Category Archives: Search Engines

Search Google Images More Efficiently With Google Image Ripper

Good friend, and regular reader, Michael F., recently introduced me to a neat little free tool – Google Image Ripper –  an alternative to the conventional Google Image Search.

From the site:

The Google Image Ripper improves on the existing Google image search tool by allowing you to safely and easily search through the results as thumbnails and also as a gallery of full-size images without having to surf to each website.

You have the option to show the link to the website where the image is hosted but don’t have to risk visiting a malicious site just to see it.

A quick walkthrough:

Since I use a lot of graphics in blogging, at the site, I’ve entered the search term “malware”.

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Results: The screen capture below shows partial results only. The hand icon indicates the image I’ve selected.

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Using the context menu “copy” command generates a 350×270 capture. (original size). Saves a visit to the originating site.

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The same search using Google, requires a click on “Images”.

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A click on “Images” generates the following (a very small representation of the actual results). I’ve selected the same image as shown previously.

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Using the context menu “copy” command generates a 256×197 capture (not the original size).

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Or, a visit to the site (another click) will allow for the viewing of the image in its original size (another click).

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If capturing an image is something you do on a regular basis, then Google Image Ripper can save you a few steps along the way.

If you’ve taken a quick trip with this tool and found it worthwhile – then, I suggest that you save the site to Bookmarks/Favorites for future use.

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Filed under downloads, Freeware, Google, Search Engines

Protect Your Privacy – Use Startpage.com To Search The Web Anonymously

imageIf personal privacy makes the short list of your Internet concerns, then take a look at the following search engine – Startpage.com – a search engine provider that promises to safeguard your privacy (not recording your IP address, not salting tracking cookies, not recording your search terms, the links you choose, etc.), while you search the Internet.

Keep in mind, that when you use a free service such as this, you are trusting the developer to adhere to the wording of the Privacy Policy.

The search engine’s home page is not very much different from any typical search engine.

Note: SSL encryption is the default standard.

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Since we all know that nothing is every really for nothing – it’s appropriate to wonder how this service provider manages to generate revenue. And, according to the developer – inserting relevant sponsored results on the top and the bottom of the results page, makes it possible – “Each time these sponsored results are clicked upon Startpage receives a minimal fee from the advertiser.”

The sample search page screen shot below, shows two relevant “sponsored results” as described by the developer.

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Whereas, the same search string in Google is ad free (see below). Not counting of course, the “normal” Google ads which normally fill the far right hand pane.

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From the site: Startpage offers you Web search results from Google in complete privacy!

When you search with Startpage, we remove all identifying information from your query and submit it anonymously to Google ourselves. We get the results and return them to you in total privacy.

Your IP address is never recorded, your visit is not logged, and no tracking cookies are placed on your browser. When it comes to protecting your privacy, Startpage runs the tightest ship on the Internet. Our outstanding privacy policy and thoughtful engineering give you great search results in total anonymity. Here are some of our key features:

  • Free proxy surfing available.
  • Praised by privacy experts worldwide.
  • Twelve-year company track record.
  • Third-party certified.

If you’re a Firefox users you can easily add Startpage.com  to your Search Engine List.

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The developer has provided an applet (see below), to make this a quick and easy process. Go here.

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If Internet privacy is something you have concerns about then, I recommend that you checkout Startpage.com in depth.  There are a surprising number of additional benefits, including a Proxy Service (designed for additional privacy), not discussed in this article.

Note: Startpage has earned the coveted EuroPriSe “trust mark” for outstanding privacy and data handling practices. It is also certified by Certified Secure and registered with the Dutch Data Protection Authority.

This article is an updated and revised version which was originally posted – September 20, 2011

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12 Comments

Filed under downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google, Privacy, Search Engines

Search Engine Malware – The Same Old, Same Old

In the News within the past 3 days

Web security firm Armorize – over 6 million e-commerce web pages have been compromised in order to serve malware to users.

Ed Bott Report – criminal gangs that specialize in malware love search engines, because they represent an ideal vector for getting Windows users to click on links that lead to potentially dangerous Trojans. The latest attack targets ads, and the social engineering is frighteningly good.

Not in the News

The specifics may be news but, this particular malware attack vector is so old I’m surprised that more Internet users aren’t aware of it. No, I take that back – based on a conversation I had just last night.

Me: “So, what antimalware applications are you currently running?”

She: “Well, I can cut and paste and I can get on the Internet, but I don’t worry about all that other stuff. I don’t understand it anyway.”

I’m well past the point where I allow myself to show surprise when I hear this type of response – it’s just so typical. Given that level of knowledge, it’s hardly surprising then, that consumer confidence in the reliability of search engine results, including relevant ads, is taken for granted.

I’ve yet to meet a typical user who would consider questioning a search engine’s output as to its relevant safety.  It’s been my experience, that typical Internet users blindly assume all search engine results are malware free.

This, despite the reality that the manipulation of search engine results, exploiting legitimate pages, and the seeding of malicious websites among the top results returned by search engines in order to infect users with malware, is a continuing threat to system security.

Here’s how the cyber crooks do it:

When a potential victim visits one of these infected sites the likelihood of the downloading of malicious code onto the computer by exploiting existing vulnerabilities is high.

Let’s take, as an example, a typical user running a search for “great vacation spots” on one of the popular search engines.

Unknown to the user, the search engine returns a malicious or compromised web page as one of the most popular sites. Users with less than complete Internet security who visit this page will have an extremely high chance of becoming infected.

There are a number of ways that this can occur. Cyber-crooks can exploit vulnerabilities on the server hosting the web page to insert an iFrame, (an HTML element which makes it possible to embed another HTML document inside the main document). The iFrame can then activate the download of malicious code by exploiting additional vulnerabilities on the visiting machine.

Alternatively, a new web page can be built, with iFrames inserted, that can lead to malware downloads. This new web page appears to be legitimate. In the example mentioned earlier, the web page would appear to be a typical page offering great vacation spots.

Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected.

Install an Internet Browser add-on such as WOT (my personal favorite), which provides detailed test results on a site’s safety; protecting you from security threats including spyware, adware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, and online scams

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable hidden filename extensions

Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible

Disable scripting features in email programs

Make regular backups of critical data

Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer

Install a personal firewall on the computer

Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet

Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments

Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected.

The following comment (posted here March 15, 2011), illustrates perfectly the issues discussed in this article.

Funny you write about this today. I was reading about the spider issue Mazda was having and wanted to know what the spider looked like so I Googled it, went to images and there it was. There was also a US map that had areas highlighted, assuming where the spiders exist, and before I clicked on the map I made sure there was the green “O” for WOT for security reasons.

I clicked on the map and BAM I was redirected instantly and hit w/ the “You have a virus” scan malware. I turned off my modem then shut my computer off. I restarted it and scanned my computer w/ MS Security Essentials and Super Anti Spyware. MS Essentials found Exploit:Java/CVE-2010-0094.AF, and Trojan:Java/Mesdeh and removed them. I use WOT all the time, but now I’m going to be super cautious.

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Filed under Application Vulnerabilities, Browser add-ons, Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Internet Security Alerts, Malware Protection, Online Safety, Search Engines, Software, trojans, Windows Tips and Tools

Find And Share Meaningful Comparisons With Mokabla

Guest writer Akshay Arabolu gives you the lowdown on his startup Internet service Mokabla, which aims to provide users with meaningful comparisons for any topic on the web.

imageWe suffer from information overload. I quote Eric Schmidt, Google’s ex-CEO, “Every two days, we now create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003”. That’s a lot of data! (around five exabytes to be exact).

So with all this information floating around, it becomes imperative that we find better ways to search. Mokabla was created with the aim of helping users effectively navigate one corner of this information jungle – that of comparison searches.

We have all looked for product/service comparisons. In a lot of instances, we are looking for first-hand comparisons from a user’s perspective. Comparisons provided by people who have experience or expertise in that subject; the kind of information that will help us understand the difference between two products quickly and easily, and allow for effective decision making.

For example if you are trying to compare email marketing platforms like MailChimp and ConstantContact, or optimization tools like Optimizely and Google Website Optimizer, you want to hear opinions from people who have used the services before. Think Amazonreviews – the first thing we do when we click on a product in Amazon is read the user reviews.

Mokabla has been designed so that when people look for comparisons, they don’t have to sift through various sites, blogs, forums etc to extract the relevant information. You will be able to find meaningful side by side/apples to apples comparisons from people who have knowledge and experience in exactly those subjects. Multiple people can create comparisons on the same topics so users get different perspectives, users can also rate, comment on and ask for comparisons.

Since there is no real precedent for a product such as Mokabla, I wanted to briefly discuss the space that Mokabla is in. Mokabla lives in the nascent but rapidly growing “Online Knowledge Market” space. This sector comprises of Q&A sties, such as Quora (considered as the “next big thing”), and the hugely popular programming Q&A site, StackOverflow.

For finding answers to specific questions, these sites can be a far better alternative to Google. Why (Disclaimer: some of these are from Quora & StackExchange). Simple, a lot of times:

  • The question can’t be answered by a simple search because it requires specialist subject-matter expertise.
  • It requires extensive research and synthesis of multiple sources – i.e. reading and culling information from various sites.
  • The question requires the answer to combine a considerable amount of human judgment with facts, as opposed to an answer brought to you by SEO – possibly a link from a company that’s trying to sell you something.
  • The question has multi-definition words where the nuance would be best understood by a person.
  • And lastly, Google helps us find information but information does not mean answers. These types of sites help us find answers.

Currently trending comparison sites such as Kevin O’Connor’s Find The Best, the Google acquired Beat That Quote, and the recently named #1 VC  backed company by the WSJ, Castlight Health, are all objective, data-driven sites which pull information from across the web. While this is definitely required information, there are a lot of comparisons which need a human hand, Mokabla was designed to fill this void.

Akshay’s Bio: Previously, Akshay used to work as an Investment Banker in the software sector. In that avatar, while helping entrepreneurs with the sales of their companies, he got hooked onto the idea entrepreneurship. When his tenure as a banker ended, he started to work on his own venture. While researching different software and applications for his startup, he found that it was not easy to find side by side comparisons for all these various entities; he subsequently launched Mokabla to solve that problem.

To find out how Mokabla got started and what’s happening behind the scenes, read Akshay’s blog – How to Launch a Startup

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Filed under Guest Writers, Interconnectivity, Recommended Web Sites, Search Engines, Windows Tips and Tools

Free G Data CloudSecurity – Blocks Known Malware And Phishing Websites

As we reported several days ago in Search Engine Results – More Malware Surprises Than Ever!, poisoned search engine results have proven to be a gold mine for the bad guys who, naturally, continue to be unrelenting in their chase to infect web searches.

Since drive-by downloads, which don’t require user action to create an infection, are resident on many of these compromised sites, this is unhappy news for the unwary Internet user.

To reduce the chances that you will be victimized by malicious search engine results, you should consider installing an appropriate Browser add-on, or if necessary, add-ons, to increase your safety margin. A list of recommended add-ons follows later in this article. But first, take a look at a new Firefox/Internet Explorer add-on, G Data CloudSecurity – passed on by regular reader Charlie L.

According to G Data, the plugin “effectively blocks access to known malware distribution and phishing websites – in real time. The plugin can be used alongside any other installed security suite and is ready for action after installing; no additional configuring required.”

Taking advantage of this service couldn’t be easier. Simply download the setup application, and execute. Following installation, you’ll notice a new icon in your browser which indicates  G Data CloudSecurity is up and running.

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Clicking on the icon opens a dropdown menu which provides access to a number of functions.

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The screen capture below shows G Data CloudSecurity in action – blocking a suspicious, or dangerous Web site.

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Fast facts:

Compatible with all other security products

Prevents access to malware and phishing websites

Install once – no updates required

PC performance remains unaffected

Download at: Developer’s site. (G Data)

Additional Internet Browser Protection:

It’s not prudent to rely on only one form of protection, it seems to me, so take a look at the following browser security add-ons that are noted for their effectiveness.

It’s important to recognize that cyber-criminals are crafty, and there are no perfect solutions.

Web of Trust (WOT) WOT is a free Internet Browser add-on (my personal favorite), that has established an impressive and well deserved reputation. WOT tests web sites you are visiting for spyware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, unreliable online shops, phishing, and online scams, helping you avoid unsafe web sites. (installed on my computer)

Search Engine Security – Search Engine Security turns the table on the bad guys by using using a technique familiar to most hackers – appearing to be something you’re not. Or, more properly, appearing to come from a location you’re not really at. (installed on my computer)

Basically, the add-on changes the HTTP referrer (selectable by you), in the search string so that when you click on a returned link it appears to the link site that you have not arrived from Bing, Google, or Yahoo.

McAfee SiteAdvisor A free browser add-on that adds small site rating icons to your search results as well as a browser button and optional search box. Together, these alert you to potentially risky sites and help you find safer alternatives. These site ratings are based on tests conducted by McAfee using an army of computers that look for all kinds of threats.

ThreatExpert Browser Defender – The Browser Defender toolbar allows you to surf safely by displaying site ratings as you browse the Internet. When you visit a site its address will be checked by our servers and a rating shown in the toolbar based on any malicious behavior or threats we have found associated with the site. The toolbar also integrates with the search results provided by popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo! so you can see if, in our view, it is safe to continue before you visit a site.

AVG Security Toolbar Free Edition AVG’s unique Search-Shield, available with the AVG Security Toolbar Free Edition, marks all web pages which are infected by zero day exploits and drive-by downloads. This powerful LinkScanner based technology works in real-time to provide comprehensive protection. Other programs rely on static databases and cannot protect you at the only time that matters – the time you click on a link.

TrendProtect – TrendProtect is a free browser plug-in that helps you avoid Web pages with unwanted content and hidden threats. TrendProtect rates the current page and pages listed in Google, MSN, and Yahoo search results. You can use the rating to decide if you want to visit or avoid a given Web page. To rate Web pages, TrendProtect refers to an extensive database that covers billions of Web pages.

Bottom line:

While G Data CloudSecurity does what it says it will do, my personal preference is unchanged. WOT (Web of Trust), backed up by Search Engine Security, is a more appropriates solution.

I’ve reviewed and recommended a bag full of Browser security add-ons in the past few months, or so. No disrespect intended to those developers who have the public’s interest at heart when they develop Browser security add-ons, but…..

Am I the only one who thinks that building protection into my Brower in this potluck fashion, has reached the height of ridiculousness?

Isn’t it long past the time, when a Browsers should be built with the most appropriate form of protection already on board?

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Browser add-ons, Browser Plug-ins, cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Internet Explorer Add-ons, Malware Protection, Search Engines, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Search Engine Results – More Malware Surprises Than Ever!

google-logo Regardless of the fact that many of us are seasoned web surfers, and we tend to be cautious, we’re not likely to question a search engine’s output – and, we should.

Barracuda Labs 2010 Annual Security Report, released just days ago, should be an eye opener for those who blindly assume all search engine results are malware free. In fact, search engine malware has doubled since we last reported on this security issue in 2009.

Barracuda Labs most recent study, reviewed more than 157,000 trending topics and roughly 37 million search results on Bing, Google, Twitter and Yahoo. Overall research results indicated that cyber criminals have bumped up the level of search engine malware, as well as expanded their target market beyond Google.

Key highlights from the search result analysis include:

In June 2010, Google was crowned as “King” of malware, turning up more than twice the amount of malware as Bing, Twitter and Yahoo! combined when searches on popular trending topics were performed.

As malware spread across the other search engines, the ratios were distributed more evenly by December 2010, with Google producing 38 percent of overall malware; Yahoo! at 30 percent; Bing at 24 percent and Twitter at eight percent.

The amount of malware found daily across the search engines increased 55 percent from 145.7 in June 2010 to 226.3 in December 2010.

One in five search topics lead to malware, while one in 1,000 search results lead to malware.

The top 10 terms used by malware distributors include the name of a Jersey Shore actress, the president, the NFL and credit score.

There’s little doubt that the manipulation of search engine results, exploiting legitimate pages, and the seeding of malicious websites among the top results returned by search engines in order to infect users with malware, is a continuing threat to system security.

When a potential victim visits one of these sites the likelihood of the downloading of malicious code onto the computer by exploiting existing vulnerabilities is high.

Let’s take, as an example, a typical user running a search for “great vacation spots” on one of the popular search engines.

Unknown to the user, the search engine returns a malicious or compromised web page as one of the most popular sites. Users with less than complete Internet security who visit this page will have an extremely high chance of becoming infected.

There are a number of ways that this can occur. Cyber-crooks can exploit vulnerabilities on the server hosting the web page to insert an iFrame, (an HTML element which makes it possible to embed another HTML document inside the main document). The iFrame can then activate the download of malicious code by exploiting additional vulnerabilities on the visiting machine.

Alternatively, a new web page can be built, with iFrames inserted, that can lead to malware downloads. This new web page appears to be legitimate. In the example mentioned earlier, the web page would appear to be a typical page offering great vacation spots.

One more common method is the insertion of false dialogue boxes, fake toolbars, and more on sites; all designed to load destructive malware which could include rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots.

Unfortunately, since Cyber-crooks are relentless in their pursuit of your money, and in the worst case scenario your identity, you can be sure that additional threats are being developed or are currently being deployed.

So what can you do to ensure you are protected, or to reduce the chances you will become a victim?

Install an Internet Browser add-on such as WOT (my personal favorite), which provides detailed test results on a site’s safety; protecting you from security threats including spyware, adware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, and online scams

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable hidden filename extensions

Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible

Disable scripting features in email programs

Make regular backups of critical data

Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer

Install a personal firewall on the computer

Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet

Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments

Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected.

Fact: Consumer confidence in the reliability of search engine results, including relevant ads, is seriously misplaced.

You can download the full Barracuda Labs 2010 Annual Security Report (PDF), at Barracuda Labs.

Update: March 5, 2011. The following comment illustrates perfectly the issues discussed in this article.

Funny you write about this today. I was reading about the spider issue Mazda was having and wanted to know what the spider looked like so I Googled it, went to images and there it was. There was also a US map that had areas highlighted, assuming where the spiders exist, and before I clicked on the map I made sure there was the green “O” for WOT for security reasons.

I clicked on the map and BAM I was redirected instantly and hit w/ the “You have a virus” scan malware. I turned off my modem then shut my computer off. I restarted it and scanned my computer w/ MS Security Essentials and Super Anti Spyware. MS Essentials found Exploit:Java/CVE-2010-0094.AF, and Trojan:Java/Mesdeh and removed them. I use WOT all the time, but now I’m going to be super cautious.

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Filed under Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Free Internet Protection, Google, Interconnectivity, Internet Security Alerts, Malware Reports, Online Safety, Reports, Search Engines, System Security

Cybercrime 101 – Advertise On A Search Engine For Success

imageIf you want to enhance your chances of being a successful cyber scam artist/cybercrook, you need to; look the part and act the part, of a successful Internet business organization.

How hard is that? Not hard at all when you consider all you need to do is offer a product that appears genuine, and perhaps most importantly – advertise in readily available and trusted media.

So, if you want to succeed in the $105 BILLION “Internet shadow economy”, advertising your “product” on an Internet search engine, could be a major step in helping you reach your financial goals.

Why an Internet search engine? Well, if one were to poll a group of typical Internet users as to the safety and reliability of search engine results, including the pervasive ads that search engines sprout; there is little doubt that the answer would be positive. In a sense, search engines impart instant legitimacy.

Part of the process of offering a product that appears to be genuine, would include producing and promoting a Web site that instills confidence in those unlucky enough to click on your ad, such as the site pictured below for ErrorSmart.

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But, here’s what 2-Spyware.com has to say about ErrorSmart:

Error Smart is not an anti-spyware as it says but a smart new scam luring online for victims. Usually, ErrorSmart must be downloaded and installed manually from promoting website, but sometimes it is distributed by trojans. Error Smart is presented as reputable security tool, but the facts speak differently.

It compromises the system by disabling firewalls and other security applications. It displays large numbers of fabricated security reports that are partially true because Error Smart is able to download additional computer parasites on the infected computer.

On top of that, Lavasoft’s Ad-aware, sees ErrorSmart as a Rogue application as the following graphic indicates.

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But hold on! Given that search engine results can be manipulated, or worse (see “Search Engine Results – Malware Heaven!” on this site), it’s reasonable to ask the question – why aren’t typical Internet users aware of this situation?

The simple answer is – search engines make little, or no effort, to educate their users in the risks involved in relying on advertisements appearing in their applications. As a consequence, the typical user I come into contact with believes search engine output to be untainted, and free of potential harmful exposure to malware.

A user looking for a review of ErrorSmart, for example, has a reasonably good chance of finding the following review:

ErrorSmart uses the industry’s most advanced error-resolution technology and puts it to work for you. By scanning your hard drive, analyzing the errors and correcting the problems, ErrorSmart can restore your system performance and increase startup speed by up to 70 percent.

Whether it’s incomplete uninstalls, failed installations, driver issues or spyware infections that are affecting your PC, ErrorSmart will rid you of your computer problems in just minutes.

However, the graphic below, illustrates WOT users’ reactions to this article.

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Fact: Consumer confidence in the strength and reliability of search engine results, particularly ads, is seriously misplaced.

ErrorSmart (the site pictured earlier), a “scareware/rogueware” application developed to mislead uninformed computer users’ into downloading and paying for the “full” version of this bogus software, based on the false positives generated by the application, has been “advertised” for months on a number of leading search engines.

If you think this is a one off, or an isolated incident, then you’ll be surprised to learn it’s not. For additional information on this issue see “Search Engine Results – Malware Heaven!”, on this site.

So will search engine providers address the issues described in this article? Sure – but only when consumers who are totally fed up with tainted search engine results finally force them to. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Writing articles like this is not without risk. For example, several years ago I wrote an article on an application – Finally Fast – considered by many to be less than it pretends to be. Google “Finally Fast scam” to see what I mean.

Recently, Ascentive, the developers behind Finally Fast, had their lawyers email me a letter in which they threatened to sue me for posting my unbiased views on their product. Since I live in Canada, where the courts are not sympathetic to lawsuits that are launched to intimidate and harass, this letter had little effect. Actually, I considered their threat a backhanded compliment!

Nevertheless, since Ascentive is well know for aggressive threats to sue – they even sued Google – “ The claimant, Ascentive,  a software producing corporation that, after some bad press, got kicked (“suspended”) out of Google’s organic search results & whose AdWords account got disabled, is now  suing  Google”, I did hand the email to my lawyer.

My lawyers advice to me, in decidedly unlawerly language was – “tell them to kiss your ass”.  He want on to explain that a “libel chill” lawsuit such as this, had little chance of being considered by the courts in this country.

Like most people I don’t react well to threats, so I did consider looking to the Blogger community for support on this and mounting a campaign, with the help of the community, to take up the gauntlet and spotlight Ascentive’s actions.

But, considering the number of hours that such a campaign would require, I took the easy way out and removed the article. However, if my daily workload should ever lighten – I may yet revisit my decision.

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Filed under blogging, cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Google, internet scams, Internet Security Alerts, scareware, Search Engines, Windows Tips and Tools