Four per cent of search engine results end up on dodgy sites

Research just released by McAfee claims to show that, whilst the overall safety risk to search engine users declined by about one per cent in the last 12 months, sponsored results are still significantly more risky than standard search engine results.

For its research, McAfee studied the five major US search engines - Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Ask - and analysed the first 50 search results returned by each search engine for 2,300 popular keywords.

The study found that four per cent of all search results ended up with risky sites.

Surprisingly, AOL returned the safest set of results with 2.9 per cent rated as risky, whilst Yahoo was the worst with 5.4 per cent.

Sponsored results, says the research, contained 2.4 times as many risky sites as organic sites.

In fact, says McAfee, 6.9 per cent of all sponsored results are rated risky, with categories related to music and technology rated as having the most dangerous search terms.

"Digital music," for example, returned the highest percentage of risky sites at 19.1 per cent, followed by "tech toys" and popular keywords like "chat" and "wallpaper."

According to Tim Dowling, vice president of McAfee's SiteAdvisor service, although the results were a bit better this year than last, search engines pointing people at risky Web sites is still a major potential problem.

"With four out of five Web site visits starting with a search engine query, consumers are still exposed to hundreds of millions of risky searches per month," he said.

"In fact, an active search engine user, namely one that performs more than 10 searches per day, is likely to visit a dangerous site at least once a day," he added.

That's a worrying thought - time to update my IT security software methinx...