SiteAdvisor for Safe Web Surfing

I just started using a free browser plugin from McAfee that I believe holds great promise. It's called SiteAdvisor and its purpose is to warn users of potentially unsafe websites by marking search results with a green checkmark for safe, yellow exclamation point for dubious, and red x for unsafe. It even provides these indicators for the ads that appear on Google, MSN, and Yahoo. And while those two things alone would be impressive, the plug-in doesn't stop there. It will also give you real-time indicators of the site you're currently on should you happen to get there from a link rather than a search engine.

Unfortunately, SiteAdvisor doesn't directly indicate when a site is engaged in phishing. The explanation is that phishing sites doesn't stay active for long (hours maybe days) so it's nearly impossible to analyze them in time before they disappear. However, the SiteAdvisor teams suggests a way to infer whether a site is phishing. They argue that since major sites like banks and online stores have been around for some time, they should all have a green checkmark. If you reach a site that is asking for account information of any sort and it hasn't been reviewed at all, then it should make you suspicious. This isn't great, but it is better than any other indicator I know of.

For more detail about how SiteAdvisor works, here's as good an explanation of the plugin as anything I'm likely to write. You can also access the download page from there. Installation was easy so give it a go yourself.

For those of you that own your own sites, be sure to “claim” them. You can also see the current analysis of your site which will look something like this. The “are you the site owner” link near the bottom of the page is how you establish your claim. Even if you don't own a site, you might want to register with SiteAdvisor. This will give you the ability to comment on their analysis. Like many sites these days, I imagine this one will look to incorporate the wisdom of crowds.

So far my experiences have been quite positive. There's only a slight delay before the markers appear. And my own site gets a green checkmark which is good. Unfortunately, like a little kid that can't keep his hands out of the fire, I'm drawn to the red x sites. I'm going to have to find a way to look in to these to see just what happens.

If this tool turns out to be popular and accurate, I'd imagine that the major search engines (Google, MSN, and Yahoo) would want to introduce their own versions. Regardless, it's refreshing to see that people are still able to come up with new and useful products.

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