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Sophos says sorry over Google Analytics false alarm

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Updated Sophos has apologised after its security screening technology went awry and began falsely warning users when they visited websites running Google Analytics.

The false positive - which identified web content served up from google-analytics.com as malicious code (specifically HTMLGen-A) - kicked in at around 05:15 GMT and persisted for just under an hour. As a result of the problem corporates users of both security appliances and security software applications from Sophos received false warning about Google's web stats technology.

"We weren't saying that the websites running Google Analytics contained malign or risky code. We mistakenly said that the code on the *Google Analytics* site was malign (albeit when people visited other sites)," a Sophos spokesman explained.

Surfers were warned - but not blocked - as explained in a blog post here. For webmasters, who happened to be Sophos customers, the problem meant that Google Analytics content was blocked, messing up web traffic stats figures.

Sophos rapidly pushed out an update, which ought to apply itself automatically but may take time to propagate around all infected systems. The net security firm also took unspecified steps designed to prevent a repetition of the problem.

"Even though no web browsing or computer operations were disrupted, we still recognise that an erroneous warning message can be disruptive - and we'd like to apologise for that to our customers and our friends at Google," a Sophos spokesman explained. "We pride ourselves on providing a good level of service to our customers and on this occasion we should have done better."

"We're doing a full investigation into what lessons we can learn from this incident, and have already put measures in place to ensure that this can't happen again," he added.

False positives are a well-known Achilles' Heel of security scanning software and even improving testing methodologies have failed to get rid of the problem. ®

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