When it comes to keeping Web searches safe, Google may have Bing beat.
Microsoft's search engine Bing is nearly five times as likely as Google to link to malware, a study by independent research firm AV-TEST found.
AV-TEST, based in Germany, said it took 18 months to analyze search results from not only Google and Bing, but also from the Russian search engine Yandex, from Chinese search leader Baidu and from others such as Teoma, owned by Ask.com.
"Although search engine operators such as Google and Bing make a lot of effort to avoid doing so, they sometimes deliver websites infected with Trojans and similar malware among their top search results," AV-TEST's Markus Selinger wrote in the report. "Other search engines do an even worse job."
Selinger said AV-TEST evaluated nearly 40 million websites returned by the various search engines. The firm examined a nearly equal number of results from Google and Bing, and concluded that although Bing returns five times as many dangerous links as Google, Bing is still the second-safest search engine included in the study.
Out of 10.9 million links generated by Google searches during the study, 272 led to malware, as defined by 36 different anti-virus products and external malware databases.
Bing returned a tiny bit more results than Google for the same terms, less than half a percentage point more. But 1,285 of the Bing links contained malware, a nearly fivefold increase over Google.
AV-TEST chose its search terms from trends on Twitter and Google and from headlines BBC News headlines.
Combined, the proportion of malicious links served up by the United States' two biggest search giants was about one-thousandth of one percent.
But to put it in perspective, Google deals with up to 3 billion search requests each day, meaning it returns up to 70,000 malware links.
Russian search engine Yandex returned 3,330 malicious links out of 13.7 million results — about 0.0024 percent, or more than twice Bing's rate and about 10 times Google's rate. (Yandex has objected to the results.)
Malicious Web links include pages that are created specifically to distribute malware, as well as those that are hacked without their owners' knowledge.
Bundles of browser-attacking malware are bundled into packages called browser exploit kits, which hit each visiting browser with one attack after another until something gets through and triggers a drive-by download.
Users of Google or Bing, or even Yandex, should be relatively safe as long as they're using up-to-date, robust anti-virus software that scans browser links and alerts users to risky sites.
Whether a link is in an email or on a search-results page, it pays to remain skeptical and wary of any suspicious links. And if Google Chrome tells you a Web page may be hosting malware, stay away.
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