Hackers love Ryan Gosling. In fact, hackers use his name as bait more than any other celebrity.
With that, the celebrated star of “Barbie” and umpteen other hit films tops our Hacker Celebrity Hot List for 2023. It’s our annual study that reveals which big-name celebrity searches most often link to malware and risky sites. And this year, we’ve evolved the list. It now includes celebs spotted in deepfake and other AI-driven content.
With Gosling’s high profile this year, it comes as little surprise that he ranked so highly. As we reported earlier this year, “Barbie” was a huge hit for cybercriminals as well. They baited consumers with a rash of ticket scams, download scams, and other attacks that capitalized on the summer hit’s hype.
Who made the Hacker Celebrity Hot List?
Months later, searches for Gosling remain high. His portrayal of Ken has scored him a first-ever Billboard Hot 100 song with “I’m Just Ken.” Meanwhile, Ken and Barbie outfits rank among the most popular Halloween costumes for 2023.
And if you’re wondering, Margot Robbie, who starred as Barbie to Gosling’s Ken, ranked number eight on our list. The full top ten breaks down as follows:
- Ryan Gosling, Golden Globe winner and multiple Academy Award nominee.
- Emily Blunt, critically acclaimed actor and star of this summer’s hit film, Oppenheimer.
- Jennifer Lopez, pop culture icon, critically acclaimed singer, actor, and producer.
- Zendaya, critically acclaimed actor and singer.
- Kevin Costner, Academy Award-winning actor and director, and current star of the hit series, Yellowstone.
- Elon Musk, business magnate and tech entrepreneur.
- Al Roker, the “Today” show’s popular meteorologist, author, and journalist.
- Margot Robbie, actor, producer, and multiple Academy Award and BAFTA award nominee, and the star of this summer’s hit film, Barbie.
- Bad Bunny, multi-platinum album singer, and the first non-English-language singer to be named as Spotify’s most streamed artist of the year.
- America Ferrera, actor and noted supporting star of this summer’s hit film, Barbie.
What’s at risk when you search for these celebrities.
The hackers behind these celebrity-driven attacks are after two primary things.
- They want you to hand over personal info so they can use it to commit identity fraud and theft.
- They want to infect your device with malware. That might include spyware that can steal personal info or ransomware that holds your device and its files hostage—for a price.
Accordingly, they’ll pair celebrity names with terms like audio book, lyrics, deepfake, free ringtone, free movie, free download, MP4, among others—which generate results that lead to sketchy sites.
In all, they target people who want to download something or get a hold of celebrity-related content in some form. Again, think of the “Barbie” movie scams earlier this year that promoted free downloads of the movie — but of course they were malware and identity theft scams.
Searching for a celebrity name alone didn’t necessarily lead to a list of sketchy results. Our own Chief Technology Officer, Steve Grobman, described the risks well. “We know people are seeking out free content, such as movie downloads, which puts them at risk. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is and deserves a closer look.” Yet hackers know how hungry people are for celebrity content, and unfortunately some people will go ahead and click those links that promise celebrity-filled content, despite the risks.
Who else made the Hacker Celebrity Hot List?
Further rounding out the list, we found several big names from sports and popular culture.
Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi comes in at number 18 on the list, who recently made the move to Miami’s Major League Soccer team. Recent retiree and all-time American football great Tom Brady clocked in at number 19, and Travis Kelce, American football tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, came in at number 22. NBA star Steph Curry at number 23, while Aaron Rogers, another American football legend, came in at number 31. And Serena Williams, a dominant force on the court and in culture, ranked at number 32.
Reality and pop culture favorites also made the top 50, with Andy Cohen of “Real Housewives” fame taking the number 11 slot, followed by Kim Kardashian at number 24, and Tom Sandoval at number 40 on the list.
And for the Swifties out there, Taylor Swift ranked 25 on our list this year.
Also making the list — AI scams.
Thanks to readily available AI tools, cybercriminals have increased both the sophistication and volume of their attacks. It’s no different for these celebrity-based attacks.
According to McAfee researchers, one such AI-driven trend is on the rise: deepfakes. For example, Elon Musk. He hit number six on our list, and our researchers found a significant volume of malicious deepfake content tied to his name — often linked with cryptocurrency scams.
Taking a sample set of the top 50 list, McAfee researchers discovered between 25 to 135 deepfake URLs per celebrity search. While there are instances of malicious deepfakes, many celebrity deepfakes fall into recreational or false advertising use cases right now. However, there is growing evidence that future deepfakes could turn deceptive — deliberately passing along disinformation in a public figure’s name.
Staying safe while searching for celebs — and in general.
You have every reason, and every right, to search for and enjoy your celebrity content safely. A mix of a sharp eye and online protection can keep you safe out there.
- Go with outlets and websites you can trust. When it comes time to get your celebrity news, look for names you know. Reliable sources that have been around. The reality is that it’s not tough for hackers and scammers to quickly spin up their own (completely bogus) “celebrity news” sites. In fact, it’s rather easy, thanks in part to AI that can generate phony articles that otherwise look real.
- Stick with legitimate streaming and download services. Whether you want to spin something from Taylor Swift’s latest album (Taylor’s version, of course) or stream movies from your favorite stars, use known and legitimate services. Yes, sometimes that means paying. Or putting up with a few ads. The illegal alternatives might be riddled with malware or ask for personal info that ends up right in the hands of hackers.
- Don’t “log in” or provide other info. If you receive a message, text, or email, or visit a third-party website that asks for info like your credit card, email, home address, or other login info, don’t give it out. Particularly if there’s a promise for “exclusive” content. Such requests are a common tactic for phishing that could lead to identity theft.
- Tell what’s real and what’s fake with online protection software. Comprehensive online protection software can keep celebrity scams and other scams like them at bay. First, our new McAfee Scam Protection uses smart AI to detect and warn you of scam texts and links sent your way, so you can tell what’s real and what’s fake. Second, web protection looks out for you while you search—identifying malicious links and even blocking them if you still click one by accident. Together, this is part of the full device, identity, and privacy protection you get with us.
Whether it’s Ryan, J-Lo, or Bad Bunny – you can stay safe when you search.
Hackers and scammers love riding the coattails of celebrities. By hijacking big names like Ryan, J-Lo, and Bad Bunny, they dupe plenty of well-meaning fans into downloading malware or handing over their personal info.
Of course, that’s no reason to stop searching for those celebs. Not at all. Go ahead and enjoy your shows, music, and movies—and all the news, gossip, and tea surrounding them. That’s all part of the fun. Just do it with a sharp eye and the proper protection that has your back.
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