Quiz: Web users blind to spyware

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Internet users who think websites with clean, appealing graphics and national advertisers on their home pages are safe need to think again, as such seemingly respectable sites often harbor malware, according to a pop quiz on spyware.

According to the first-ever Spyware Quiz conducted by McAfee's SiteAdvisor web testing division, a staggering 97 percent of internet users are just one click away from infecting their PCs with spyware, adware or some other kind of unwanted software. Even though the threat of spyware has received extensive media coverage, just three percent of the 14,000-plus consumers who took SiteAdvisor's spyware quiz received perfect scores.

The survey challenged web surfers to test their ability to detect which sites in a number of popular categories were free of adware or spyware. The examples in the quiz are taken from more than three million websites that SiteAdvisor has independently tested and rated for web safety issues like spyware and spam. Sites were selected from popular categories - screensavers, smileys, free games, song lyrics and file-sharing applications - all of which are also notorious for distributing spyware, adware and other unwanted programs.

The first part of the quiz presented users with pairs of sites and asked them to pick which one of the pair was safe. The second part presented a series of file sharing software sites and asked which ones were spyware and adware free. The test has been available since March.

Based on their choices, a majority of users (65 percent) would have been infected with adware or spyware many times over. Even users with a high "Spyware IQ" have a nearly 100-percent chance of visiting a dangerous site during 30 days of typical online searching and browsing activity. The study also found that users often miss the fine print that allows a dangerous web site to claim it installs unwanted software legally.

"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 McAfee's SiteAdvisor development. "No matter how knowledgeable or perceptive you are, you can't rely on your instincts alone. Another important take-away that people sometimes forget is that there are safe sites, even in these often abused categories."

Copyright © SC Magazine, US edition

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