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McAfee Deems Hong Kong Most Dangerous To Surf Web

McAfee researchers say that although Hong Kong's ".hk" domain is classified as the "most dangerous" this year, the ranking probably has little to do with the online activity of its residents.

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The second annual report, called "Mapping the Mal Web Revisited," classifies Websites across the globe based on security risk of their country's domain. Researchers say the report could act as a sort of global guide for Internet users.

"Essentially what we created was a guidebook for the Web," said Shane Keats, research analyst for McAfee and the study's author. "The Web is an incredible resource. It's remarkably rich with opportunity. That said, you have to use this resource wisely."

Altogether, the study compared the ratings of sites found in 265 countries as well as other generic domains and ranked them based on the number of risky Websites that contained adware, spyware, viruses, spam and other forms of malware hosted by the country's domains.

Following domains from Hong Kong, are the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Romania and Russia, ranked as the five most dangerous countries to conduct online activity.

The report revealed that more than 19 percent of all Websites ending in Hong Kong's "hk" domain pose a serious security threat to users. Meanwhile, China's "cn" domain is considered the second most dangerous for Web surfers, with 11 percent of its sites deemed as a security risk.

This year, Hong Kong replaced Tokelau, a tiny island of 1,500 inhabitants in the South Pacific, which was ranked as the country with the most dangerous domain in the 2007 study.

Security researchers say that the ranking of the country's domain, whether dangerous or secure, was not necessarily a reflection of the online activity of its inhabitants. Keats said that in most cases, malware authors and cyber criminals were operating trans-nationally and simply decided to "set up shop" in Hong Kong.

"This has nothing to do with Chinese nationals or residents of Hong Kong. It just happens that the domains there this year were relatively easy to work with," said Keats. "It's just as likely that the bad guys are operating an identity theft ring out of the Ukraine."

"We fully expect .hk will improve dramatically next year," he added.

Keats said that a potential attacker would choose to register with a Hong Kong domain for numerous reasons that included ease of registration, minimal regulation and low cost. For example, Keats said that in an effort to incentivize users to register more domains, Chinese providers offered two domains for the price of one registration -- a decision which ultimately worked against them.

The most risky generic domain was .info, which was ultimately ranked as the third most dangerous domain overall. The most popular .com domain was the ninth riskiest, while sites with the .gov domain were deemed the overall safest generic domains.

Meanwhile, those surfing Finnish sites should take comfort--Finland replaced Ireland as the safest place to conduct online searches, with just .05 percent of all Web sites considered security a risk. Finland domains were followed in safety by Japan, Norway, Slovenia and Colombia.

Keats said that Colombia's safety designation likely had to do with the fact that Internet usage and the number of online households tend to be lower in Latin American countries.

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