Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of a Navy SEAL team proved very good for news and media Websites, according to research firm Experian Hitwise.
"The daily visits to News & Media Websites reached a three-year high for the second time this year on Monday, May 2, 2011, following the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden," read a May 5 blog posting by Experian Hitwise analyst Heather Dougherty. "The previous peak was on March 11, 2011 from the news of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan."
President Barack Obama announced May 1 that U.S. intelligence services had tracked the Al Qaeda founder to a massive compound in Abbottabad, a midsize town some 30 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, where he was killed after a brief firefight with U.S. soldiers. As news of the death leaked out, searches on Yahoo and Google spiked.
Images of bin Laden's final hiding place can be seen on Google Maps.
For May 2, Yahoo News ranked first with a 200 percent increase in visitors (over the previous Monday). It was followed by MSNBC, the Huffington Post, CNN.com, and ABCnews.com, all of which saw visits spike by triple-digit percentages.
"It is interesting to note that -bin laden wives' ranked first followed by -osama bin laden' dead" in search terms driving traffic, Dougherty added. "Out of the top 100 search terms, 30 were Bin Laden related, with 6 of those search queries including the term -photo' or -video' as some called for additional evidence."
Those curious about bin Laden's death weren't the only ones rushing to the Web: large numbers of cyber-criminals also used the terrorist mastermind's death as an excuse to push out all manner of scams, fake antivirus products, and malware. Many of these took the form of malicious links to purported video or images from the raid. Given how the U.S. government has so far declined to release any media related to bin Laden's final minutes, however, all such links-and associated Websites-are by definition suspicious. In addition to poisoning search results, scanners have been using Facebook ads to draw in users.
Cyber-scammers also used Prince William's April 29 wedding to Catherine Middleton-another event of worldwide import, although without substantial amounts of gunfire-as an excuse to push malware.
"Don't blindly trust links you see online, whether in emails, on social networking sites, or from searches. If the URL and the subject matter don't tie up in some obvious way, give it a miss," Paul Ducklin, head of technology for the Asia-Pacific region at Sophos, wrote in a May 2 posting on the Naked Security blog.
For up-to-date information, users should direct their browsers to legitimate, recognized news Websites such as Yahoo News and CNN.com. Which, based on the new data from Experian Hitwise, a significant portion of the world seems to have done.