Porn sites more infected than was thought

Porn sites on the internet are five times more likely to host malware such as viruses, worms and trojans than previously thought, and many who visit them use software that makes them vulnerable, according to a new study.

It's long been believed that porn sites pose security risks to their visitors, but researchers from the International Security Systems Lab recently combed 269,500 pages of porn in a bid to find out more about the $US97 billion industry.

They found 3.23% of pages examined triggered "malicious" behaviour, such as code execution, registry changes or executable downloads.

"This percentage is significantly higher than we expected based on related work, where slightly more than 0.6% of adult websites were detected as malicious," the study said.

In many cases, it appeared the sites' owners were unaware of the fact their sites were serving malware, and evidence suggested they had been hacked.

Researcher Dr Gilbert Wondracek told the BBC that although relatively few porn sites were infecting visitors, it was difficult to tell which ones were.

"For the average user, it might be hard to tell an honest porn site from a dishonest porn site until you click on something," he said.

The researchers found 92% of the sites their web crawler detected as being porn sites offered free content, and acted as marketing and hit-generating sites for the 8% which were paysites.

Many of the free sites used "shady" techniques to get visitors to perform actions resulting in profit for the website operator, the study found.

Some used scripting tricks making it difficult for visitors to leave the site, and others redirected visitors to an affiliate site when they clicked on a link in a bid to collect revenue from traffic.

The researchers found even the free sites were profitable due a complex and layered traffic-trading system built on buying and selling visits.

They launched two adult websites, and registered with affiliate programs and traffic brokers.

They paid a traffic broker $US160 to get 49,000 visitors driven to their site and analysed security-related information about them, searching for common vulnerabilities.

They specifically focussed on browser plugins related to Adobe's flash player and PDF programs and the Microsoft Office program.

"These three plugins had seven vulnerabilities in the recent past, and an attacker can buy toolkits that exploit these vulnerabilities to exploit a visitor," the study said.

"We found that more than 20,000 visitors had at least one vulnerable component installed, and more than 5700 visitors had multiple vulnerabilities."

The researchers said that would allow a malicious operator to build a 20,000-strong botnet for only $US160.

"As an attacker you want to make your life easier," Dr Wondracek told the BBC. "If you can have these 20,000 people come to a place instantly, why not?"

He recommended anyone visiting porn sites should ensure their security software was up-to-date, and suggested they use the "safe browsing" feature built into many web browsers.

Internet porn

• The internet porn industry nets more each year than Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and eBay combined.

• Statistics suggested about 12% of sites on the Internet carried pornography, and that 42.7% of all internet users view pages with pornographic content. Among men who view porn, 20% do so at work.

• There are 420 million pages of pornography available on the internet, receiving 72 million visitors a month.

Source: Internet Pornography Statistics

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