Image: Jessica Biel
Stephen Lovekin  /  Getty Images
Fans who use Web search engines to hunt for Jessica Biel photos, videos, computer wallpaper and screensavers have a 20 percent chance of reaching a site that may have malicious software, ranging from spyware to viruses, according to security software maker McAfee.
By
msnbc.com
updated 8/25/2009 12:00:04 AM ET 2009-08-25T04:00:04

So you want to be more in the loop about celebrity news than TMZ, and you can't resist the urge to click on the latest gossip about Jessica Biel's fill-in-the-blank (such as: that new ring from boyfriend Justin Timberlake or a photo of her sans souci at Malibu).

You're not alone, but you are at risk. Biel is considered "the most dangerous celebrity to search in cyberspace," according to security firm McAfee, giving the movie star top billing as "the riskiest" search.

"Fans searching for 'Jessica Biel' or 'Jessica Biel downloads,' 'Jessica Biel wallpaper,' 'Jessica Biel screensavers,' 'Jessica Biel photos' and 'Jessica Biel videos' have a one in five chance of landing at a Web site that's tested positive for online threats such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing, viruses and other malware," or malicious software, McAfee said in a press release. "Searching for the latest celebrity news and downloads can cause serious damage to one’s personal computer."

Biel replaces Brad Pitt, who was No. 1 on last year's list. This is McAfee's third year of the list of "most dangerous" celebrities to search for on the Web, with the company using its SiteAdvisor technology to hunt for celebrity names "that produce the largest number of risky sites and overall risk percentage, when searched on the Web." Results were gathered in July.

"Major buzz" about Biel's figure and her "high-profile relationship with Justin Timberlake" makes her an "easy target for spammers and hackers," McAfee said. "When 'Jessica Biel screensavers' was searched, almost half of the sites were identified as containing malicious downloads with spyware, adware and potential viruses."

It's not the search itself that is dangerous, but the sites that searching may lead you to, especially if you wind up clicking on links to download files that could contain malicious software. It's helpful to use the latest version of your Web browser's software, which can often detect problem sites.

Of course, McAfee wants to sell you its security software. But its SiteAdvisor program, which works with Internet Explorer and Firefox Web browsers, is free.

And the list does have a point to make: "People are too quick to click," Mary Landesman, senior security researcher for ScanSafe, which provides Web security as a service to businesses, said recently. And people are, especially when it involves celebrities. Scammers, spammers and troublemakers know that and freely invoke those big names if it helps serve their purposes.

"Every day, cybercriminals use celebrities’ names and images, like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, to lure surfers searching for the latest stories, screensavers and ringtones to sites offering free downloads laden with malware," said McAfee. 

Image: Beyoncé
Junko Kimura  /  Getty Images
A Web search for Beyoncé ringtones rang an alarm for adware and spyware, said McAfee.

Here's the rest of McAfee's list:

Beyoncé, No. 2 for the second year in a row; time to "Ring the Alarm." Entering the words 'Beyoncé ringtones' into a search engine "yielded a dangerous Web site linking to a distributor of adware and spyware," the company said.

Jennifer Aniston, No. 3, does not have friends among cyber bad guys. More than 40 percent of Google search results for  "Jennifer Aniston screensavers" had "nasty viruses, including one called the 'FunLove virus.' "

Tom Brady, No. 4, New England Patriot quarterback, draws "many fans who want a free download of the athlete in action, but not the Trojan (destructive software) that comes with it."

Jessica Simpson, No. 5, may unwittingly be the duchess of Hazzard. "Searching for 'Jessica Simpson videos' can mislead unsuspecting surfers to sites with potentially damaging downloads."

Gisele Bundchen, No. 6, is no surprise. Searches for photos of the supermodel (married to Tom Brady, No. 4) are a "popular target for cybercriminals. A search for 'Gisele Bundchen photos' can direct users to ... sites that breached (Web) browser security in McAfee’s tests."

Miley Cyrus, No. 7, aka "Hannah Montana," has had a breakout year, and fans looking to download her image need to be careful. "Cybercriminals are using Web sites related to Miley Cyrus’ image to link to other harmful sites containing spyware."

Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox tie for No. 8. Searching for their names "resulted in an equal number of risky download Web sites, proving cybercriminals are in the business of capitalizing on the world’s most famous faces."

Ashley Tisdale, No. 9, of “High School Musical” fame made the grade this year. McAfee said "a host of screensaver Web sites" with Tisdale screensavers "contained numerous malware-laden downloads."

Image: Brad Pitt
AP
Brad Pitt was No. 1 last year, but is 10th this year in McAfee's "Most Dangerous Celeb to Search Online" ranking.


Brad Pitt, No. 10, is down from No. 1 last year, a kind of downgrade that he might not mind.

Reese Witherspoon is No. 11. McAfee said "risky" sites "were identified when searching for 'Reese Witherspoon' and 'Reese Witherspoon photos' " that promote "free files with hidden malware."

Britney Spears, No. 12, has a hit called "Toxic," and McAfee found a single toxic site "promoting free Britney Spears wallpaper that was embedded with more than 50 potentially infected downloads."

Rihanna comes in at No. 13. "Free Rihanna ringtones are some of the most sought after, but some shady vendors mislead those who subscribe by gathering and selling their personal information," McAfee said.

Lindsay Lohan, cruises in at No. 14. Some screensaver sites that offered "a combined 50+ free screensavers (were) infected with Trojans, viruses and spyware."

Kim Kardashian rounds out the list at No. 15. "A search for Kim Kardashian wallpaper and screensavers generated numerous downloads veiled with malware."

McAfee's 2008 list of the most dangerous celebrities to search, in order, was: Brad Pitt, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Heidi Montag, Mariah Carey, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Cameron Diaz, George Clooney, Rihanna, Angelina Jolie, Fergie, David Beckham, Katie Holmes and Katherine Heigl. In 2007, Paris Hilton was No. 1.

Other schemes using celeb names
"Cybercriminals are star watchers, too — they latch onto popular celebrities to encourage the download of malicious software in disguise," McAfee's Jeff Green said in the company's news release. "Consumers' obsession with celebrity news and culture is harmless in theory, but one bad download can cause a lot of damage to a computer."

Michael Jackson and Erin Andrews weren't on McAfee's top 15 list, but their names were used in recent months in conjunction with e-mail scams.

In the days after Jackson's death in June, one e-mail that was sent around touted a YouTube video that showed the "last work of Michael Jackson." Victims who clicked on the link in the e-mail got a malicious program that stole their passwords.

Another e-mail that promised to show the "latest unpublished photos" of Jackson if recipients clicked on the link in the e-mail was also an attempt to install a password-stealing program on computers.

Also last month, a video of ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews in the nude in a hotel room made its way onto several Web sites. In some cases, clicking on a link to the video also paved the way for malicious software to infect a user's computer.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments