Searching for 'free' music online vastly increases the chances of hitting a malicious site

A number of threats have been detected that are closely associated with online music and videos.

In the 2010 ‘Digital Music & Movies Report: The True Cost of Free Entertainment' from McAfee, research found that adding the word ‘free' to searches increases the risk of landing on a malicious site.

In fact, research found that adding the word ‘free' to a search for music ringtones resulted in a 300 per cent increase in the riskiness of sites returned by major search engines in English. The word ‘free' in other languages yielded similar results.

According to comScore, more than 177 million US internet users watched an online video in June, up from 157 million a year ago, and as downloading of digital content has increased, so have the dangers associated with it.

Searching for ‘MP3s' added risk to music search results, while searching for ‘free MP3s' made those searches even riskier. Even when a consumer indicated that they wanted to pay for the MP3 in their search, results still sent them to pirated content.

Paula Greve, director of web security research for McAfee, said: “Consumers are visiting fan sites, downloading movies and reading celebrity news, but generally aren't aware of the risks. They can access ‘free' content quickly and easily, but it comes at a price. Consumers must stay aware of the risks and be on the lookout for potential new dangers.”

Commenting, Mel Morris, CEO of Prevx, said that while this research was not a surprise, it does highlight that protecting the browser itself is absolutely critical.

He said: “It's not just about protecting individual websites from cyber criminals, to combat modern malware which is far more intelligent that its predecessors, PCs must be protected on all websites at all times.“

There is no reason why the internet should be synonymous with crime – consumers should be able to browse safe in the knowledge that their personal information is still private. The more protection your browser has, the harder it will be for cyber criminals to get through. Of course, when it comes to illegal downloads, the most effective defence is to steer clear.” 

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