Trusted-Search Service Attacks Internet Fraud

GeoTrust launches a search engine powered by Ask Jeeves that verifies whether Web sites listed in results are legitimate.

GeoTrust Inc. on Monday launched a search engine powered by Ask Jeeves Inc. that verifies whether Web sites listed in results are legitimate or are more likely to be those of phishers looking to steal personal information.

The Needham, Mass., security firm, which sells digital certificates and encryption technology to retailers, financial institutions, insurance companies and other businesses, also on Monday launched out of beta a browser toolbar for Internet Explorer that will verify the legitimacy of Web sites being visited. A Firefox version of the toolbar is expected soon.

In launching the TrustWatch site and browser add-in, GeoTrust hopes more retailers will buy its digital certificates, so they can be shown as a trusted site in search results, Neal Creighton, chief executive for GeoTrust, said.

"A lot of consumers buying something online want a level of comfort with the retailer they're going to do business with," Creighton said. "In a way, we're competing with (online-search leader) Google for people who want to purchase goods online."

The company also shares revenue for text advertising listed on results from Ask Jeeves, which was recently acquired by e-commerce conglomerate IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Security is a major issue among consumers, who are the target of virus writers, spammers and phishers. The latter, who are the focus of TrustWatch, often use phony emails to lure people to sites posing as those from a bank or other legitimate business. The intent is to trick consumers into revealing IDs, passwords, credit-card numbers and other personal information.

Security threats have certainly made consumers a lot more nervous about doing business online. Fully 9 in 10 consumers say they made at least one change to avoid viruses or spyware, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. For example, nearly half of the 2,000 adults surveyed by Pew no longer visit Web sites that they fear might deliver unwanted spyware.

Creighton believes consumers will migrate to search engines that can verify the legitimacy of a Web site.

"The next-generation of search has to change the playing field," Creighton said. "This is the next-generation of search -- trusted search."

TrustWatch search results use different color icons to indicate the trustworthiness of a Web site. Green indicates the site is safe, yellow that there isn't enough information to make a determination, and red that the site is most likely a fraudulent site. In addition, each result includes a link to a "site report" that can give more security-related information.

Each site listed is first checked for whether it has a digital certificate from either GeoTrust or rival VeriSign Inc., whether the site's operation and content shows a pattern similar to fraudulent sites and whether the site appears on blacklists maintained by security firms.

The toolbar lets users search within IE. If sites are visited through other search engines, then the toolbar still lists whether the site is marked green, yellow or red.

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