On Thursday night, a post on Google's official blog announced recent changes to (and a vast expansion of) Google's “Safe Browsing” program, warning users away from websites loaded with dangerous or unwanted software — though whether anyone will actually pay attention to these warnings still remains to be seen.
Google's post marked the 26th birthday of the World Wide Web, and said that its 8-year-old Safe Browsing system currently “shows people more than 5 million warnings per day for all sorts of malicious sites and unwanted software, and discovers more than 50,000 malware sites and more than 90,000 phishing sites every month.”
If you've seen those red-boxed “The site ahead contains harmful programs” warnings, you're familiar with “Safe Browsing.” This is not to be confused with the “This site may harm your computer” warnings which will occasionally appear below certain links listed as part of Google search results.
But however thorough Google or any other tech companies are about detecting and warning users against malicious websites, there's still the security risk inherent in human nature: namely, the more commonplace warnings are, the greater likelihood people will overlook them.
Malware warnings ignored
Last November, for example, psychology researchers at Brigham Young University published the results of a study showing that even tech-savvy college students who claimed to take personal computer security very seriously would often ignore malware warnings and click on potentially dangerous links anyway.
And in January, a joint poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed that almost half of all Americans reported receiving formal notification of at least one personal credit card breach in the previous year.
That statistic did not include the countless Americans who learned of compromised credit cards only after noticing fraudulent charges on their own statements, or reading of database breaches or malware-infected point-of-sale systems in the media.
Problem is, stories and warnings and caveats about hackers, malware, scam artists and all the other computer-security threats out there are so commonplace they lead to what's called “breach fatigue”: repeat anything often enough, and people get inured to it.
But take care you don't let “warning fatigue” lead you to ignore those malware alerts, on Google or anywhere else: those warnings are there for a reason, so don't ignore them no matter how tempted you might be to click through anyway.