‘Brad Pitt’ more dangerous than ‘Hugh Jackman’ – McAfee rates risky search terms online

McAfee analysed more than 2600 of the most popular words and phrases. For some keywords like ‘popular screensavers’ and ‘descargar google’ and certain of their resulting pages, the risk can be pervasive – 75% of more results can lead to increased web security risks, McAfee reported.

As scammers today look for profit, they target large pools of victims, which is why popular search terms can throw up unwanted results, Infosecurity notes. The report said: “When determining ‘market size’ for their scams, cybercriminals may look at the total number of website links a search term yields.”

McAfee says Googlebattle.com is a good tool for illustrating this. McAfee found ‘Brad Pitt’ a more dangerous search term than ‘Hugh Jackman’ with 14.3% and 9.1% maximum risk respectively. Similarly, Googlebattle produces 26.4 million hits for ‘Brad Pitt’ and 5.5m for ‘Hugh Jackman’.

Spikes in news coverage also affect the relative risk of search terms, and with the economic downturn, ‘work from home’ schemes have become very popular. McAfee found that “on average, these searches are 50% more risky than other popular terms.”

Key findings from the McAfee report

The average risk of all pages is 1.7%, and when averaging the most risky pages, risk went up to 10%.

The categories of keyword with the worst maximum risk profile were lyrics keywords (26.3%) and phrases that include the word ‘free’ (21.3%). The categories with the worst average risk profile were also lyrics sites (5.1%) and ‘free’ sites (7.3%).

The safest categories were health-related search terms and searches concerning the recent economic crisis. The maximum risk on a single page of queries on the economy was 3.5% and only 0.5% risky across all results.

Using Hitwise to generate a detailed list of keyword variations for 12 search terms, the riskiest set of keyword variations was ‘screensavers’ with a max risk of 59.1% and an average risk of 34.4%.

Surprisingly, searches using the keyword ‘Viagra’, a popular keyword that is a frequent ‘visitor’ in McAfee’s spam filters, yielded the smallest number of risky sites.

Keywords popular outside the USA were found to be “significantly riskier than those popular in the United States.”

McAfee studied over 2600 popular keywords and examined the first five pages on Google, Yahoo!, Live, AOL and Ask. Each keyword generated on average around 250 results, and McAfee checked a total of 413 000 unique URLs.

Selected top fives:

Category specific risk in the US
CategoryMax riskCategory risk
Gear, Gadgets and Games12.5%2.7%
Country specific risk summary finding
CountryMax riskCategory risk
Czech Republic14.2%2.4%
Riskiest terms in the US
TermMax riskAverage risk
word unscrambler50.0%16.1%
free music down loads42.9%20.7%
phelps, weber-gale, jones and lezak win 4x100m relay40.0%9.5%


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