How Cyber Thugs Use Music and Celebrity Searches to Dupe Your Family

Like stockbrokers watch the market, cybercriminals keep an eye on the public’s latest obsessions. And, once they spot a trend in our search behavior, they know exactly where to plant malware links designed to steal personal information from our devices.

Such is the case with Canadian pop-punk artist Avril Lavigne, who by no fault of her own, has landed in the #1 spot on the McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities™ 2017 study. The public’s love of music and obsession with the personal lives of the celebrities who make it is clear this year since, in fact, the top 10 list is solely comprised of artists (see graphic, above).

The search habits that put Lavigne on the top of the list were two-fold: The first was a strange internet conspiracy theory claiming she’s an imposter, and the second was the announcement that she planned to release a new album this year. Those two content searches skyrocketed the 32-year-old pop punk artist to the top slot for malicious links.

So if we love our music and searching out everything about it, how do we spot those malicious links before it’s too late? More importantly, how do we curb the fast-moving fingers of our kids who aren’t about to quit their music obsession? Here are just a few tips to help your family feed its musical appetite and still hang on to its privacy.

5 Safe Search Tips for Families:

Slow down. Having a world of information at our fingertips has spoiled us. We want the information we want when we want it. Crooks bank on the fact that we are moving fast and likely not taking the time to question a suspicious link. So slow down and think before you click and encourage your kids to do the same. If there’s a trending conspiracy theory or a link to “free” music, video files or even a downloadable screensaver these can be red flags that malicious links may be attached to the information.

Talk about it. Just as you’d talk to your family about locking the doors and taking personal safety precautions, teach your kids to build up the same awareness online. Challenge them to be savvy about malicious links designed to siphon information and infect devices. Educate them about the consequences of malicious links such as identity theft, password hacking, financial theft, viruses, spyware, extortion, click fraud, and other forms of digital theft.

Go to the source. In many ways, you have to become an internet sleuth and be able to spot that sketchy third-party link. Looking for a specific music or video download? Your best bet is to always go to the source. Rather than risk getting duped by a third party site, wait for the official release of an album or song. Before you click any link: Examine the site. Look for flaws. Refuse to click on that third-party link that could get you in trouble — it’s simply not worth it.

Be careful searching MP3s. The search “Avril Lavigne + free mp3” was by far the riskiest way to search for Avril Lavigne content and resulted in a risk percentage of nearly 22%. Searching the phrase “free MP3” returned the highest number of risky websites, so be aware of this cyber trap and search carefully. If a site looks suspect, keep moving. Teach kids that very few things that are legitimate are also free online. There is an exchange going on and in the case of malware—that transaction can be risky.

Browse with safeguards. In a world where search is everything, safety becomes everything. Using a tool like McAfee WebAdvisor can help keep you safe by identifying malicious websites and warning the user before they click.

As long as we are searching out the content we love, there will be cyber thugs searching for new and innovative ways to trap us into that wayward click. Advise your loved ones to just slow down and think before they click. It’s still possible to enjoy the feast of excellent content online (especially music!) and keep your privacy intact.


Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee

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