A video that shows popular ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews in the nude in a hotel room made its way onto several Web sites and may contain a link to a virus in a Trojan horse that could be downloaded by users.
Despite that warning on Monday, Internet users continued to try to find the video Tuesday, according to Google's "Trends" monitor, which reported that the words "Erin Andrews video" are in the top 10 items being searched for on Google.
The high-profile video represents the second time in recent weeks where a celebrity's name was used to pique user interest and distribute malware, software that is malicious. After Michael Jackson's July 7 memorial service, spammers sent out e-mails with links to photos of the service. The links asked users to first click on a downloadable file, and if they did so, that allowed malware onto the user's computer.
The Andrews video — which her attorney and ESPN have protested — was pulled from sites in the past few days where it was known to have been posted, including YouTube and NSFW POA. Still, users have been busy scouring the Internet for the five-minute video, which reportedly shows Andrews, 31, standing in front of a hotel room mirror.
Andrews’ attorney, Marshall B. Grossman, said Tuesday he plans to seek criminal charges and file civil lawsuits against the person who shot the video and anyone who publishes the material.
Andrews has covered hockey, college football, college basketball and Major League Baseball for the network since 2004, often as a sideline reporter during games.
A former dance team member at the University of Florida, Andrews was something of an Internet sensation even before the video’s circulation. She has been referred to as “Erin Pageviews” because of the traffic that video clips and photos of her generate, and Playboy magazine named her “sexiest sportscaster” in both 2008 and 2009.
May have first been posted months ago
Ephraim Cohen, a spokesman for the video portal Dailymotion, could not confirm the video had actually appeared on his company’s site, but said it may have been there months ago. He said a search for the name of the user who purportedly uploaded the video showed the person had opened an account in February, but had since closed it.
“As far as we can tell, the user took the account and the video down a while ago,” he said.
Illegal videos often are posted to multiple sites such as YouTube and Dailymotion, which remove them as soon as they are found. The videos also often circulate on peer-to-peer or file-sharing sites, much like illegal music downloads.
"There are lots more sites out there pretending to host the Erin Andrews peephole video, but really hosting malicious software," said Graham Cluley of anti-virus software maker Sophos on a company blog.
"Hackers have created Web pages claiming to contain the notorious ... video in their attempt to infect Mac and Windows computers," he wrote.
"And — surprise, surprise — if you visit those Web pages you could be putting the security of your computer at real risk."
Users, he said, may see a message that says something like, "Your popup blocker has blocked access to the Video Player. To view your video, please launch the Live Video Player below."
Nate Solberg, of Nordic PC who also monitors problems such as Trojan horses, said it's when users click on such links that a virus can be unleashed.
"A Trojan horse is the method of delivery. You think you're downloading something useful, but it turns out to have a surprise," he said. "The payload can be pretty much anything. Most popular these days are botnets, which can take control of your machine and use it for denial-of-service attacks against other Web sites, or to house pornography or distribute files illegally."
If users are asked to click on a link to download or update a video player in order to see photos or a video, Solberg suggests they instead go to the site of the video player company to get the link from the company itself "to make sure you're getting the real thing.
"If you do that, then go back to download a video and it still says you don't have the latest version, you know there's something fishy going on," he said.
Celebrity Web site TMZ, which said it has reviewed “six videos shot by the peeping Tom who secretly videotaped" Andrews, said Tuesday it wonders whether the video is an “inside job,” done by someone who works with Andrews.
“There are signs the person who taped it may be connected with the coverage of athletic events,” TMZ said. “The videos raise the suspicion that the person who shot them may have been familiar with her work schedule and may have been traveling with her."
ESPN may also seek legal action
Meanwhile, ESPN has made it clear they found nothing amusing about the videotape's release, and will pursue legal action against the person or persons who took the footage.
David Pahl, ESPN's general counsel, said in a written statement to at least one Web site that "These pictures were obviously taken through a peephole or otherwise in a fashion constituting a trespass/assault on the rights of the woman involved.
"Your continued posting of these pictures are highly likely to render you an accessory after the fact to a criminal act. We hereby demand that you (i) immediately remove these pictures from your site and (ii) disclose to us the source of the pictures. We intend to hold you fully responsible for further display of material that so obviously violates the law."
Attorney Grossman said Andrews is working with police on the case, and was a "victim of a crime."
"While alone in the privacy of her hotel room, Erin Andrews was surreptitiously videotaped without her knowledge or consent," he said in a statement. She is "taking action to protect herself and help ensure that others are not similarly violated in the future.
"Although the perpetrator or perpetrators of this criminal act have not yet been identified, when they are identified she intends to bring both civil and criminal charges against them and against anyone who has published the material."
It was not clear when the video first appeared on the Internet. Most of the links to it had been removed by Tuesday.
Several TV networks and newspapers aired brief clips or printed screen grabs of it Tuesday. Grossman responded to an Associated Press e-mail question about whether he plans to go after those outlets by reiterating his statement that Andrews plans to seek civil charges against “anyone who has published the material.”
He would not say what law enforcement agencies might be investigating.
A spokesman for ESPN said Monday the network released this statement: "Erin has been grievously wronged here. Our people and resources are in full support of her as she deals with this abhorrent act."
Andrews last appeared on the network as part of its ESPY Awards broadcast on Sunday, and is scheduled to be off until September, when she will be covering college football, ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said.
Krulewitz said the network has decided not to cover the issue as a news story, “particularly since it has no bearing on her role as an on-air reporter.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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