Human Error Causes Google To Flag All Websites As Malware

A simple human error triggered a snowball effect that caused Google to display the message "this site may harm your computer" for about an hour on Google's Search results page on Saturday. Users who chose to ignore the alert were unable to open the destination webpage.

Web users of the website worldwide were affected, literally blacklisting the entire internet for a few minutes and causing tens of millions of pounds of lost sales while Google's advertising losses probably amount to a few million dollars.

The cockup prompted, Google's Vice President of Search Products & User Experience (essentially one of the highest ranked brass in the company), Marissa Mayer, to post a note on the website's official blog to explain in details why this has happened.

The root of the issue came from the fact that the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to a file that a regularly updated list of harmful websites and '/' expands to all URLs. Google's team identified the problem within a few minutes but because of the scale of the roll out, the problem lasted 40 minutes before it was rooted out.

A common misconception though was that the badware list is not maintained by Stopbadware.org, a not-for-profit partnership among academic institutions, technology industry leaders, and volunteers and backed by a number of leading technology companies including Google, Lenovo, Paypal, Trend Micro, AOL and Verysign.

The last update on the StopBadware's blog related to the incident says that Google has acknowledged the error and fixed the problem. Furthermore, it also sheds light on the relationship between Google and the Stopbadware group.

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Our Comments

Everybody makes mistakes and it is refreshing to see that Google is one of us... That was actually a light-hearted joke. Google can't make mistake and they should know better. The fact that this multi billion pound company has to manually enter URLs in a file that is then uploaded is fraught with potential problems. Google has already said that it will put more robust file check in place. But Saturday's incident unfortunately showed how vulnerable the company can be to a single "/" error.

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