A study on the delicate subject of Internet users’ access to online adult content and on the associated privacy and data security issues.
We all enjoy the benefits of the Internet, and for many of us this is an indispensable tool for work and communication. While the time spent on the Internet can be hugely productive, for some people compulsive Internet use can interfere with daily life, work and relationships.
When you feel more comfortable with your online friends than your real ones, or you can’t stop yourself from playing games, gambling, or surfing for adult-content sites, despite these habits’ negative consequences on your life, then you may want to start thinking about forgetting the Internet for a while.
Internet pornography is a multibillion dollar industry, as adult content sites are one of the most searched for categories of pages, with 1 in 4 search engine requests being pornography- related. 
As I was curious to find out more about this phenomenon, I set out to do a study on, users’ motivation in accessing adult content sites as well as on the privacy and malware dissemination issues arising from to the use of this kind of sites.
The study – an overview
The study contained 2 parts: a survey concerning the psychological background of online adult content use, and a net-research aiming to identify the ensuing malware and privacy related issues.
2,017 persons participated in the survey. The sample was a heterogeneous, with participants originating from 24 countries, ranging between the ages of 18 and 65, and with a sex ratio of about 1:1.
The survey concerned the respondents’ online habits: whether they look for adult-content sites and what type of sites they access (free vs paid ones), the reason for these actions, and if they have ever infected their computers with malware as a result of having accessed this kind of sites.
At the same time, I performed a net research about malware and pornographic sites and links: I looked for and checked for malware the URLs to the free and paid sites returned by different search engines based on a set of keywords such as: ”sex”, “porn”, “adult sites”, etc. I also searched through blogs and different other “collaborative platforms” to find out if the credentials of users having accounts on the adult content sites were exposed there.
The survey generated the expected results: 72% of the participants admitted that they had searched for and accessed adult-content sites, with 78% of them being men and 22% women. As regards the age, the largest segment of internet pornography consumers is the 35-45 years old one (69%).
The accessed pornographic materials can be broken down into 3 major classes: materials sent via e-mail (31%), videos that can be downloaded from different sources (torrents, web sites, hubs, etc) (91%) and real-time adult content sites such as video-chats, adult dating, etc. (72%).
Within the class of real-time adult content sites, 21% were paid sites and 97% were free ones. When asked how much money they spend on pornographic materials, the respondents declared that they assign between 250 and 500 USD/month. (mean values)
The interviewed persons usually access these sites from home (69%), their work places (25% – men, 13% – women), or from other locations (internet café, etc)(6%) and their main motivations were the need to relax (54%) and curiosity (38%).
As expected, adult-content sites and, in general, sex-related topics are very attractive for cybercriminals. When asked if they infected their computers searching for this kind of materials, 63% of respondents admitted that they had had malware-related problems more than one time. The sources of malware were especially links sent via e-mail and free downloadable videos.
On the other hand, the net research on the safety of URLs leading to pornographic sites revealed that of the 1,000 tested links, 29% were infected with different kinds of malware, especially Trojans and spyware.
Moreover, when looking on blogs and on different other “collaborative platforms”, I could find more than 500 credentials exposed on the Internet (accounts and passwords to paid adult-content sites). The way they were posted, combined with other accounts and passwords of the same user suggested the fact that they were obtained using a malicious piece of software installed on the victim’s computer.
In the end, it’s your decision if you access or not adult content sites. Just be aware of the fact that cybercriminals will take advantage of any “hot” topic and that sex is probably at the top of their list. Safe and relaxed surfing!
 http://www.websense.com , hr_wp.pdf , September, 2003