Casual computer users are everywhere these days. More than 80 percent of American homes have at least one computer connected to the Internet and search the Web using various keywords to find information and answers to your questions.

The sites found by Internet search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo, AOL) uses something called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) to gain prominent placement on the page listing. In 2010, a United States-based company specializing in anti-virus and security software identified the most dangerous keywords to search for when using Internet search engines. Many of them will surprise you, and I’ll give you a hint — they don’t have anything to do with those “naughty” sites.

I asked several computer using pals to give me their list of the top five keywords believed to be the most likely to elicit a computer virus and spyware attacks. Each list included various references to male and female anatomical parts, words from George Carlin’s infamous list of seven that can never be said on television, and a host of other utterances typically avoided during public conversations. Take a couple of minutes to jot down your list of presumed most dangerous keywords to search for when online with your computer.

Amazingly, the seemingly innocuous word “screensavers” garnered a maximum virus/spyware risk of 59.1 percent, the highest of all. The word “free” almost guarantees exposure to malware and fraudulent Web sites. Adding the phrase “free lyrics” has the highest risk percentage to these kinds of computer attacks. Adding the word “free” to any search raises the risk of cyber attack.

In contrast, the study confirmed that the categories with the safest risk profile are health-related search terms followed by those associated with the recession and recipe/food preparation searches.

Here’s an interesting statistical overview of the findings:

Categories with the highest maximum risk profile were lyrics keywords (26.3 percent) and phrases including the word “free” (21.3 percent). If you performed Internet searches on the riskiest search pages for lyrics searches (e.g., songs), one out of every four search results could likely infect your machine.

The categories with the safest risk profile were health-related search terms and searches concerning cooking recipes and the economic crisis. The risk range on these queries was 0.5 percent to 3.5 percent for all research results. For instance, the worst page for health queries had a 4.0 percent rating for the riskiest sites and a mere 0.4 percent risk for the overall range of searches in this broad category.

While it’s impossible to comprehend the minds of today’s sophisticated cyber hackers, it’s common knowledge that the odds of infection favor sites attracting large numbers of potential victims. The lure frequently used by hackers is wording that sounds innocuous, natural and generally interesting to a broad spectrum of users to solicit them to download a file or program containing malicious content. The combination of high-volume browsers combined with the offer for something free often snares unwary victims.

With hackers proliferating around the world and cyber attacks becoming a common occurrence against major U.S. government agencies, the Internet environment is becoming problematic for the most mindful professional and infrequent home users. For example, in October 2008, cyber criminals launched a malicious attack using the popular Google Trends keywords in order to occupy the top 10 search results or “Uniform Research Locator (URL) hits” with hundreds of automatically registered variants as fake codecs, a technical term for the “compression/decompression” of large downloadable files. In effect, it shrinks large movie and music files making them more quickly transferable and playable on your computer. This deceitful cyber initiative undermines the safety and usefulness of formerly innocuous keyword searches and also makes it easier for cyber criminals to serve up viruses and malware; in some instances covertly hijacking individual computers and taking behind-the-scenes control of all functions.

The majority of prolific cyber criminals have spawned in China, Ukraine and Indonesia.

Worthy of mention is the fact that today legitimate and compromised Web sites serve more exploits and malware to users than the purely malicious ones (77 percent of Web sites carrying malicious code are legitimate sites).

At this point the big question becomes, “What is the most dangerous keyword to search for on the Web?” The undesirable answer is that it’s ever-changing depending upon which cyber criminal is at work at the moment. The best advice I can offer is “Web surfer beware” because the Cyber Ocean is teeming with hungry sharks offering something dangerous for free.

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