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Google Inadvertently Labels Search Hits as Malicious

On January 31, 2009, many Internet users could not access websites following a fault in Google's search engine that labeled all search hits as malicious.

As per reports, the fault was due to a plain human error that resulted in Google flashing the alert "this site may harm your computer". However, users who preferred to overlook the warning could not open the desired web page.

In one instance, Facebook users in Canada were suggested to ignore the Google alert and enter the social networking Website's address manually. But they got the message, "You can continue to http://www.facebook.com/ at your own risk." The message was recognized as an advisory from Google. It also instructed users to follow a link to learn more about the 'malware'.

Thus, the mistake caused problems for everyone worldwide trying to access websites, virtually blacking the whole Internet for some minutes. This resulted in lost sales worth several million pounds while advertising losses for Google possibly amounted to some million dollars. Notably, however, the paid search hits on Google appeared to remain unaffected.

In addition to lost advertising income, Google is much embarrassed due to this incident since its reputation, as the most sought after search engine in the world, is at stake.

Moreover, the root of the problem was attributed to the website address of '/' which is inadvertently used as a file value for cataloging malicious websites, but '/' expands on every URL. Experts at Google immediately recognized the problem but since the scale of roll out was pretty heavy, the issue stayed for full 40 minutes before the company managed to root it out.

A Google spokesman said that many people in California were shaken with the break of the incident as Google was clearly registering all sites as malware.

Nevertheless, VP, Search Products & User Experience, Marissa Mayer, apologized on Google Blog over the inconvenience caused to users due to his incident. Mayer further said that the company would closely investigate the incident and also place stronger checks for future prevention, as reported by SDA-ASIA on February 2, 2009.

Related article: Google Rectifies Gmail flaw in Three Days

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