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U.S. Leads in Malicious Web Content, but Southern Neighbors Are Danger Zones

South America and Central America are perilous because they lead the world in the proportion of malicious to benign Web servers.

Although the U.S. has far and away the highest number worldwide of Web servers infected with malicious content, the real danger is coming from its neighbors to the south, according to a study released Monday.

Zscaler, a software-as-a-service security provider, released its report, State of the Web -- Q1 2010 on May 24, 2010, the second report of its kind conducted by the company. The data for this current period -- January through March -- analyzed worldwide Internet traffic and found that more than 68 percent of servers infected with malicious content originated from the United States, which makes sense because of the country's inordinately large Web presence. The next highest was Germany with 3.9 percent.

Although the U.S. reigns supreme in that category, its neighbors to the south are the ones to be most wary of. According to the report, seven of the top 10 countries for infected Web sites versus benign Web sites were found to be in Central and South America -- Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador and Colombia.

"My theory on that is more or less a combination of economics and education," said Mike Geide, a Zscaler senior researcher. These countries are home to emerging markets and companies with vulnerable Web presences, he said. "But with their adoption of technology, in their haste to stand up their website or stand up the other things that are out there on the Internet, security is often an afterthought."

In his opinion, countries with emerging companies and economies have yet to learn the hard lessons of other countries which have already experienced the growing pains that come with building up technology.

The report also said that Internet Explorer accounted for 75 percent of the analyzed Web traffic, and that a quarter of that was from version IE 6. Geide said he would like to see more organizations abandon IE 6 for newer versions or other browsers.

"It has some security limitations as well as functionality and performance limitations. I believe people are still using it for a number of different reasons," he said. "People are comfortable with the old interface or they don't want to change to a different software when they're familiar with something, so there's the familiarity aspect of it."

The report broke down browser traffic during the first three months of 2010; IE use was ahead of other browser use by far each month: 76.6 percent in January, 75.3 percent in February and 74.4 percent in March, respectively. Firefox was in second place at 9.6 percent, 9.6 percent and 10.1 percent respectively for each corresponding month.


Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.