At last week’s Workshop on the Economics of Information Security — an annual conference held at Harvard — new research (PDF) was presented showing the link between pornography and malicious online practices. When the study’s researchers surveyed adult websites, they found that many were aimed at “manipulating and misleading a visitor to perform actions that result in an economic profit” for the Web site. Free sites used these tactics 34 percent of the time, while paid sites used them 11 percent of the time. What types of tactics are we talking about? According to the study, methods include:

  1. Javascript catchers that hijack the user’s browser, making it difficult to leave a site.
  2. Blind and hidden links that prevent an address from being displayed in a web browser’s status bar. This can be used to mask malicious activities, like cross site scripting or cross site request forgery attempts.
  3. Redirection scripts that redirect users to different websites. This occurs on a server, so there’s no way for a user to know it might happen until they click.
  4. Malware that triggers malicious behavior including “code execution, registry changes, or executable downloads.”

In addition to misleading activity, the level of malware found on adult Web sites was surprising to the researchers too; almost 3.5 percent of adult websites had this type of behavior, compared with previous studies that found less than one percent as malicious. Spyware and Trojan downloads were the most popular types of malware.

The good news is, it’s simple to block adult content and pornography with OpenDNS. In a couple of steps, you can nip the issue in the bud by blocking content you know causes issues on your computer and network. To block adult content, navigate to the Settings page and select the network you wish to manage. You’ll then see a Choose Your Filtering Level option under Content Filtering. To block all adult content, make sure to block the following five categories: Adult themes, Nudity, Sexuality, Pornography, and Tasteless.

Since we already block malware for all OpenDNS users (Enterprise users get more comprehensive coverage), blocking pornography is just one more step you can take to protect users on your network from coming in contact with malicious tactics online.

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