97 Percent Fail Spyware Sniff Test

Just 3 out of 100 Internet users are able to sniff out sites ready to drop spyware or adware onto their computers, a security firm says.

April 26, 2006

2 Min Read
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Just 3 out of 100 Internet users are able to sniff out sites ready to drop spyware or adware onto their computers, security company McAfee said Wednesday.

In an online quiz run by McAfee's recently-acquired SiteAdvisor, a service that alerts users of possible spyware- and adware-infecting sites via search results at Google, Yahoo, and MSN, 97 percent of more than 14,000 consumers were fooled by one or more malicious sites.

"We know it's not easy to judge a site's safety just by looking at it, but that's the point: Bad sites are often very good at providing an aura of safety," said Chris Dixon, head of SiteAdvisor development, in a statement. "No matter how knowledgeable or perceptive you are, you can't rely on your instincts alone."

SiteAdvisor's quiz, first posted in March, asked users to spot the safe site from pairs in five Web categories: screensavers, smileys (emoticons), games, musical lyrics, and file sharing.

Based on the survey's results, 65 percent of the users would have been infected several times with adware or spyware, in part because they missed the fine print that many adware sites mask so that they can later claim the user actually agreed to the download.Some site categories were easier for users to correctly place than others, said SiteAdvisor. Sites that hosted emoticons for download were accurately identified as safe or unsafe by 75 percent of those taking the quiz; only 28 percent, however, were able to nail sites that proffered musical lyrics.

"Quiz takers did particularly poorly on the pair of lyrics sites," noted SiteAdvisor. "One possible reason -- the unsafe site had advertising from well-known brands like Circuit City and Monster.com that may have served to legitimize it."

The SiteAdvisor "Spyware Quiz" can still be taken, and is available here.

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