Sunday, February 1, 2009

Google Flags Themselves As Malicious!

Yesterday (Saturday, January 31, 2009) between 9:30 and 10:25 a.m. ET, Google search was doing some pretty weird stuff. Every search result was flagged with the message "This site may harm your computer". Google was even flagging their own site! Here's a screen shot my daughter Gabby sent me of a Google search on the word "google" (click on images for a full screen view):

Clicking on any link in your search resulted in this Forbidden message Gabby also captured and sent to me.

What happened? Here's an explanation from the Official Google Blog:

.... Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message "This site may harm your computer" if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers. We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list.

We periodically update that list and released one such update to the site this morning. Unfortunately (and here's the human error), the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and '/' expands to all URLs. Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file. Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes.

Good for a few laughs on a Saturday morning in my house but..... it certainly makes me wonder about how much potential business was lost and really makes me think about the vulnerability of the web.

Thanks for the screen shots Gabby!

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