Internet users in the United States make over 280 million clicks to hostile sites every month through search queries, according to a new study by security vendor McAfee.
According to Chris Dixon, head of products at McAfee's SiteAdvisor, results from search engines generate about 50 percent of all Web traffic.
Economically-motivated purveyors of spam, adware and other online security issues typically target sites where consumers frequently visit online, and would therefore, zoom in on search engine results, Dixon said, in a company statement.
"Today, based on browsing trends, we estimate that U.S. Internet users make 285 million clicks to hostile sites every month through search queries," he said.
A spokesperson from McAfee told ZDNet Asia that the company was unable to provide such estimates for Asia, and added that it currently had no plans to conduct a similar study for the region.
To survey the safety of Internet search engines, SiteAdvisor compiled nearly 1,400 popular keywords selected from search lists provided by search engines and other industry sources. The security vendor then ran these keywords on Google, Yahoo, AOL, MSN and Ask, and analyzed the first five pages of results generated by these search engines.
A SiteAdvisor yellow rating is given to sites that are deemed dubious, such as one that displays many pop-up ads, and warrant a warning or advisory information to be issued against them. A red rating is issued for sites that pose a security threat to its visitors. These include sites that misuse e-mail addresses and run scams or unwanted programs, such as spyware and adware.
These tests found that of the five, Ask returned results that had the most number of sites rated red and yellow; Google and AOL were tied for second position, and MSN search results had the least number of unsafe sites.
The study also found that 8.5 percent of sponsored search results were deemed to be unsafe sites, more than double the number (3.1 percent) of unsafe sites that show up in non-sponsored search results.
According to the report, search engines appeared to be sluggish in enforcing policies that restrict ad space from untrustworthy advertisers.