Googling Google: This Site May Harm Your Computer
Article by George Norman
On 02 Feb 2009
The Mountain View search engine giant was hit by an unusual glitch this Saturday, the last day of January, when for approximately one hour all search results displayed the same result, regardless of the query you entered: This site may harm your computer. The incident which labeled the entire internet as infected with and potentially trying to spread malware, immediately caused security experts to ponder on one unimaginable situation: has Google succumbed to a hacker attack? The answer is simpler than that; it was just human error – according to Google.

If you did a Google search between 6:30 a.m. PST and 7:25 a.m. PST this morning, you likely saw that the message "This site may harm your computer" accompanied each and every search result. This was clearly an error, and we are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to our users. What happened? Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message "This site may harm your computer" if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers,” explains Vice President of Search Products & User Experience with Google, Marissa Mayer.

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Google maintains a database of web pages that are known to spread malware to visitors; this database need to be kept up-to-date, and the way in which Google achieves this process is by automatic and manual updates. It seems that someone introduced an erroneous value which caused the search engine to flag each and every site as a malware spreading one. The impact on an every day user is estimated to be of about 40 minutes.

StopBadware.org, the company that Google works with in establishing the database of infected web pages, has also issued an explanation: “Users who attempted to click through the results saw the "interstitial" warning page that mentions the possibility of badware and refers people to StopBadware.org for more information. This led to a denial of service of our website, as millions of Google users attempted to visit our site for more information.”

Google is currently going over all mail traffic from the time of the outage because the same filters that detect infected web pages are also used to block spam messages. Some emails may have never reached the recipient’s inbox, even though it was sent by a legitimate source.



Tags: Google, Malware
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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