Google is hard at work on a lot of things, including one of the most important and difficult things of all: improving Internet security. Five years ago, Google introduced Safe Browsing, an effort designed to protect Internet users – people who browse with Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, as well as anyone who searches the Web with Google – from malware and phishing. Through this effort, Google detects, among other things, 9,500 malicious sites every day. Allow us to repeat that: Google detects 9,500 malicious sites every day.
On the one hand, it is of course good that Google is able to identify so many harmful websites to keep users away from them; on the other hand, the fact that Google must detect so many malicious websites to keep the Internet approximately safe is disconcerting. Moreover, not every Internet user will be protected by Google’s efforts. A lot of people use browsers other than Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and not everyone searches with Google. So, consider the fact that Google identifies over three million malicious sites per year a warning. If Google finds this many harmful sites, there are a lot of harmful sites out there. (To be sure, some of the sites are incorrectly identified as harmful – i.e., there are some false positives mixed into the 9,500 harmful sites Google unearths on a daily basis – but there are only a “handful” of these, according to Google, and in any case the list of malicious sites is frequently updated.)
These malicious sites compromise Internet user security through phishing and malware. Phishing is a type of attack that is designed to take your personal information by deceiving you. For example, you might visit a site that purports to be your bank’s, where you may enter your username and password for online banking, but in fact the site is operated by people trying to steal your log-in information. Malware is, as the name implies, malicious software that can be used to harvest personal information or control your computer in harmful way. Malware can be downloaded on your computer without your consent if you visit a malicious site.
Google released the number of harmful website they detect each day to mark the fifth year of their Safe Browsing project. For those who are unfamiliar with this component of the Google operation, Safe Browsing is an ongoing effort to detect malicious content on the Internet, and then warn users of this harmful content before they access it. Besides identifying harmful sites, Google Safe Browsing does a number of other things to help protect Internet users, according to a post on the Google Security Blog by Niels Provos, a member of the Google Security Team. In this blog post, Provos detailed some of the quantifiable ways that Google improves Internet security. (We’re talking about Google, so of course they can quantify the results of their efforts.) Here are some figures:
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(1) Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are used by 600 million people. Thanks to built-in protection supplied by Google, these hundreds of millions of users are warned any time they attempt to go to a site flagged for malware or phishing. Several million warnings are issued to users of these browsers every single day. For users of Chrome specifically, Google’s download protection service provides 300,000 warnings for unsafe downloads.
(2) Of the approximately three billion searches that Google handles every day, about 12 to 14 million search queries show the Safe Browsing warning, steering users away from harmful sites. Not all of these sites were created for malicious purposes. Many are legitimate sites that have been compromised by malware authors, and once these sites have been cleaned up, no warning is issued to users attempting to access the sites.
All of these security warnings of course help keep individual users safe, but Google also provides support to webmasters, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). Webmasters are informed if something harmful has been found on their site, and ISPs and CERTs are sent notifications that help them keep their networks clean.
This is all great and we applaud Google for their efforts, but these statistics don’t merely reveal that Google is trying hard to keep the Internet safe. Rather, the number of harmful sites that Google identifies every day, taken in conjunction with the other figures cited above, paints a grim picture of the Internet. It is swimming with threats, so you must always be on guard.
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