Almost three quarters of the 100 most popular websites either hosted malicious content or contained a masked redirect last year.


According to the Websense Security Labs State of Internet Security for Q3-Q4 2008, 70 per cent of the top 100 most popular websites either hosted malicious content or contained a masked redirect to lure unsuspecting victims from legitimate sites to malicious sites.


This represented a 16 per cent increase over the last six-month period, while more than 77 per cent of the websites that Websense had classified as malicious were actually sites with seemingly ‘good' reputations.


Carl Leonard, EMEA threat research manager at Websense, said: “The top 100 sites included the likes of Google, MSNBC and Facebook, and 70 per cent had either had malicious content or had featured some sort of redirect. They are done very easily and it is simple but effective, and people trust them because of their reputation, but unbeknownst to them the links can be malicious.


“A page can feature a re-direct with a product page or a FAQ; this can be intercepted and used as a malicious redirect. Because of the large numbers of people on the sites, and that they feature user generated content, the sites could be malware ridden. We call this ‘blog spam', and it is another way to guarantee a user base and a spammer can utilise it.”


Also, the number of malicious websites that have been identified by Websense from January 1 2008 to January 1 2009 has increased by 46 per cent. Leonard claimed that this could be compromised sites or new sites that have been set up.


Meanwhile, the report found that close to a fifth of global malware in the last six months was connecting back to UK sites, with a significant spike in incidences of malware in September when a jump in connections led to 60 per cent of global malware connecting directly back to the UK.


Leonard claimed that this was ‘a good trend over the past six months', and said: “The last three months has seen an increase of other countries on the graph as cybercriminals are going global and moving to other locations to evade the law enforcement, it also makes it harder to keep up with them.”


Websense chief technology officer Dan Hubbard, said: “In the last six months criminals have really stepped up their game in a few notable areas. Spammers are increasingly using links to malicious websites and spam sites in their email campaigns to lure users and evade security systems that lack web intelligence.


“We're also seeing an increase in cybercriminals taking advantage of the growing number of Web 2.0 properties that allow user generated content. More than ever we're seeing attackers inject websites with links and iFrames to direct users to malicious and compromised sites with the ultimate purpose of stealing data.”