TECH

How 'Shady' Porn Sites Can Turn Visitors Into Cybercrime Targets

06/14/2010 11:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

X-rated content aside, are online porn sites safe to visit?

A study conducted by International Secure System Lab--one of the first to examine the security risks of browsing porn websites--suggests that "shady" practices and malware are common on many porn sites, which could potentially make visitors the targets of cybercriminals.

The researchers analyzed some 269,000 free and pay adult websites on 35,000 domains.

Their findings? Over a third of free porn sites had "some type of activity that sought to mislead or misdirect visitors," MacWorld explains. "One technique is including a JavaScript "catcher" that hijacks a Web browser, making it difficult for a visitor to exit a particular Web site."

Just over 3% of the adult websites they analyzed were "booby-trapped", hosting some combination of viruses, spyware, and other malware.

Many sites (10.9% of pay sites and 26.2% of free sites) also used "blind links" that "re-direct visitors so when they click on a link they do not see the video or image they were expecting but are passed to an affiliate site," the BBC explains.

The researchers created two free-content porn sites of their own, then paid $160 to direct traffic to the sites. The researchers checked to see whether visitors to the dummy sites were using updated versions of Adobe Flash Player, among other plugins, as hackers frequently target out-of-date programs like Flash Player, which is common on porn sites. They found that nearly half their 49,000 visitors were at risk for infection or exploitation. Over 20,000 visitors "had a least one vulnerable component installed and more than 5,700 visitors had multiple vulnerable components," the International Secure System Lab's study found.

"If we were the bad guys, we could have infected all of them with malware," said one of the researchers.

"They have almost inadvertently created a whole ecosystem that's easy to abuse for cyber crime on a large scale," Dr Gilbert Wondracek, a computer security expert who led the study, told the BBC.

See jaw-dropping online porn statistics here.

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