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Michael Jackson's death leaves door open to hacker threat

By Matthew Shaer / June 26, 2009

Pedestrians walk past a tribute written on the sidewalk honoring the late Michael Jackson on Dundas Square in Toronto on Friday, June 26. Jackson died Thursday in Los Angeles.

Darren Calabrese/AP

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The near concurrent deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett on Thursday – and the ensuing media frenzy, which by some accounts slowed the speed of the Internet considerably – is now being exploited by teams of hackers, security analysts reported today.

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One malware campaign, documented extensively by researchers at Websense, sends out emails with a link to an apparent YouTube clip of Michael Jackson. But when readers click on the link, they are brought to a heavily compromised site hosted in Australia.

Meanwhile, Sophos, an IT security firm, is warning against a wave of emails purporting to have inside information on Jackson's death. Although the body of these emails does not contain a link, Sophos experts say, the spammers behind the emails can easily harvest personal information if recipients reply to the original message.

"The untimely death of [Jackson] has sent shockwaves through the entire world – but unfortunately, this type of huge news story is also the perfect vehicle for spammers to snare vulnerable computer users," Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos said in a statement. "These spammers are relying on curious users to reply to their bogus claims – but if you receive one of these messages you just need to delete it."

Meanwhile, the folks at Webroot have been tracking a third hacker campaign – this one timed to take advantage of the death of Farrah Fawcett. Beginning yesterday, blogger Andrew Brandt writes, Webroot found "tons" of pages offering a downloadable Farrah Fawcett poster. "What you got, when you clicked the link that looks suspiciously like a video player (not a static image), was — you guessed it. A load of junk," Brandt explains.

Moral of this story? Stay away from suspicious links and email messages.

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