Michael Jackson's death leaves door open to hacker threat

Darren Calabrese/AP
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.

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.

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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