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Searching for 'Free' Content Is Risky, Often Tied to Malware

searching for free downloadsAccording to a new study from McAfee, searching for "free" things online can significantly increase your chances of landing on a site with malicious software. In the report (PDF), McAfee addresses the "true cost of free entertainment," suggesting that searches for free music or ringtones can increase the chances of finding a malicious site by 300-percent, while searching for the lyrics of a particular song or artist is twice as risky as searching for a ringtone version of the very same music. Searching for the term "MP3" is also especially dangerous, the report claims, as substantially more sites are now using mp3 files as mules to carry malware or to execute financial fraud.

As you might expect, sites advertising free downloads of movies, TV shows or sporting events tend to boast their fair share of malware, as well. According to McAfee, a full 12-percent of such sites host dangerous software, while 7-percent were found to be associated with known cybercrime organizations. "The sites often look very professional and attempt to lure the user with the idea of a 'trial period' or even some nominal fee that is much less than what may ultimately be charged," the report reads. "Once the user agrees, they have to authorize their computer to access and interact with computers that are involved in a wide range of schemes -- from money laundering to stealing credentials such as user names and passwords.

To avoid these pitfalls, McAfee offers Web surfers a simple solution: simply avoid using the word "free" when searching for online content. Since the four-letter f-word can so easily increase your chances of infection, it's probably best to avoid it altogether while browsing.

Tags: cybercrime, download, fraud, free, malware, mcafee, ringtones, scam, security, top, virus