I’m torn on what stance I want to take on this issue I stumbled across today regarding McAfee SiteAdvisor. The IT security side of me says that any tool that prevents people from stumbling upon bad sites and malicious downloads is a good thing but the webmaster side of me says that any tool that is not moderated well and does not update frequently is bad for websites and thus bad for the Internet. The exact issue I’m referring to is the gatekeeper role that various companies like McAfee SiteAdvisor, Web of Trust, and others have adopted that can needlessly harm a site’s reputation and business.
SiteAdvisor and WebOfTrust are add-ons to your browser that will look up a site you’re trying to visit in their database and then warn you or prohibit access if the database shows the site might be malicious. SiteAdvisor has been around since 2006; although it began as a startup company from MIT, it was quickly acquired by McAfee that same year. I became aware of McAfee SiteAdvisor a year or two ago when it was installed by default at work through our enterprise McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator. With enough user backlash, the default setting was reverted. I mean, nothing screams security like a toolbar-like object being installed in your browsers unannounced, right?
Today, I read the first practical example of the controversy these ‘site warning’ tools can cause from SnapFiles, a file hosting site. Although their listing has since been updated to a Green status again (it seems to slide between Green and Yellow monthly), you can find SnapFiles write-up of the recurring incident here: http://www.snapfiles.com/siteadvisor.html
It makes for a very interesting read and they compare themselves to five other popular download sites. The results are inconsistent, show some bias, are open to the system being gamed, and can be based off of years old data.
Just as malware using a domain can taint it for years and a succeeding legitimate site will have to fight to get off of blacklists, bad ratings through an unfair site review tool can also harm the health of a site/domain. It seems if you are going to offer this tool, promote it, and even sell it you need to have the infrastructure to back it up. Listings need to be kept accurate and up to date and the review site needs to be implemented so that it can’t be spammed.
Fortunately for us here at 404 Tech Support, we’re listed in the Green with SiteAdvisor and Web of Trust. Regardless, that doesn’t make it right that other sites are negatively affected by a poorly executed, in my opinion, tool.