzed for spyware and other malicious code, and 1.3 million registrations were logged using unique e-mail address to track spam from each site source.

Users need a proactive approach to security, said Dixon, because of the shift in attackers' strategies, from technical assaults such as viruses and worms to for-profit attacks such as adware, spyware, spam, and phishing.

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