Q: I heard you guys talking on your radio show about some tool that used red, green and yellow dots to alert you of dangerous websites when you are searching. I was in my car and couldn’t write it down, so could you tell me what it was called? — Gina
A: The international cybercrime world has actively engaged in “search engine poisoning” for many years so they can infect unsuspecting Internet users via the major search engines.
Most people assume that if Google or Bing is providing links during a web search, the links must be safe. Nothing could be further from the truth and the cybercriminals are counting on that misguided faith.
These sophisticated crime syndicates are gaming the search indexing systems to constantly create websites that are essentially cyber booby-traps.
They especially target fast breaking news that generates a large volume of search traffic (the death of Osama Bin Laden, the announcement of a vice presidential candidate, etc.) by creating fake websites that fool the search engines into thinking that the site is a legit source for breaking news.
Some security experts estimate that up to 40 percent of malware is delivered via poisoned search results.
There are many tools built into various browsers that attempt to automatically weed out obvious malicious sites and the search engines do their best to police the half a billion (and growing) websites on the Internet, but that only goes so far.
The tool that we discussed a while back on our radio show (www.datadoctors.com/radio) was one that we have recommended for years called Web Of Trust (www.mywot.com).
It’s a free add-on that becomes part of your browser so it can constantly watch over you as you surf the web. It’s a human-generated rating system kind of like Trip Advisor is for the travel industry that can quickly alert you to a site that is considered to be dangerous or questionable.
It uses a simple traffic light system to rate sites that show up in your search results: Green means it’s a trusted site, yellow means you should proceed with caution because of some questionable items and red means don’t click the link without some serious investigation.
It’s easy to install and goes right to work by adding these colored circles at the end of every link on the search results (they even have an alternate setting for those that are color blind).
You can easily see the value in this tool after you install it by searching for “free screen savers” or “free music downloads” and seeing red warning circles on the first page. WOT is especially useful if you have younger users in your household because the green, yellow, red system is easy for them to understand.
The power of this tool is in the community (they claim over 40 million downloads) and the user comments on why a site has been rated poorly. Whenever you see a site with a red or yellow circle, you can see exactly what the poor ratings were for by clicking on the circle.
The WOT ratings tool also works on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter by rating any links that appear in posts and feeds.
This additional coverage is especially important since the largest increase in malware attacks has been on social networking sites.
If you use a webmail service such as Gmail, AOL.com or Yahoo Mail, the WOT rating system can be used for any link in any message. By right-clicking on links, you will have a new option to “Open WOT scorecard” for that link that will also display the color circle to give you a quick way to know if it’s dangerous!