If you're over 35, you might not know who Lily Collins is (this should ring a bell: she's the daughter of musician Phil Collins, and is now famous in her own right as the star of the popular yet 12%-on-Rotten Tomatoes scoring "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones".) But if you're a teen, tween, or pop-culturally keen nine-year-old, you're likely to know who she is and be hunting down more knowledge about the star of the upcoming film adaptation of Cassandra Clare's young-adult series.
And that's probably a bad thing.
Collins heads up the Internet security firm McAfee's "dangerous cyber celebrity" list for 2013. Collins herself is presumably as safe and charming as any Hollywood personality, but her Web presence has become a Trojan horse for grifters running "malware" – programs designed to steal passwords, obtain personal information, and take control of users' computers. According to McAfee, searching for Collins pictures and downloads incurs a "14.5% chance of landing on a website that has tested positive for online threats, such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing, viruses and other malware."
Singer Avril Lavigne, actors Sandra Bullock and Zoe Saldana, and comedian Kathy Griffin round out the top five list, with searches for their photos and downloads having 12.7% to 10.5% chances of triggering online threats.
Using that which is popular to traffic in evil is nothing new – like advertisers, purveyors of malware just go where the eyeballs and excitement are. Phishing and lottery scams similarly prey upon positive excitement to override our innate sense of caution that serves us so well ... at least under under boring, day-to-day circumstances.
For kids and parents who care to stay clear of malware, the rules are fairly straightforward:
1. Don't download videos from new, unknown websites.
2. Don't log in or provide other personal information to a new site.
3. In fact, don't download anything from anywhere but trusted, established sites – "free downloads" are the chief vector for malware.
4. "Exclusive" news or breaking news content is often the lure by which the young and otherwise unwary are drawn into the malware trap – keep in mind that there is little to nothing exclusive out there anymore with the rate at which information propagates online.
In short, the Internet – like life itself – has its dangerous aspects, but a little bit of caution and common sense go a long way.