McAfee Warns: In PC Security, 'Free' Is a Four-Letter Word

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There's no such thing as "free" porn or MP3s -- at least not for long, according to a new report from security software provider and Intel acquisition, McAfee.

In a report (available in PDF format here) appropriately titled, "The True Cost of Free Entertainment," McAfee researchers detailed the expected risks of flitting about from search engine to search engine in the quest for free content.

The long and the short of it is that if you punch "free" into Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) with any other term -- be it music, MP3s, videos, porn, etc. -- you're three times as likely to be redirected to a malicious website that will infect your PC or mobile device and attempt to pilfer your personal information than if you had simply searched for whatever it was you were looking for in the first place.

That's just the way it is these days because hackers know where Internet users like to go and have dedicated themselves to constructing the traps they know people will fall for to spread their malicious code.

Free music, free movies and free pornography top the list of things hackers know users want and, typically, aren't afraid to risk a stray click in their search.

According to comScore (NASDAQ: SCOR), more than 177 million U.S. Internet users watched online video in June, up from 157 million a year ago. Just like Facebook or the latest scuttlebutt on Taylor Swift, people tend to let their guard down and recklessly click away for the information they crave.

"Consumers are visiting fan sites, downloading movies and reading celebrity news, but generally aren't aware of the risks," Paula Greve, McAfee's director of Web security research, said in the report. "They can access 'free' content quickly and easily, but it actually comes at a price. Consumers must stay aware of the risks and be on the lookout for potential new dangers."

One need look no further than what happened at Ping, Apple's social music network for iTunes, where within a week of its introduction it became a haven for malware.

McAfee researchers also found "thousands" of malicious or "highly suspicious" URLs associated with fan clubs or comments made on Twitter, YouTube and other popular social media sites. Even the relatively reputable perezhilton.com site was infested with malvertising catering to pop culture fans.

As usual, McAfee and other security software vendors advise everyone to take a deep breath, ignore links contained in unsolicited emails and always assume that anything that looks too good to be true almost certainly is.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Follow eSecurityPlanet on Twitter @eSecurityP.