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Beware of the killer Bs! Searching online for Brad Pitt and Beyonce can be very risky, according to recent research.
The celebrity pair topped McAfee's list of the most dangerous celebrities online in 2008. Pitt, who stars in Burn After Reading, took over the top spot from reality star Paris Hilton, who was not even on this year's 13-deep celebrity chart. The list shows which celebrities are most commonly used by cyber-criminals to entice computer users to download malicious code or draw them to websites designed for identity theft.
"Celebrity recognition is like a black hole: our attention is irresistibly drawn to it; resistance is futile. Phishers and trollers and web marketers know that if there is anything that will beckon your cursor, it is the latest and greatest about celebs," Kim Blank, who teaches pop culture at the University of Victoria, told the ParetoLogic newsletter. "We have been cultured to suffer from an insatiable appetite for pop culture, and the Internet is the best place to do binge surfing."
That surfing could end up hurting you or your PC. According to the list, 18 percent of searches for Brad Pitt-related items resulted in viruses, spyware, phishing attacks or other malware or scams. When the search was narrowed to "Brad Pitt screensavers," the chance of coming upon something dangerous rose to 50 percent. The research showed seeking Beyonce ringtones for cell phones can lead users to websites that attempt to gather their personal information for fraud.
They certainly are not the only celebrities whose popularity are being used by malware authors. The list, in order, also included SexyBack singer Justin Timberlake, Hills reality star Heidi Montag, singer Mariah Carey, Fantastic Four movie star Jessica Alba, actress/singer Lindsey Lohan, Charlie's Angels star Cameron Diaz, actress and Mrs. Brad Pitt Angelina Jolie, pop star Fergie, soccer standout David Beckham, actress and Mrs. Tom Cruise Katie Holmes and Grey's Anatomy star Katherine Heigl.
With cyber-criminals preying on our love of popular culture, ParetoLogic spyware analyst Jean Taggart recommends computer users be carefully about what they are looking for. While he emphasized that you are not ensured of being infected by downloading a screensaver or ringtone, the odds do increase. If you "need" these items, he suggests downloading screensavers from such places as the official movie website or getting ringtones from trusted sites, although you often must pay for these.
Taggart also reminds users to practice security in depth. For example, you should make sure you have installed the most recent updates for your operating system. As well, you should be using a firewall and an anti-virus product that has frequent updates so you are protected against emerging threats. Another useful tool is that after downloading a file to upload it to http://www.virustotal.com, a site which uses multiple anti-virus scanners to determine if the file is safe or not. In general, Taggart said exercising common sense is a key to keeping your computer safe.
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