The dangers of Googling 'Brat Pitt'

Brad Pitt: movie star, tabloid phenomenon, and now "riskiest celebrity in cyberspace."

In a recent study of online threats, the computer-security crew at McAfee shows once again that the Internet is an amazing social barometer. Popular search-engine terms, high-ranking news stories – or, in this case, malicious software – provide some of the clearest peeks at America's pop-culture tastes.

When black-hat programmers want to infect as many computers as possible, they disguise their malware by dressing it up in the latest online fads and Hollywood heartthrobs. Searches for celebrity screensavers can led to hidden spyware, and obscure websites that promise gossip or photos of the rich and famous might be fronts for a phishing scheme.

Once a star's popularity dims, the hits stop coming and hackers move on.

This year, Paris Hilton is out and Brad Pitt is definitely in.

"Brad Pitt has overtaken Paris Hilton as the most dangerous celebrity to search for in cyberspace," writes McAfee. "Fans searching for 'Brad Pitt,' 'Brad Pitt downloads,' and Brad Pitt wallpaper, screen savers and pictures have an 18% chance of having their PCs infected with online threats, such as spyware, spam, phishing, adware, viruses, and other malware."

The hackers' top 10 list:

  1. Brad Pitt
  2. Beyoncé
  3. Justin Timberlake
  4. Heidi Montag
  5. Mariah Carey
  6. Jessica Alba
  7. Lindsay Lohan
  8. Cameron Diaz
  9. George Clooney
  10. Rihanna

Notice that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears (No. 4 last year) aren't on the list. They didn't even make the top 15. I guess interest has dried up.

This kind of social engineering is at the heart of black-hat programming – they trick users into downloading your code by wrapping it in what they know you want.

So, how do you avoid the trap?

For one: Don’t click on strangers. Remember, one-in-five "Brad Pitt" search results led to malicious code. So, if a link heads toward a site that you've never heard of, don't bother with it.

A second option: McAfee published this list as a way to hype its SiteAdvisor, which scans "nearly every trafficked site on the Internet" for suspicious software. The free browser add-on works while you surf and has earned fairly positive reviews (CNET and PC Mag).

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