While Microsoft walked away, Yahoo worked to make search safer.

- May 9, 2008

Despite the fact that Microsoft finally walked away from its takeover bid for Yahoo (a subject we’ve touched upon previously… not to worry, we’ll talk about the fallout as well), Yahoo continued with their “business as usual” approach. Yahoo Search partnered with McAfee, a leading web security company, to scan search results for dangerous websites.

While this step is new for Yahoo, it’s not new to the world of web search — Google introduced a similar protection in 2006, though the Google SafeSearch feature was aimed at screening for sites that contain explicit (i.e. adult-oriented) material, removing such sites from search results. Yahoo’s SearchScan feature takes safety to the next level.

Yahoo SearchScan uses McAfee’s SiteAdvisor technology to warn users about “potentially risky sites”. The service, which is switched “on” by default within the Yahoo Search page, warns users if they are about to click on a website that hosts viruses, spyware and spam. The warning appears as an on-screen alert, as shown here:

Yahoo Search Engine Results

The service is currently available as a free beta for Yahoo Search users in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Spain

Yahoo’s SearchScan alerts users to the following security concerns:

– Browser Exploits / Hacking Risks — These types of sites can harm a user’s computer or install malware simply with a visit to the site. Such sites may use methods like browser hacks to infect a computer without any action on the user’s part.
– Dangerous Downloads — These sites may offer downloads with dangerous software like viruses or spyware embedded in them. This often comes bundled with other free downloads like screensavers, ringtones, games, or other software. SearchScan will display warnings next to search results for sites that offer such potentially dangerous software.
– Unsolicited Email — Users sharing email addresses with these types of sites may result in unsolicited or spammy emails. These sites may request users for their email address but then either send them unsolicited email, or in some cases, make users email addresses available to multiple domains to send users email. SearchScan will alert users to scanned sites that send unsolicited e-mails or inappropriately share e-mail addresses with third parties

Industry analysts at research firm IDC estimate that 67% of all computers have some form of spyware installed without a user’s knowledge . As viruses, spyware, adware, and other types of malware programs are often “hidden” inside innocuous-looking programs such as screensavers and toolbars, the Yahoo SearchScan feature helps to educate search engine users and web surfers in general to sites that may expose their computers to a security threat or may flood their inbox with spam. This enhancement to the Yahoo search engine, along with the dust settling from the Microsoft takeover falling through, can help Yahoo Search users surf the web a little more easily.

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