Google Gets Fearful, Flags Entire Internet As Malware Briefly

Earlier today, Google started placing malware warnings next to every site listed. TechCrunch has an excellent screenshot, and there’s much discussion on Techmeme. As part of its malware blocking system, this also meant anyone trying to reach a site by clicking on a link from Google were instead routed to a “do you really want to go to this site” page. The problem has since ended. Google hasn’t posted an official statement yet, but the head of its web spam team Matt Cutts has twittered that one is coming, along with apologies.

Postscript: The Google blog post is up now, explaining that human error caused a malware update it received to be applied to all sites:

We periodically receive updates to that list and received one such update to release on 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.

Postscript 2: A reporter asked me how much Google might have lost as a result of the failure. There’s no way to know. Google had 5.7 billion in revenue last quarter, which works out to about $2.6 million per hour, if I’m doing the math right. Since it was down for about an hour, that might serve as a top-level amount that could have been lost. But then you have to figure that Saturday morning Pacific time is much quieter than other times (yes, that’s still prime time for Europe and parts of the US, of course). The quarterly revenue also includes ALL Google revenue, not just search ads. And people might actually click MORE on ads due to the malware warnings on the unpaid results. Like I said, there’s really no way to know. I’m sure Google probably took some revenue hit, but I suspect it was far less than $2.6 million. Sites listed on Google also would have taken some minor dip in traffic. And Google’s competitors probably saw an uptick in traffic. There’s a good strategy for them — hope Google shoots itself in the foot more often.

More discusson to the Google blog post is now up on Techmeme here.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Web Search | Google: Webmaster Central | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Mikkel deMib Svendsen

    > And people might actually click MORE on ads due to the malware warnings

    Thats exactly what I hear from local advertisers here. So Googles error is costing advertisers money rather than Google.

    I think Google should discount ALL AdWords charges for that hour!

  • chiropractic

    I’m just glad it happened while I was sleeping. Chances are I’d have been searching my own sites and pulling hair out wondering why they’d all been flagged as malware. I wonder how many webmasters had that experience.

  • Dugdale

    I bet this will make the evening news.

  • Cohn

    Search traffic reaches its lowest trough every Saturday morning.

  • javaun

    Danny, first, we’re all glad that your hamster is on the mend.

    My wife saw the error at 9:43 EST (6:43 PST) this morning and I had her take a screenshot. She did another sample query for “coffee”, and all the pages said “This site may harm…” She’s 7+ months pregnant, so (according to Dr. Bradley) Google was doing the right thing by restricting her access to caffeine.

    I can’t help but recall how, in the wake of Enron, overzealous auditors (i.e. Deloitte, who audited my previous employer) slapped all sorts of ridiculous controls on even the most trivial processes in a gross overinterpretation of Sarbanes Oxley. This took down their core product though, and as you point out Danny, cost them money. As a public company, I’m sure Google is pulling out the controls and process binders as we speak.

  • searchquant

    I’ll bet sales of McAfee’s SiteAdvisor product went through the roof during that time.

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