Cybercrooks cast Brad Pitt, Beyonce and Justin T. in latest malware attacks

Googling celebrities on your workstation at the height of the recently concluded Toronto Film Festival could have been one of the most risky cyber-activity this month.

Reverting to a tried and true tactic, spammers and phishers reverted to using celebrity power to catch the eye and arouse the curiosity of unwary online surfers, according to California-based security software firm McAfee Inc.

Tinsel Town’s celebrity A-list is fertile ground for cybercrooks, according to Jeff Green, senior vice-president of the company’s Product Development & Avert Labs.

“Cyberciminals employ numerous methods, yet one of the simplest and most effective ways is to trick the consumer into infecting themselves by capitalizing on Americans’ interest in celebrity gossip.”

For example, fans searching for “Brad Pitt”, “Brad Pitt downloads,” and Brad Pitt wallpaper, screen saver or pictures have an 18 per cent chance of becoming phishing victims or having their PCs infected with spyware, spam, viruses and other malware.

Pitt has over taken Paris Hilton as the most dangerous celebrity in cyberspace, according to McAfee which has been tracking star quality as it relates to cybercrime for two years now.

The hotel heiress with a passion for high-life and low slung dresses topped McAfee’s list of “most dangerous” celebrities in 2007, but was noticeably absent in this year’s registry.

Singer Justin Timberlake came in a close second to Pitt, while Beyonce and Heidi Montag, star of the reality TV show The Hills, topped the list of Internet’s most dangerous women.

Other celebrities that made it to the roster include singers Mariah Carey, Rihanna and Fergie, movie stars Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, Cameron Diaz and George Clooney.

Searches for soccer star David Beckham and actresses Katie Homles, Lindsay Lohan and Katherine Heigle, also increases the chances of getting your computer infected.

The Avert Labs employ a combination of research, dummy e-mail accounts, Web crawlers and “honeypots” or decoy servers as well as other online traffic monitoring techniques to gather data on cybercime around the world.

Currently, according to the Lab the riskiest online searches are:

1. Brad Pitt screensaver – Nearly half of the Websites related to this search were identified to contain malicious downloads with spyware, adware and potential viruses.

2. Beyonce – Typing “Beyonce ringtones” into a search engine will yield Websites that promote misleading offers for various products. The sites actually harvest personal information.

3. Justin Timberlake – Sites advertising free music downloads actually lead to a hotbed spam, spyware and adware.

4. Heidi Montag – It’s time to head for the hills as most ads for wallpaper containing images of the star are actually plastered with malware-laden downloads.

5. Jessica Alba – Sites that come up when searching for “Jessica Alba” and Jessica Alba downloads” turn up hundreds of malicious downloads, links to other bad sites, misleading offers aimed at gathering personal data, and of course spam.

Lost productivity caused by malware as well as identity theft linked to spam account for more than $50 billion each year, says Chip Reeves, national director of Computer Troubleshoorters Ltd., a U.S.-based computer service franchise.

Canadians companies are likely to spend anywhere from $3 to $20 per user each year in the battle against spam alone, says Peter Firstbrook, research director at analyst firm Gartner Inc.

“Even opening a single message can provide a spammer the opportunity to send hundreds of thousands of messages through an organization’s network.”

This is because many malware enable criminals to grab control of a user’s machine and turn it into a “zombie” PC or part of a “botnet” – a network of computers that spew out malware and spam.

Here are 10 reasons to worrywhen you power up your pc.

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