An Internet security startup with roots at MIT (Massachusetts
Institute of Technology) has slapped a red "X" warning label on
approximately 5 percent of all Web traffic and warned that there are
one billion monthly visits to Web pages that aren’t safe for surfing.

With an ambitious mission to use automated crawlers to test every Web site on the Internet, SiteAdvisor
officially rolled out a free trial version of a browser plug-in that
places a "safe," "caution" or "warning" label whenever a user visits a
Web site.

The idea is to use the color-coded (red, yellow or green)
system to mark every Web site and to help Web surfers determine if a
site’s content includes spyware, spam, viruses, browser-based exploits
or online scams.

A green checkmark is appended to sites tested by SiteAdvisor
and cleared as having no significant problems. However, if a Web site
tries to change the user’s browser defaults or send a lot of
"non-spammy" e-mail, the service will take a use a yellow exclamation
mark to caution users.

Web sites found hosting drive-by exploits, bundling
adware/spyware with downloads or hammering inboxes with spam get the
dreaded red warning "X."

The browser plug-in, which is available for Internet Explorer
and Firefox users, has been in beta testing for three months and,
according to data collected over that period, "red" warning ratings
were put on for sites representing more than 5 percent of Web traffic.

About 2 percent of all Web traffic was given the "yellow" caution rating.

As expected, many popular Web categories have a much higher
percentage of red and yellow sites, said Tom Pinckney, co-founder and
VP of Engineering at SiteAdvisor.

For example, on the first page of Google search results for "screensavers," 10 of the 18 sites shown have "red" ratings.

Ben Edelman, a respected
anti-spyware activist who is serving as an advisor to the Boston-based
start-up, said the company ratings are based on actual tests of
executables hosted on destination sites.

In an interview with eWEEK, Edelman said SiteAdvisor uses an
automated crawler that surfs billions of Web sites monthly to look for
executable downloads.

When an executable is found, it is automatically downloaded
onto a virtual machine and installed. The proprietary technology is
able to click installation prompts and agree to EULAs (end-user
licensing agreements).

Once a file is installed on the virtual machine, the
SiteAdvisor technology looks for all new files created, including
changes to the file system and registry.

A packet sniffer tracks network monitoring to figure out if a
piece of adware/spyware/malware is sending traffic from the machine.

"We put up the rating based on what we find on those sites,"
Edelman said, stressing that the technology also signs up for e-mail
newsletters to track spam that may be sent from that domain.

By Ryan Naraine