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McAfee: Why we blacklisted SANS

False positives almost unknown, claims SiteAdviser boss

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Analysis McAfee's SiteAdvisor security tool briefly blacklisted the respected SANS Institute on Wednesday. The incident highlights wider concerns about the reliability of the safe surfing tool.

Websites including the main sans.org website, as well as related sites giac.org and sans.edu sites, were tagged as bad and given a red flag. The classification arose because newsletters held on the main SANS site pointed to exploit samples on third-party web sites.

While the classification was therefore not completely unreasonable, giving one of the most respected information websites on the net the same rating as, for example, a phishing or malware serving website is more than a little rum.

The problem was rapidly sorted out after the SANS Institute got in touch with McAfee, in line with the security firm's promise to respond to concerns about classification (though not necessarily to make changes) within 24 hours.

Ernst & Young security advisor and security blogger Nathan McFeters is caustic about McAfee's classification, arguing that McAfee ought to know better than red-flagging the home of the Internet Storm Center. McFeters, not McAfee directly, was responsible for alerting Internet Storm Centre staffers about the classification.

Take this on advisement

McAfee SiteAdvisor runs a set of automated tools which browse sites, download files, and enter information on sign-up forms in order to warn users if sites either present a malware risk or are sending out spam. The service is available as a browser plug-in as well as through a deal with Yahoo! to include SiteAdvisor ratings within search results.

SiteAdvisor maintains an index of 21 million of the most popular websites, according to Tim Dowling, global VP of web security for McAfee. We spoke to Dowling on Tuesday about SiteAdvisor to determine why it took more than a week to change a negative classification of UK software review site tech-pro.net earlier this month.

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