New statistics released by search giant Google indicate that it is crawling an ever-growing number of URLs that somehow seek to infect end users' computers.
Despite that fact, the search market leader claims that it is delivering fewer nefarious sites in its search results, thereby shielding greater numbers of Web surfers.
In a new report authored by Google Security Team member Niels Provos, who is also a senior staff software engineer in the company's Infrastructure group, the search provider offers up some of its badware site trends analysis from the last 12 months, with the sheer volume of malware sites tracking ever upwards.
In June of 2008, Google was filtering roughly 150,000 badware sites per month. However, in August 2009, that number will approach 350,000, Provos said in a post to the company's security blog. The reported numbers are derived from the Google Safe Browsing Malware List, which is fed by a free API that it distributes to webmasters to poll the MD5 hashes of known malware and phishing sites.
Users of Google's search tools and Chrome browser, along with users of Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari receive warnings when visiting sites that have been previously identified as dangerous by the API, and it is also used as part of the company's efforts with Stopbadware.org.
The recent growth in infected URLs is alarming, and being driven by new attack tactics, the expert observed.
"We have seen a large increase in the number of compromised sites since April; the number of entries on our malware list has more than doubled in one year, and we have seen periods in which 40,000 Web sites were compromised per week," said Provos.
However, compared to previous booms in infections associated with major attacks including Gumblar and Martuz, many of the newly compromised URLs point to hundreds of different domains as cyber-criminals continue to diversify their efforts, the Google security staffer reported.
The increase in malware site detections is also being driven at least in part by new scanning capabilities available to Google, Provos suggested.
In terms of the number of infected URLs that it is returning to search users, Google maintains that it has been able to hold the line over the same period, keeping the average at roughly .8 percent, the company claims, with the number down since the beginning of 2008.
In January '08, over 1.2 percent of all sites returned via Google searches involved infected URLs, and the number has been up and down ever since, but on average fewer than 1 percent of all results today are malicious, Provos said.
"We noticed an increase around May 2009, and that growth may be due to the appearance of a larger number of compromised Web sites. That said, it's encouraging that compared to last year, fewer search queries contain results to potentially harmful sites," he said in the blog post.
If Google's numbers are to be accepted, it would seem that a growing number of attacks are finding their way to users not through random searches, but via targeted social engineering techniques, since we know that the number of badware-spewing URLs has only continued to increase, based on Google's stats and those of many other security researchers.
Either that or the people behind online malware infection schemes are simply finding new ways to avoid detection, or both.
Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to [email protected].