Jun 30, 2008

Attack of the Star-News*, **

In a first for me, as I attempted to navigate over to the Pasadena Star-News's Web site, Google diverted me away to a page with a warning message that said pasadenastarnews.com is a "Reported Attack Site."

I'd never seen such a thing. By clicking on the "Why was this site blocked?" icon, I found out Google has determined certain pages associated with the site are uploading malicious software onto visitors' computers.

Immediately suspicious that my own computer was being hijacked in some way, I switched Web browsers (from Firefox to Safari to Explorer) and did Google searches for the Pasadena Star-News. The Google search results all included a hyperlink under the newspaper's name that said, "This site may harm your computer."

It's not completely clear to me what caused Google to flag the Star-News. Is it because of a complaint from a reader? Does Google have a program that checks for malware? Hell, I didn't even know Google offered such a feature.

A generic explanation from the Google Web Search Help Center says, "We want our users to feel safe when they search the web, and we're continuously working to identify dangerous sites and increase protection for our users. This warning message appears with search results we've identified as sites that may install malicious software on your computer."

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Whittier Daily News do not carry such warnings. Neither do the other LANG papers in Southern California.

I'll try to get more information about this strange phenomenon tomorrow morning.

*I've asked several people to go to pasadenastarnews.com to see what happens. Some get the newspaper page without seeing any warning. Others get diverted to the "Reported Attack Site" page like I did. I first thought Google Toolbar was the common denominator for the latter group, but that doesn't appear to be it. Maybe it's related to the security level setting on one's browser? Also, only the Google search engine includes a warning when you search for the paper's site. Yahoo! and Ask.com have no such warnings.

**I should note that while I appreciate efforts by my browser to knock down annoying pop-up ads and warn me away from sites that might harm my computer, the flagging of a newspaper site raises some First Amendment concerns - especially if the "warning" tag is the result of an outside complaint.


a guild member said...

Hmmm.... tis working now (10:25pm) ... I jumped off the P-T site (selected the link at the bottom "select newspaper ...") and it worked fine. A fixed glitch?

Gary Scott said...

The warning is still up as of Tuesday morning. I've had other people check the site, too, and they've seen the same thing. It's only the Star-News.

Anonymous said...

This is a very real problem - not only did it take me to the warning page, it would not allow me to view the site.

I should be allowed to click somewhere and go on the site anyway if I want to.

It also said that malware had been placed on comupters by the site.

Anonymous said...

The Attack page says "blocked based on your security preferences"...play with you computer settings and that should be the end of of this violation of the first ammendment.....whew! world meltdown averted!

Gary Scott said...

Now all you have to do is tell each and every one of the hundreds, if not thousands of other people who might be dissuaded from visiting a site marked infected that they need only adjust the personal settings on their home computer to avoid the warning page. That shouldn't take long.

Anonymous said...

People who ignore warnings about malware and viruses are asking for some face-to-face time with their favorite tech support representative.

Instead of figuring out how to get around those pesky warnings, maybe someone should be asking why the site is red-flagged in the first place?

- w3

Anonymous said...

a few years back another news site from the lang gang was completely pull by google. guess it took lots of whining to convince them to put it back up.

Anonymous said...

Yes but if I want to go to a site that is MY business, Google should warn me and then include a link to allow me to bypass the warning.

I don't use Google as a virus scan, I use them as a search engine.