The fourth annual McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities report declares Cameron Diaz to be the biggest risk of all celebrity athletes, musicians, politicians, comedians and Hollywood stars on the Web when it comes to your computer security. Taking the pop culture appeal out of the popular hit list, though, the McAfee report illustrates the broader issue of just how effectively malicious attacks prey on hot topics and social trends to exploit gullible users.
According to the McAfee report, Cameron Diaz bumped former "most dangerous celebrity" Jessica Biel off the top of the list, and beat out Julia Roberts to claim the crown. An online search for the star of Shrek Forever After and Knight and Day has a 10 percent chance of infecting your system in some insidious way.
As McAfee cautions in the press release for the Most Dangerous Celebrities report, "Cybercriminals often use the names of popular celebrities to lure people to sites that are actually laden with malicious software. Anyone looking for the latest videos or pictures could end up with a malware-ridden computer instead of just trendy content."
The press release also shares this additional insight from Dave Marcus, Director of McAfee Labs Security Research Communications. "This year, the search results for celebrities are safer than they've been in previous years, but there are still dangers when searching online," adding "consumers are getting smarter about searching online, yet cybercriminals are getting sneakier in their techniques. Now they're hiding malicious content in 'tiny' places like shortened URLs that can spread virally in social networking sites and Twitter, instead of on websites and downloads."
Malware attacks are not confined to pop culture, though. Malicious developers are becoming more clever as time goes on, and they are increasingly adept at manipulating news ripped from the headlines, and exploiting the inherent trust of social networks to lure gullible users.
AppRiver's Threat and Spamscape Report for the first half of 2010 highlights other concerning trends. When natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti occur, or global current events like the 2010 World Cup soccer competition capture the news headlines, malware developers take advantage by creating fake links, sites, and other lures to target the heightened interest.
Organizations should obviously have adequate security measures in place to guard against systems being compromised or infected by such attacks. It is important to have perimeter defenses such as firewalls, and spam filters in place, and to protect endpoint systems with antimalware protection.
IT administrators can help prevent exploit from threats that might bypass those security measures, though, by ensuring that the users are educated and informed. Educate users on general online security precautions such as not clicking on unknown links or opening unknown file attachments, and inform users to be extra vigilant and exercise additional caution related to trendy topics, breaking news, and social networks.