Google's "human error" blacklists 'net

February 2, 2009 // 9:11 a.m.

Tags: #blacklist #censorship #filtering #glitch #google #human-error #stopbadware #stopbadwareorg

Google has blamed “human error” for a glitch which saw the entire Internet classified as malware this weekend.

As reported over on CNet, the search engine giant – which works with site classification organisation StopBadware.org to alert users to potentially dangerous search results – started reporting the entire Internet as an infected site at around 1500 GMT on Saturday.

For about half an hour, the largest search engine on the planet warned users that “this site may harm your computer” for the entire Internet. While the problem was rapidly resolved, there was a certain amount of argument as to who exactly was to blame for the outage.

Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, initially attempted to pin the blame on bad data provided by non-profit organisation StopBadware.org. This was rapidly denied by StopBadware.org's Maxim Weinstein, who pointed out that “Google generates its own list of badware URLs, and no data that we generate is supposed to affect the warnings in Google's search listings.

Since the event – and StopBadware.org's denial of involvement – Google has pointed the finger at “human error” on its own end: it appears that whoever was responsible for the creation of the list of dangerous sites made a rather important typo, and entered “/” somewhere in the blacklist – resulting in the entire Internet being misclassified.

Although the glitch has now been resolved – and without the need to remove the blacklisting altogether, meaning that bad sites are still correctly listed as bad – there has been a certain amount of heartache for all involved, from end-users confused by the warnings received to webmasters who feel their good names have been tarnished. StopBadWare.org was also taken offline briefly by excess traffic generated by the mistake.

Did anyone notice the glitch on Saturday and wonder just what new attack the Internet was facing now, or was it just a minor hiccough that could well have gone unnoticed? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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