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You’ve done your Internet search. Tantalizing links clamor for your attention. But it’s hard to know which might contain spyware or throw you into the clutches of a spammer (see “Malware Menace”).

A Boston-based startup, SiteAdvisor, is beta-testing a tool to sort the good from the bad. With SiteAdvisor’s software, one of three icons will appear next to many links – a red X signifying “stay away,” a yellow exclamation point suggesting reason to worry, or a green check mark for the all-clear. If you visit a site, warning balloons may pop up saying things like “After entering our e-mail address on this site, we received 197 e-mails per week. They were very spammy.”

The software was developed by two MIT-trained computer scientists, Doug Wyatt and Tom Pinckney, and consists of Web crawlers that roam the Internet, downloading proffered software and filling out sign-on forms to see what happens. The resulting knowledge is combined with information from the open-source security community and website owners and users.

“In some sense, you can think of this as a search engine – except instead of trying to find content and relevance, we are trying to find out safety information you can use,” Wyatt says. SiteAdvisor launches in March as a free download. Upgraded, fee-based versions are expected later this year.

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