It's become the "forward slash" heard 'round the world.

Bloggers, software designers and tech pundits are talking about what kind of "human error" led Google to label every site in its search results badware for a time on Saturday.


The debate follows the glitch that hit Saturday morning, when, from about 9:30 AM eastern to 10:25 AM eastern, every attempt to navigate to a Web site through Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) search engine resulted in security warning indicating that the requested site had been flagged for malware.

Just after 12:00 PM, Marissa Mayer. Google's vice president, posted a blog update, apologizing for the error and explaining its cause.

"What happened? Very simply, human error," Mayer wrote. The human error admission came after some back-and-forth with another site that Google works regarding security.

As one of its security checks, Google maintains a list of sites known to contain malware, which it cross-checks against people's search queries. So when a user is about to navigate to one of the sites on the list, an interstitial warning pops up, advising that the site has been flagged as a security risk.

Google's engineers update the list periodically, a process that is not entirely automated. So when time came Saturday morning for an update, Google's engineers accidentally added the URL of '/' to the list of malicious sites. In Google's system, the forward slash mark automatically expands to include all URLs, which apparently prompted the ubiquitous error.

The interstitial warning that greeted untold millions of Web searchers on Saturday morning directed them to StopBadware.org, a nonprofit that Google works with in maintaining its list, for more information.

The crush of traffic to StopBadware's site overwhelmed its servers, and prompted the group to post its own blog explaining its role in the error.

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