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Google adds malware warning to search results

Google announced it is instituting a malware warning system on its search results page to alert users to the possibility that their computer is infected.

The Internet giant said it took the action after discovering unusual patterns of activity on the Web that it identified as a strain of malware that causes infected computers to send traffic to Google through proxy servers.

"Recently, we found some unusual search traffic while performing routine maintenance on one of our data centers," Damian Menscher, a Google security engineer, said in a
Google blog post
. "After collaborating with security engineers at several companies that were sending this modified traffic, we determined that the computers exhibiting this behavior were infected with a particular strain of malicious software, or 'malware'."

malware only affects computers running the Windows operating system, according to a post by Google engineer Matt Cutts. Systems can be tested by running a Web search for any word, he said.

Google said that as a result of its discovery, some users who come to Google through these specific intermediary servers will see a prominent notification at the top of their Google Web search results warning them of a possible

"We hope that by taking steps to notify users whose traffic is coming through these proxies, we can help them update their antivirus software and remove the infections," Menscher said.

Google's Help Center also offers
tips for scanning systems for malware and how to remove infections. Malware is often designed to disrupt normal computer operations or gather private information about the user.

When you look for information using Google, most of your results link to legitimate websites with insights related to your inquiry. Sometimes, however, your search results include a warning from Google, one that says either "This site may harm your computer" or "This site may be compromised." Click on either of these types of results links and you'll see a detailed explanation of the warning, along with instructions on how -- and whether -- to explore the specific search result further.
Badware and Malware

Badware is software that sends its manufacturer information about you, your browsing habits, your online purchases or your computer configuration without your explicit approval--including some otherwise-legitimate software that "phones home" without informing you. Badware also includes malware: computer viruses and other harmful software installed on your system, often without your knowledge, let alone your consent. If your computer gets infected, it can slow down or crash frequently. Your browser may load an unfamiliar home page or spawn multiple pop-ups, sometimes even without an Internet connection. Not all infected computers show symptoms that they're in trouble. Because it's easier to avoid malware if you avoid harmful websites, Google's malware warnings alert you to these kinds of risks to help shield you from them.

Harmful Websites
Criminals establish fake websites to obtain person information for illicit use. For example, they may set up a site that looks like the online domain of a popular merchant or major bank, then dupe you into logging in so they can steal your user name and password, debit or credit card information, social security number and more. Other harmful sites install malware on your computer to obtain information about you or hijack your system to distribute spam. Some of these sites pretend to diagnose computer problems--in order to cause them in the first place. When you see a Google search result labeled "This site may harm your computer," Google is trying to protect you from these kinds of problems. Google's warning leads to a page listing what's wrong with the site in question.
Compromised Websites

Just as badware infects computers, websites can be compromised when hackers gain illicit access and add content, pages or code that can harm site owners and visitors. When you see a Google search result labeled "This site may be compromised," that's Google's attempt to warn you about a website that even its owners may not realize is in jeopardy. Like the harmful-site warning, this alert gives you specific information about why Google is sounding the alarm.

Removing badware from your computer is time-consuming--but recovering from identity theft is difficult at best, so an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Google works behind the scenes to protect you from bad websites. If your search results include one of Google's malware warnings, only you can decide whether to override it. At the same time, remember that Google can't screen out every possible source of online harm. In an ironic twist, criminals have begun creating fake Google warning pages that lead to toxic websites.
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