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January 31st, 2009

Google Malfunction Tagged All Internet Websites As Malware Infected

Google’s main search engine mistakenly identified every site on the web as malware, according to reports in US and the UK. Following any search query, Google’s search engine tagged each result with the words: “This site may harm your computer”.

Attempts to visit any website through a search link popped up Google’s usual malware warning:

Google has been warning against the use of the web for at least 45 minutes in the US and the UK. No comments were made by Google but the problem got fixed in an hour, after 7:30am Pacific time.

Update: Google posted an explanation in their official blog:

What happened? Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message “This site may harm your computer” if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers. We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called StopBadware.org to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list.

We periodically update that list and released one such update to 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.

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