Who doesn’t love larger-than-life characters? Celebrities fascinate us. From laughter to tears, their performances stay in our memories, sometimes even in the form of hilarious internet memes. Unfortunately, however, all this attention also piques the interest of another group: cybercriminals. Since celebrity curiosities account for so much internet traffic, crooks see celebs as a chance to plant well-disguised traps for consumers.
McAfee security experts examined these cybercrime tricks in this year’s 10th annual McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities study published by Intel Security. To identify the top threats, we used McAfee® WebAdvisor to browse the internet for pages related to celebrities. To do this, we paired celebrity names along with popular search terms such as “torrent” or “HD download.”
So what did we find? This year, queen of laughter Amy Schumer tops the list — except you’ll want to avoid the malware-infected punch in this punchline. Here’s a look at this year’s top ten most dangerous celebrities:
The top spot isn’t that surprising. Cybercriminals are after people’s attention. Anybody following Amy Schumer’s career knows the comedian’s recent rise to fame. Her comedy series Inside Amy Schumeris the winner of a Peabody award, her memoir “The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo” was released in August and she’s currently on her first world tour. Simply put: people can’t get enough of her sassy jokes, making her a prime target for cybercriminals who want to capitalize on her popularity.
Amy’s peers include comedians and a number of musical performers. Daniel Tosh (number eight on the list) is also a comedian. Justin Bieber (number two) is one of the most popular singers of our time, and Carson Daly (number three) hosts regular talk shows with other high-profile celebrities. At the end of the day, musicians and comedians get a lot of attention in our culture. People are quick to search for the latest singer on the pop scene or an established comedian’s new tour, and that’s when crooks look to divert them to unsafe sites on the internet.
There are two big truths cybercriminals keep in mind as they aim to leverage celebrity fandom for abuse. The first is that consumers want convenience. As people rely less on cable and, instead, search for the content they want online, they’ll find many third-party sources for their favorite music or videos. But unofficial sources are often dangerous. Links can send users to unsafe sites, where sneaky tactics for stealing data and usernames are waiting. The popular torrent file format for downloading files also allows cybercriminals to sneak viruses onto devices.
The second is the desire for gossip – now. In today’s social media obsessed culture, fans want real-time information related to their favorite celebrities. It isn’t uncommon for a celebrity’s photo, post or comment to be shared around the world in a matter of seconds. Those posts often spark a wave of searches. With all that traffic, cybercriminals can trick fans into visiting a faux-gossip website infested with malicious programs (malware) in an effort to steal passwords, credit card information and more. This method is particularly effective on social media channels, where the standards for trust are low.
But don’t worry. No one is asking you to give up your celebrity infatuation. All we’re asking is for a little caution. To help you nurture a skeptical mind, here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re entertained safely:
- Watch media from original sources. Miss an episode of Inside Amy Schumer? Sure, you may need to catch up, but don’t just trust every link out there. Get the original videos on Comedy Central’s website or another trusted streaming service like Hulu. This goes for any media you want to view: stick to the official source or well-known and trusted services.
- Be wary of searching for file downloads. Out of all the celebrity-related searches we conducted, “torrent” was the riskiest by far. That’s because cybercriminals often embed malware within authentic files, making it tricky to detect safe from unsafe downloads. More often than not, it’s best to avoid using torrents in the first place — especially when so many legitimate streaming options are available.
- Use security protection for browsing. Many software products, such as McAfee® WebAdvisor, can scan webpages you’re browsing, alerting you to malicious websites and potential threats. You can learn more about McAfee® WebAdvisor and download it for free right here.
About the Author
Gary Davis is the chief consumer security evangelist and vice president of global consumer marketing at Intel Security