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updated 5/3/2012 1:49:46 PM ET 2012-05-03T17:49:46

More than 9.5 percent of websites may host malicious content that could harm your computer and compromise the personal data stored on it, a new study by the security firm Zscaler shows.

In its "State of the Web" report, Zscaler  ran 27,000 websites through "Zulu," a free tool that provides real-time analysis of the potential risk posed by a website and gives it a score between 0 and 100. About 81 percent of the scanned sites scored between zero and 49, making them "benign," according to Zscaler's rating system.

Now for the bad news: 9.5 percent of sites scored between 50 and 74 percent (suspicious), and another 9.55 percent scored between 75 and 100 percent and were classified as "malicious."

[How to Protect Your Mac Against Malware]

This statistic poses a serious threat, Zscaler says, because, aside from the obvious threat of landing on a compromised site, anti-virus software is struggling to keep pace with the new and changing codes used by the cybercriminals who create the malicious sites.

Zscaler's report also highlights the continuing problem of outdated plug-ins, like Java, Adobe Shockwave and Adobe Reader, which account for a huge swath of malware. The recent outbreak of Flashback, the Mac-specific malware  found on approximately 600,000 computers in late March, was traced back to infected WordPress blogs exploiting a Java software vulnerability.

The take-home message is clear, and it's one that's been shouted for years: Keep your plug-ins and Web browsers up-to-date, and make sure you're running anti-virus and anti-malware software. Cybercriminals and malware authors prey on users who don't take the time to regularly update and protect their software; doing so can keep you and all the confidential information you keep on your computer out of serious trouble. 

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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