When you live in a big city, you learn pretty quickly if there are certain neighborhoods that are infamous for its crime. If you don't want your car stolen, if you don't want to be mugged, if you don't want to unnecessarily risk your life, you avoid going there.
Same thing goes for going into unfamiliar neighborhoods on the Internet, and happily, McAfee Inc., the antivirus software, has released a report that alerts the public where the safe web sites are, and where the not-so safe web sites are. These not-so safe web sites are the ones that are loaded with malware, where suddenly after a visit you have pop-up ads all over the place, or the site will steal your email address in order to use it to send spam.
These are the sites that cause you to curse out your computer, or as I once did several years ago, take your fists and pound them into the keyboard, short out the computer and then be forced to call a technician to come in and fix everything.
Yeah. Well, anyway... we think of all or most web sites having dot-com in their address, and certainly those are the most popular or well known of the web sites; but you can, of course, go to a web address with .gov in it, or drop into a nonprofit web site, which has an address that ends with a dot-org. In recent years, .biz has been added to web addresses and .net, and on it goes.
If you want to download the entire report, you can right here, or if you want the gist of it, you can read about it here.
The nation with the safest web site domains is Finland (".fi"), followed by Japan, Norway, Slovenia and Colombia. I admit, Colombia particularly surprised me, but apparently this is because Internet usage isn't that high in the country.
The United States' web domains are the 20th safest in the world, which is the same ranking in 2007, but the safety record has worsened in the last year, according to McAfee.
The riskiest country domain names is Hong Kong (".hk"), followed by China (".cn"). OK, sure, Hong Kong is part of China, but they have different domain addresses. Other dangerous nation web sites to visit include the Philippines, Romania and Russia. That doesn't mean if you go to a Hong Kong web site that you will be hit with malware, spyware and the like, of course; just that your odds increase significantly. In fact, 19.2% of their web sites present a security threat to Internet users, according to the McAfee report.
As the McAfee report concludes, "Vast parts of the Web are quite safe to visit, but many neighborhoods -- big ones and small ones -- put every visitor at risk of an online mugging. Whether that attack comes in the relatively mild form of a pop-up trap or something extremely serious like an unwitting experience with a keystroke logger, the Web is dangerous."
But, of course, McAfee will sell you security software to combat those dangers. How thoughtful of them to scare us out of our wits. If I didn't believe them, it's a report like that that would make me feel like I was being mugged.
Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
The most dangerous sites on the Internet...and how to avoid them