Article

Malware engine breaks Google search results

Robert Westervelt

People using the popular Google search engine received unclickable search results due to an error that identified every website as riddled with malware. 

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The global outage took place between 9:30-10:25 a.m. Saturday. People who attempted a search were given a warning that every site in the results contained malware and they couldn't continue. Those who clicked on a link received either a 404 error or a warning page referring people to StopBadware.org for more information.

The search engine hiccup resulted only on standard Google searches. Other Google search features, such as news and blog searches, functioned normally.

In acknowledgement of the failure, Google's Marissa Mayer, vice president of Google Search Products & User Experience, wrote on the search engine giant'sOfficial Google Blog that human error was to blame. Google's list of sites known to install malware was manually updated causing the problem, Mayer said. "Unfortunately (and here's the human error), the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and '/' expands to all URLs," Mayer explained.

"We will carefully investigate this incident and put more robust file checks in place to prevent it from happening again," Mayer said. 

Google maintains a list of websites suspected of spreading malware. It works with StopBadware.org to provide webmasters the ability to remove their site from the blacklist. StopBadware.org is an alliance of tech vendors and consumer groups that formed in 2006 to fight the rising tide of spyware and other malware. Members include search engine giant Google Inc., PC maker Lenovo, Sun Microsystems Inc., Consumer Reports' WebWatch project, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute in England.

During the outage, a Google message provided a link to the StopBadware.org website. Its servers were inundated with hits leading to a denial of service of the website.

In a message on the StopBadware.org blog, Maxim Weinstein, the site's manager, said the problem appears to have been corrected quickly and is functioning normally.

"Despite today's glitch, we continue to support Google's effort to proactively warn users of badware sites, and our experience is that they are committed to doing so as accurately and as fairly as possible," Weinstein said.


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