Hot or Not? Cybercriminals as Celebrity Meters

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2008-09-17 Print this article Print

Somewhere Britney Spears is weeping softly into a throw pillow adorned with her formerly wholesome countenance and wondering where it all went wrong.

No, we're not talking about her music career, her acting career or her perfume line. For, even worse than the sting of seeing her star fall across those heavenly domains, today Spears is likely bemoaning the loss of her onetime unrivalled status as the online world's most highly-utilized celebrity spam and malware bait.

OK, maybe Pam Anderson always gave her a good run for her money, but unsurprisingly she's yesterday's news in the same context as well. The same goes for Paris Hilton.

In fact, according to McAfee's latest report on the subject, neither Spears, Anderson nor Hilton rank among the celebs whose names and likenesses are most frequently employed by today's spammers and malware distributors in their efforts to lure unsuspecting users to visit their sites, or into opening their e-mail messages and attachments.

Who is on top? Well, Brad Pitt of course.

With his "Burn After Reading" leading at the box office and his face seemingly immune from aging in any noticeable way, the leading man is not only the most popular face currently found on the cover of entertainment magazines and men's fashion zines, he's also the top bait being used by the badware types.

Hilton was actually the "most dangerous celebrity in cyberspace" in 2007, before ceding the crown to Pitt in 2008 and falling out of the Top 15 altogether. According to McAfee, someone doing a blind search for Pitt-related content as of Sept. 2008 has an 18 percent chance of stumbling onto something nefarious.

The company drew its conclusions by using its SiteAdvisor application to filter sites that turn up when celebrities' names are entered into popular search engines.

Following Pitt were:

-Beyonce Knowles. No surprises here, because Jay-Z isn't the only man smart enough to know unparalleled talent when he sees it.

-Justin Timberlake. I guess I'll never get this one, based on either the music or his bandwagon sports fandom. Go Celtics.

-Heidi Montag. I haven't watched much of "The Hills" but I'm guessing that teenage boys have something to do with this one, much like teenage girls with Mr. Timberlake.

-Mariah Carey. Proving that being crazy isn't a death knell for popularity, or gratuitous airbrushing.

-Jessica Alba. Mmm hmm. Only surprised she's not rated higher.

-Lindsay Lohan. People like porn, it's been proven.

-Cameron Diaz. This one sort of stands out a bit as she just doesn't seem as much in the popular eye these days, but hey, spammers know what works don't they?

-Tie: George Clooney and Rihanna. It's kind of cool that all these older guys are still cutting it. Or maybe there are more older women falling for malware schemes. Either way I still prefer Rihanna.

-Angelina Jolie. Yes! Proving that Pitt is not only popular but also has amazing taste in spouses.

-Fergie. Yes that Fergie, from the Black Eyed Peas. I wonder what happened to the crazy-looking dude with the long hair. Maybe he's writing adware programs.

-Tie: David Beckham and Katie Holmes. They make a nice couple really, I mean, wouldn't you be happier for these two if they were together than you are for them with their respective SOs?

-Katherine Heigl. Not that familiar with her work but a quick Googe Images search will show you just why she's such a hot topic.

And McAfee's experts see no end in sight for the continued use of celebrity cybercrime lures.

"Cybercriminals employ numerous methods, yet one of the simplest but most effective ways is to trick consumers into infecting themselves by capitalizing on Americans' interest in celebrity gossip," Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee's Product Development & Avert Labs, said in the report. "Tapping into current events, pop culture or commonly browsed sites is an easy way to achieve this. And because of Americans' obsession with following celebrities' lifestyles, they are an obvious target. We have to take precautions in casually navigating the Web since many subtle sites may be rife with malware for consumers' computers."

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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