Monday, July 16, 2007

Internet companies start offering visitors website safety and search engine screening


On earlier postings (especially a recent book review [on my book review blog as on my Profile] at the end of June) I’ve talked a bit about more recent concerns over “amateurism” on the Internet with user-generated content and personal blogs and personally owned sites. Recently the “free market” of Internet companies has started offering website evaluation for visitors.

McAfee, for example, offers SiteAdvisor, (and a Plus version that one can pay extra for), which grades search engine results and also sites when they are brought up, as green, yellow or red, like a traffic light. Depending on one’s settings, yellow and red sites are blocked until overridden. The criteria include email signups and reports of excessive automated emails, downloads (presumably of applications), online affiliations (links to other sites), annoyances, and user comments. Many sites have not been tested and remain “gray”. Some sites, especially blogger sites, have testing start and remain unfinished for a long time (that is true of this blog) and that does not seem to mean that anything is wrong. Possibly McAfee is determining how to report online affiliations entered by users in comments, an issue that would raise questions about fair scoring.

At least one major corporate site, television station WLJA (7), affiliated with ABC, in Washington DC (actually Arlington VA) got a yellow for sending more than 15 emails a week. This is easy to override but it seems a bit overreaching. I do not receive excessive emails from WJLA even though I signed up, and I look at the site all the time with absolutely no problems. So there could be factual issues.

It appears that McAfee ratings apply to whole domains, not to individual files.

More recently, after watching David Boaz and Nick Gillespie discuss libertarianism on NBC’s McLaughlin Group, I tried Google for the show and got, for mclaughlin.com, in the search engines results, “This site may harm your computer.” This warning would appear to apply to the whole site, not just one file. I looked at the links and found a connection with stopbadware.org, although Google says it uses its own criteria, too. Both sites give procedures for webmasters to contest the appearance of this message. I did not override the result and visit McLaughlin Group’s own site (it has another site on CNBC that does not get the message), but I believe it is quite likely that this warning for them could be a “false positive” (due to some harmless but misinterpreted script somewhere, maybe on one insignificant file) and is likely to disappear soon when the McLaughlin Group contests it.

Note: I do see that this McLaughlin problem could be from an involuntary redirection to Wikipedia.

Stopbadware gives this link defining badware.

The site also says, “StopBadware does not independently test or review the sites provided by trusted third parties unless there is a request for review; rather, StopBadware merely hosts the lists of badware websites provided by third parties.” Link: Here is their FAQ page:

The “Manifesto” blog here is interesting and talks about the Anti-Spyware Coalition.

The organization also claims that innocent website owners sometimes get hacked because of inadequate security at some ISPs. The page with security tips is this: One danger is a so-called “injection attack” with “invisible iframes” and “obfuscated code.” Even so, most larger corporate ISPs can probably provide better security (to subscriber webmasters, even individuals) through shared hosting and dedicated hosting services than can novice users running their own servers, but very skilled professionals (those well versed in scripting languages and security) may want to do this on their own. This, again, is a disturbing reminder of the “amateur” question.

Two files on one of my sites was hacked in 2002, one of them an essay on WMD’s. It was determined (by a fellow "libertarian" expert) that a Unix Site command had probably left open at the ISP. The correct files were easily recovered and the incident did not recur. (The corrupted files were sent to law enforcement but I never heard anything, of course.)

Update: July 19

WJLA now tests green with McAfee Site Advisor. However, the cache still blocks it until I unblock; this seems to be an issue with how McAfee talks to Mozilla.

However today (July 25) I found another site that McAfee rates as red (for sending viral emails) on searches and access, but gives green if one requests a report.

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