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Searching for Celebrities May Threaten Computer Security

September 16, 2008

Internet security firm McAfee Inc. says that searching for images of your favorite celebrities could come with a dangerous risk to your computer’s wellbeing.

In a new report, California-based McAfee said searching for information or pictures of celebrities like Brad Pitt carries and 18 percent chance of infection from virus, spyware, spam, phishing and adware.

The report named Pitt and singer Beyonce as the most dangerous celebrities to search for on the Internet.

Cybercriminals use commonly browsed names of celebrities and other notable people to lure their victims.

“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,” explained Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee’s Product Development & Avert Labs.

“Tapping into current events, pop culture or commonly browsed sites is an easy way to achieve this,” he added in a statement.

Those searching for information, downloads or images of their favorite pop star are at risk of being directed to fake Internet sites that seem legitimate but pose serious threats to their computers.

When “Brad Pitt screensavers” was searched, more than half of the resulting Web sites were identified as containing malicious downloads with spyware, adware and potential viruses.

Inputting “Beyonce ringtones” into a search engine yields risky Web sites that promote misleading offers to gather consumers’ personal information.

Among other dangerous names to search for were singer Justin Timberlake and Heidi Montag, star of the reality television show “The Hills”.

Green said Americans’ obsession with following celebrities’ lifestyles make them obvious targets.

“We have to take precautions in casually navigating the Web since many subtle sites may be rife with malware for consumers’ computers,” he said, referring to software designed to infiltrate computer software without the consent of the owner.

Malware includes viruses, worms and spyware, which are computer programs that report back to a third party a user’s activity and Web-surfing habits.

Cybercriminals can use information to steal files or passwords used to access sensitive personal or financial information.

Searches for soccer star David Beckham and actresses Katie Holmes, Lindsay Lohan and Katherine Heigl are also risky and have a good chance of infecting computers, the company said.

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