Yahoo has partnered with McAfee to actively label potentially malicious search results as such before end-users actually click on them. Dubbed SearchScan, the new feature displays a red triangular warning whenever a hazardous result is detected. This type of notification should theoretically help consumers differentiate between safe and unsafe links. Truly unsafe links that attempt to download software without user notification or automatically install malicious code will no longer be displayed at all.
The new SearchScan service is available in the US, Canada, UK, France, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Germany, and Spain. The product is still in beta at this time, so expect to see additional countries popping up as the test phase progresses. There are also hints that Yahoo search technology may be integrated into McAfee’s software on some level, though the exact details of this have yet to be determined. McAfee, of course, also gains a new group of users, some of which will inevitably opt for premium McAfee subscriptions and products.
Partnering with McAfee for real-time link scanning could give Yahoo Search a much-needed boost; the company lags Google significantly in this all-important market. Yahoo’s recent decision to refuse Microsoft’s proposed merger was a controversial decision to say the least, and puts additional pressure on CEO Jerry Yang to demonstrate how Yahoo will compete more effectively with Google.
One point that Yahoo has yet to address, however, is how its new service differs from the “This site may be harmful to your computer” warnings Google has posted beneath certain search results for the past 15 months or so. Yahoo’s notification is significantly more eye-catching than the simple link Google provides, but actually clicking on the Yahoo link promptly displays its destination. Clicking on a flagged Google link, in contrast, displays an interstitial page informing the end-user that the page in question has been classified as malware. It’s possible to continue to the infected page, but only by manually copying and pasting the URL in question.
Neither Google nor Yahoo have publicized exact details on their classification technology, which makes it difficult to determine how alike the two services are. At worst, this is Yahoo playing catch-up, but it won’t be clear if that’s the case until SearchScan has some time to find its legs and evolve past the early stages of beta.
If the McAfee-Yahoo deal proves fruitful we’ll no doubt see a plethora of partnerships between search engines and virus scanners, but for the moment, Yahoo has this particular gem all to itself. There’s real potential for this kind of service, and it could possibly help shield searchers from iFrame injection attacks, but we’ll have to wait for further information on how well the technology actually works in the wild. Given the speed with which modern malware can mutate, McAfee is going to have to keep Yahoo Search on the bleeding edge in order to effectively counter malicious software.
News source: ARSTECHNICA