Last week Intel Security released the tenth annual edition of McAfee's Most Dangerous Celebrities study. The annual reports lists which celebrities, musicians and television hosts generate the most dangerous search results - meaning that searching online on their names disproportionately produces links to sites that either distribute malware or otherwise harm users. This year, comedian Amy Schumer ranked first, followed by Justin Bieber and Carson Daly in the second and third spots respectively.
Cybercriminals know that today's society is heavily fascinated with celebrities, and, as such, such crooks often create malware-distribution websites disguised as fan sites or celebrity-information sites. Crooks know to target people who want to see, share, and comment on paparazzi-taken photos, or find the latest news, gossip, or salacious pictures. Using various search engine optimization techniques, therefore, the ill-doers ensure that their poisoned sites show up in the search results for people searching on popular celebrities' names - thereby enticing potential victims. It is not surprising, therefore, that Amy Schumer - who this year, enjoyed wide popularity on and off stage, and became the first female comedian to make the Forbes list of top paid comedians, is presently the celebrity who criminals are most to leveraging as bait.
Other celebrities appearing in the top ten most dangerous search names include other people who were regularly in the media: Will Smith, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Chris Hardwick, Daniel Tosh, Selena Gomez, and Kesha.
The problem of poisoned sites, however, is not limited to celebrities. People should be aware that other public figures -- including information security writers -- are sometimes impersonated online by parties wishing to distribute malware; there is perhaps no better way to get people to install malware than to convince them that an information security expert says that it urgent to install some "security patch."
So, how can you search for celebrity news safely? Here are four suggestions:
1. Visit the celebrities' official sites directly.
Instead of searching on Google and visiting third-party websites that have content from, or about, celebrities, visit the celebrities' official sites or those of their official distribution mechanisms. For example, for Amy Schumer visit www.amyschumer.com and click links there, or watch segments of her television show, "Inside Amy Schumer" on www.comedycentral.com rather than on a third party site.
2. Avoid searching for "torrent"s.
If you don't know what torrents are, this is a non-issue, but if you are using this popular technology to download television shows and the like, understand that, in some cases you may be breaking the law, and, additionally, a significant number of pages that appear in torrent search results either distribute malware or have links to torrents that distributed malware embedded within authentic files.
3. Use security software on all devices (computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.), and obey general information security advice.
Here are 13 tips to help you stay secure online without spending a lot of money .
4. Look for Verified social media profiles
If searching on social media, be suspicious of any celebrity profile that is not Verified - on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram authentic profiles are verified with a checkmark in a blue circle/almost-circle, on musical.ly a crown appears at the top right of the profile image.