Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Google: This Internet May Harm Your Computer

A glitch in a computer security program embedded deeply into Google's search engine briefly prevented users of the popular search engine from visiting any Web sites turned up in search results this morning. Instead, Google users were redirected to page that warned: "This site may harm your computer."


Calls and e-mails sent to Google were not returned as of publication. I will update this blog if and when I hear back from them about the cause and length of this incident.

The problem, which appears to have been corrected by the time of publication, was related to Google's "Stop Badware" program, which is designed to keep Internet users from visiting sites that Google's bots have found try to install malicious software when users browse the sites.

I first learned of the blockage just before 10 a.m. ET, when my wife complained that Google was telling her that was trying to attack our computer.

When I looked at the search results, I noticed that Google was reporting every single subdomain of was hostile. After about five minutes of poring over the source code for those landing pages, nothing seemed amiss. That is, until I conducted a search for ".gov" and saw that Google was saying all of the sites returned -- even and -- were malicious. Strangely enough, the Google News results returned in any search did not appear to have the Google-generated malware warning.

During the time Google's search engine was effectively blocking access to nearly every site in its database, I found that the company's "safe browsing diagnostics" page -- the one that lets a visitor to a blocked page see why Google's automated programs listed the site as harmful -- would not load. My guess is many, many people were trying to visit that site as a result of the glitch, and that the server simply couldn't handle the load.

Verizon's security folks also appear to have noticed the problem this morning, saying it looks like it lasted about an hour starting at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Update, 11:46 a.m.:, the consortium of industry and academia leaders that handles the database of sites Google lists as harmful, issued the following statement: "This morning, an apparent glitch at Google caused nearly every [update 11:44 am] search listing to carry the "Warning! This site may harm your computer" message. Users who attempted to click through the results saw the "interstitial" warning page that mentions the possibility of badware and refers people to for more information. This led to a denial of service of our website, as millions of Google users attempted to visit our site for more information. We are working now to bring the site back up. We are also awaiting word from Google about what happened to cause the false warnings."

Update, 12:38 p.m. ET: Google has posted an update to its official Google blog that attributes this fairly major "oops" to human error: "We periodically receive updates to that list and received one such update to release on 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."

By Brian Krebs  |  January 31, 2009; 10:40 AM ET
Categories:  From the Bunker , Latest Warnings  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Troubled Ukrainian Host Sidelined
Next: Data Breaches More Costly Than Ever


Official statement from

This morning, an apparent glitch at Google caused nearly every search listing to carry the "Warning! This site may harm your computer" message. Users who attempted to click through the results saw the "interstitial" warning page that mentions the possibility of badware and refers people to for more information. This led to a denial of service of our website, as millions of Google users attempted to visit our site for more information. We are working now to bring the site back up. We are also awaiting word from Google about what happened to cause the false warnings.

Posted by: stopbadware | January 31, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

It's not resolved yet. A few minutes ago I got this after clicking a link in a Dutch blog entry @



Your client does not have permission to get URL /interstitial?url= from this server. (Client IP address:

Posted by: ArnoldusDutch | January 31, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Brian, thanks for this post. I thought my computer must have been infected by a virus when I got that warning message repeatedly on Google.

Posted by: orthoman | January 31, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I just found a video clip of a German user who documented this google problem.

Posted by: spam11 | January 31, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

It was pretty funny when I realized what happened to do a search for 'google'. Even their own site was doing harm!

Posted by: keepwastingmoney | January 31, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Some programmer at Google's got some 'splainin to do!

Posted by: jimojimo | January 31, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Apparently Well, someone had to do it, didn't they?

Someone's at Google typed "Google" into Google search engine according to Jen from the UK IT support desk.


Posted by: walker1 | January 31, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I almost run my anti virus. I thought that my pc was under attack.

Posted by: nethawk888 | January 31, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

It was funny, because the sites I was looking for appeared on the search results when I typed them using Google's SE,but got what's on that snapshot, and I asked my girlfriend to search for something using Google and we both got the same error, easy, just to make sure I wasn't dealing with something bigger than a bug in the internet, I used linkscanner just to make sure I was not playing with anything it could harm our computers.
as of now G is up and running, keep working.

Posted by: LizandroDiaz | January 31, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

This is more evidence that some other company needs to step up and challenge Google's stranglehold on the Internet search business. Yahoo!'s simple search screen, , is nice, and I've found Yahoo!'s search results to be better than Google's recently.

I wouldn't be able to stomach Yahoo!'s web pages if I didn't view them with Firefox (with the Ad Blocker Plus, NoScript, and Flashblock add-ons enabled), though. Yahoo!'s ads are just downright annoying otherwise.

Posted by: Heron | January 31, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

As luck would have it, just yesterday I had deleted the links to IE on my wife's laptop and installed Firefox, based on Brian's excellent column this week. (I'm a MacBook user, so I've been on Firefox for some time.) When my wife encountered the Google problem this morning, she immediately blamed me and Firefox.

Thanks for bailing me out with this column, Brian! :)

Posted by: hisroc | January 31, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I ended up googling Google, which sums up the problem. Click link for screen capture
of Google.

Posted by: cometman | January 31, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm still sticking with Google.

Everyone makes mistakes and Google did the right thing--they took ownership of the issue and fixed it fast.

No blame game, no vagueness, just an admission of human error and a fast fix and we're good to go. Thank you Google.

Posted by: jimojimo | January 31, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Feb. 1 2009, 2 AM Rome, and Google still continues to block websites at random. For weeks I have been trying to rid my Dell PC of viruses and malwares visiting both Dell and my Bitdefender Antivirus forums. But now Google has blacklisted and shut them out. Bitdefender and Dell should sue Google for this. Why can't Google leave a loophole out to these sites after warning of their potential dangers? I'm sure surfers will switch over to other search engines in hundreds of millions if google persists in this. However, I hope it is only a temporary glitch.

Posted by: robin55gomes | January 31, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

A fun hour, that's for sure, but it sure is scary how much we rely on Google. There's a great screen shot showing Google flagged by its own feature on this article:

Posted by: sarahoneill | January 31, 2009 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: jaiderbertoli | February 1, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

If you found a site that wasn't accused of being harmful, you did better than I did. Since it didn't start everywhere at once, people were quick to assume I'd picked up malware somewhere when I posted a screenshot:

Posted by: AlphaCentauri | February 1, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

And last night Bit Defender's Total Internet Security 2009 program was showing that was sight downloading harmful products

Or was that my Google search engine attributing that to Bit Defender products?

Posted by: | February 2, 2009 2:14 AM | Report abuse


Apple announced today that it has developed a breast implant that can
store and play music.

The iTit will cost from $499 to $699, depending on cup and speaker size.

This is considered a major social breakthrough, because women are
always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them.


Posted by: | February 2, 2009 3:42 AM | Report abuse

Brucerealtor, that was a disgusting post. I'm reporting it.

Posted by: Heron | February 2, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Heron, A bit of levity never hurts after I had to unload and completely download BitDefender and run fresh scans, which took several hours because of an 'unimaginable' goof up by Google.

Seriously, I couldn't even begin to comprehend what kind of a new virus would be attacking one of the better anti virus programs out there.

Incidentally -- I have an owner's manual. LOL

Posted by: | February 2, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Bruce, "levity" about women's body parts does not belong in a blog about Internet security threats. Save it for the locker room, please, and while you're at it, get your YELLING out of your system at the gym, too. Thanks.

Having said that, from now on, I'll be ignoring your posts in here, like most others seem to do. It seems like you don't care about abiding by Internet protocol, or taking care not to waste other people's time, so you're not worth my attention. Take care.

Posted by: Heron | February 2, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I think Google has (inadvertently) shown everyone how valuable a spam filter is to everyday work. In my own moment of insanity, I tried shutting down our own internal spam filters for one day only, to experience the pain. Unfortunately, I quickly shut the experiment down after only one hour when I discovered that no one at was particularly fond of feeling the pain or receiving all of their spam. Where is their sense of adventure?

Posted by: frank_paolino | February 2, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse


Just suppose that I am a woman, what would you say now ? Besides my 'having an owner's manual, that is.

Oh, did you report me yet? A shame the WaPo insisted that I remove my photo -- now you see our Country's great flag instead.

Posted by: | February 2, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse


Please accept my apologies for apparently having offended your sensitivities.

Actually 100% of the women I know thought the Apple iTit was a rip, or I would not have posted it at all.

While we are not responsible for other people's conduct, we are responsible for our reactions thereto, so please accept my apologies for inappropriate reactions to your post that was critical of me.

Posted by: | February 3, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company