We've talked about being cautious when typing in URLs that could lead you to phishing websites run by fraudsters looking to capitalize on your typo, but what about searching for something perfectly innocuous, like your favorite celebrity?
Intel Security just recently released their annual online security study which for the ninth year running includes a list of the most dangerous celebrities to search for online. This year's study put Armin van Buuren, a Dutch trance music producer, DJ and radio personality, as popular culture's most famous person that generates the most dangerous search results. Other celebrities on the list are country music star, Luke Bryan, and women comedians, Amy Schumer and Betty White. Take a look at the top 10 celebrities on the list:
- Armin van Buuren
- Luke Bryan
- Britney Spears
- Jay Z
- Katy Perry
- Amy Schumer
- Betty White
- Nina Dobrev
The study revealed that searches for musicians and comedians tend to expose internet searchers to more possible viruses and malware than other kinds of celebrities. Researchers also noted that people looking to download music illegally or listen to free music were especially vulnerable. "Celebrity names combined with the terms 'free MP4,’ 'HD downloads,' or 'torrent' are some of the most searched terms on the Web," says one of Intel Security's online security experts, Stacey Conner, adding that, "when consumers search for music that is not made available through legitimate channels, they put both their digital lives and devices at risk."
But what exactly is so dangerous about these searches?
Well, the problem is that cybercriminals are always looking for ways to victimize consumers—and our interest in popular culture, events and celebrities make it very easy for them to do so. By capitalizing on our interests, they lead us to websites with malware that in turn allow them to steal passwords and personal information.
As Conner explains, "With today's busy culture and a desire for real time information, consumers often click on sites that will quickly provide them with news and entertainment, without considering safety and security implications. Cybercriminals leverage this need for immediacy by encouraging people to visit unsafe sites that can steal private data."
So what can we do to protect yourselves? We're certainly not going to stop using the internet or search engines to catch up on the latest and greatest. Just remembering these tips can make you marginally safer as you explore the depths of pop culture online.
Beware of clicking on third-party links. You should only access content directly from official websites of content providers. For example, if you want to watch SNL's latest skit, go to NBC's website.
Use safe-search web filtering tools. There are several programs and software that are capable of notifying you of risky sites or links before you visit them.
Only download from well-known, legitimate sites. This is common sense, but the truth is that most of us don't take the time to find legitimate sites to download videos and other online content. Take the time to find a secure way to consume online content and avoid malware.
Use caution when searching for "HD downloads." As the study determined, searching for terms with the words "HD downloads" is just asking for it. Avoid the phrase and follow the advice from the previous bullet points.
Don't "log in" or provide other information. Requests for information like your credit card, email, home address, or Facebook login to access the content you're looking for are tactics often used in phishing scams that can lead to identity theft. Do not grant anyone you don't trust access to information that can be used against you later.
But can I do anything else to protect myself outside of the suggestions outlined above? Yes! A credit monitoring service is a great way to help protect yourself against fraudsters intent on exploiting your internet habits. Credit monitoring services allow you to supervise your credit file and can alert you to certain changes that may be indicative of fraud.