Malicious code makes Web surfing risky

The chance of downloading malicious code from a Web site has increased 41 percent in the past year, according to a recent study of malignant sites by McAfee Inc.

The study, titled 'Mapping the Web Revisited,' is the second examination of the prevalence of spyware, adware, viruses and other unwanted software according to specific domains.

The safest place to conduct your Web surfing is among sites in the .gov top-level generic domain, which is administered by the federal government and used by official government sites.

Also, you might want to avoid sites ending in .hk, the top-level country domain for Hong Kong, which ranked number one this year for the presence of malware. The study found that almost one in five sites using that domain pose a security threat.

McAfee analyzed 9.9 million heavily trafficked sites found in the 74 most popular of 265 country or generic domains. The company's SiteAdvisor service rates sites based on the presence of malicious code or likelihood of other problems, such as receiving spam, affiliation with other risky sites, and aggressive pop-up marketing. Red site ratings are given to Web sites that exhibit one or more of these behaviors. Yellow site ratings are given to sites that merit caution before using.

During the last three years, the exploitation of browser vulnerabilities through code hosted on Web sites has become the primary method for compromising computers. Some of the sites are set up for to host and distribute the code, although increasingly the malware is being placed surreptitiously on legitimate sites.

Overall, the Web is becoming a riskier place, some parts of it more quickly than others. The Philippines domain .ph showed a 270 percent increase in risk in the past year, and Spain's .es showed a 91 percent increase. However, improvements were seen in some areas. Tokelau, a tiny South Pacific island nation of 1,500 inhabitants whose .tk domain ranked as last year's riskiest place, has cleaned up its act somewhat and dropped to 28th place this year.

"For administrators of top-level domains this study should act as a wake-up call," said Jeff Green, senior vice president of product development at Avert Labs. 'Last year's report spurred Tokelau's domain manager to reexamine its policies. Our mission is to educate consumers of the dangers whether through their PC, the Web itself, or mobile phone.'

The riskiest country domains in this year's study were:

  1. Hong Kong .hk (28th last year)

  2. Peoples Republic of China .cn (11th last year)

  3. Phillippines .ph (19th last year)

  4. Romania .ro (4th last year)

  5. Russia .ru (7th last year)

The safest country domains are Finland (.fi) and Japan (.jp).

The riskiest generic top level domain remains .info, with nearly 12 percent of its sites posing a threat. The most common domain, .com, is the ninth-riskiest overall.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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