Google warns of 'drive-by download' risk

Search giant's research claims 10 percent of websites contain malware which can be dropped onto visiting users' computers

Google has warned web users of the increasing threat posed by malware that can be dropped onto a computer as a web surfer visits a particular site.

The search giant carried out in-depth research on 4.5 million websites and found one in 10 web pages could successfully launch a "drive-by download" — such as a Trojan — onto a user's computer.

The software potentially allows hackers to access sensitive corporate information or install rogue applications.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said Google is right to highlight what he said is a worsening trend and "a considerable problem" for businesses and end users.

Cluley said an average of around 8,000 new URLs containing malware emerged each week during April.

Most worryingly, 70 percent of URLs hosting such malware are found on legitimate websites that have been targeted by hackers. The notion that malware only resides in the darker corners of the internet is now outdated.

The means used to place malware on websites include breaches of web server security, user-posted content, rogue advertising and third-party widgets.

Cluley said: "They [hackers] used to spread malware by email attachment. What they do now is spam out URLs."

He warned businesses: "You cannot protect users by restricting what sites they go to. You need to start protecting your web access, as well as your email gateway."

Google's The Ghost in the Browser report said the rise in web-based malware has been aided by the increasing role the internet plays in everyday life, along with the ease of setting up websites.