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Lyrical Lessons in Security

I recently acquired the definitive piano transcription for the Jerry Lee Lewis hit "Great Balls of Fire," which I've been trying -- rather unsuccessfully so far -- to learn on an old upright piano I inherited from my grandmother. As I embarked on learning the song, it occurred to me that I didn't have a clue to what old Jerry was singing half the time, so I went online and Googled the song lyrics.

Big mistake. I've always known from past experience that lyrics sites can be somewhat sleazy, but I was unprepared for the sheer volume of Web browser trickery the site I landed on threw at me. Suffice it to say that if I had visited this site with Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser my computer probably would be in far worse shape than it is now. I happened to be browsing the Web with Firefox when I stumbled upon this particular site, and now my browser is acting awfully strange, and includes an oddly large blank space at the bottom 1/6th of each browser window. I'm not really sure if the lyrics site was the cause of my Firefox problem, but I can't recall visiting other such questionable sites recently.

In my opinion, lyrics Web sites are some of the shadier Web properties on the 'Net today, as many appear to exist for no other reason than to install spyware and other malicious software on your machine. The worst part of this whole ordeal is that I didn't even get the correct lyrics for the song. The song lyrics I was offered looked like they were either transcribed by a robot or by someone who didn't have the best grasp of the English language.

The site claimed the second verse of Lewis's song starts with:

"I learned to love all of Hollywood money..."

The real lyrics to that verse, I later learned, are: "I laughed at love 'cause I thought it was funny."

Then there's the site's interpretation of the first line of the fourth verse: "I cut my nails and I quiver my thumb..."

Er....."quiver my thumb?" Ouch. The real lyrics to that line are: "I chew my nails and then I twiddle my thumbs."

I could go on, but it just gets more ridiculous. What lessons should dear readers take away from this anecdote? I'm not really sure. Just be wary of those lyrics sites, okay? If for no other reason than you could go around sounding silly when singing what you thought were the words to your favorite songs.

By Brian Krebs  |  July 8, 2005; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  From the Bunker  
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Next: Watch Out For 'Typosquatter' Sites

Comments

I've had a similar experience while searching for song lyrics. I visited one in IE, and it took nearly three hours to rid my PC of the garbage the site installed - and I consider myself reasonably tech-savvy.

On the bright side, that incident finally prompted me to download Firefox, and I haven't looked back.

Posted by: Cameron | July 8, 2005 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Or you can run as non-administrator and browse with IE and not worry. Firefox is also not the security panacea that many make it out to be. It has had many of the same vulerabilities that were patched for IE, and its security patching strategy leaves much to be desired.

Posted by: Matt | July 8, 2005 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Just don't run as an administrator and none of this happens. Not with Firefox or IE.

Posted by: Simple Solution | July 11, 2005 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I always pull up the Google-cached version of lyrics sites for that very reason.

Posted by: Katherine | July 11, 2005 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Librarian tips for song lyrics searching:

1) Go to the official artist's site if you know the artist
2) Go to a good artist's fan site (try serching yahoo or google's directories to find these).
3) If you don't know the artist, go to allmusic.com's song search and find out, then try steps 1 and/or 2.
4) For older songs, try just typing in artist (or songwriters) and title into google or yahoo. Leaving out the awful word "lyrics" will help reduce the bad stuff.

Note that you will encounter similar problems searching for coats-of-arms, geographic places, etc. The lyric malware problem has been crashing well protected computers for years.

Posted by: Karim | July 11, 2005 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I note Mr. Krebs doesn't have an e-mail link, like some of the other guys who contribute to this column.Anyone know how I can contact him? I would love to ask him how I can get my hands on a definitive transcription of Jerry Lee's songs.
Thanks!

Posted by: Alexis | July 12, 2005 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Better late than never. Mr. Krebs does have an e-mail link. It's in the "about this blog" section, but in case anyone else is wondering my email is brian-dot-krebs-at-washingtonpost.com-dot-com

Posted by: Bk | November 11, 2005 1:32 AM | Report abuse

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