This site may harm your computer…or not…

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It happens to the best of us, really. I’m not sure I ever really think about how humans are involved in the great processes that go into bringing me my Google search results, but over the weekend, this human intervention became obvious. Anyone who used Google between 6:30 a.m. and 7:25 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time) on Saturday received “This site may harm your computer” for every query; both CNET and TechCrunch give detailed time lines of the situation.

According to the official Google blog, the problem was caused by human error and the company worked as quickly as they could to reverse the issue once it had been discovered. Google works closely with StopBadware.org to establish criteria for maintaining a list of possibly malicious sites in order to protect Google users from malware or other online threats. In this case, a little human error caused every indexed site to be categorized as malicious.

In their blog, Google documents the incident as such:

Unfortunately (and here’s the human error), the URL of ‘/’ was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and ‘/’ expands to all URLs. Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file. Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes.

Everyday Internet browsers tend to need a little guidance to keep their computers and networks safe…they need a third party in there to warn them if a site is potentially malicious.In this case it was Google, so you know whatever they said, people were going to believe. I think they know that too…they know that if everything they serve up is labeled as “badware,” people will believe them for a little while. If the situation gets out of hand though, as it did on Saturday, people may just begin to ignore those warnings. There’s a fine line to tread there…

It’s good to know Google is looking out for its users. It’s good to know they have automatic algorithms that are manually checked to ensure our computers are safe. Kind of like checks and balances, right? Humans developed computers to help automate processes…but the humans still go back to make sure the computers are working properly.

Not to toot our own horn (ok maybe we’ll toot it just a little)…Commtouch’s newly announced GlobalView URL Filtering product is a way for security vendors and service providers to keep their users’ computers and networks safe. By leveraging a unique Data Cloud infrastructure, GlobalView URLF overcomes the limitations of previous generations’ solutions and provides highly relevant Web coverage with uncompromising accuracy and zero-hour security. GlobalView features 64 categories – 8 of which are security related – a language- and content-agnostic system, a database containing hundreds of millions of the most relevant URLs and an auto-adjusting cache.

Find out more about modern Web security measures with GlobalView URLF on our Web site, or download our white paper, Defending Against Modern Web Threats: Introducing Data Cloud URL Filtering.

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