McAfee Exposes Celebrity Name Searches Lead to Malware and Risky Websites

McAfee Exposes Celebrity Name Searches Lead to Malware and Risky Websites

McAfee revealed that Ryan Gosling, star of this summer's hit movie, Barbie, topped the list of celebrities whose names are used most by scammers to create malware or risky sites. McAfee Labs created the list by identifying the big-name celebrities who most frequently generate unsafe search results that could lead consumers to unknowingly install malware and jeopardize their data, privacy, and identity.

Gosling finds himself in prime position as a scammer's favorite lure, thanks to the blockbuster movie, Barbie. His popularity skyrocketed after the movie's release, as did the amount of Barbie and Ryan Gosling-related scams. As McAfee reported earlier this year [1], Barbie was a huge hit for both movie-goers and cybercriminals; the latter baited consumers with a rash of new scams that included downloads of the film containing hidden malware. Months later, searches for Gosling remain high, with Gosling's portrayal of Ken scoring him a first-ever Billboard Hot 100 song, and Ken and Barbie outfits [2] ranking as the most searched for Halloween costumes for 2023.

Trailing Gosling as the celebrity whose name is most used by scammers, is Emily Blunt in the No.2 position. The critically acclaimed actress starred in this summer's hit film, Oppenheimer, increasing her popularity with consumers and cybercriminals alike. Jennifer Lopez comes in at No.3, Zendaya at No.4, and the fifth spot goes to Yellowstone actor, Kevin Costner. Within the top ten list, the popularity of Barbie shines through, with three of its stars making the Hacker Celebrity Hot List: America Ferrera at No.10, Margot Robbie at No.8 and Ryan Gosling at No.1.

Cybercriminals Focus in on Athletes and Reality Stars

This year's riskiest celebrities include some of the most talked about sports stars and athletes. Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi comes in at No.18 on the list, followed closely by Tom Brady at No.19, Travis Kelce at No.22 (ahead of Taylor Swift who comes in at No.25), Steph Curry at No.23, Aaron Rodgers at No.31, and Serena Williams at No.32.

Reality and pop culture favorites also make the Top 50 list, with Andy Cohen leading the way at No.11, followed by Kim Kardashian at No.24, and Tom Sandoval at No.40 on the list. Savvy cybercriminals are taking advantage of the ongoing fascination with celebrity culture and the demand from consumers to find out the latest pop culture news online.

Top Ten on McAfee's Hacker Celebrity Hot List

The top ten list, which includes a combination of longtime talent and more recently well-known names, is as follows:

* Ryan Gosling, critically acclaimed actor and star of this summer's hit film, Barbie
* Emily Blunt, critically acclaimed actress and star of this summer's hit film, Oppenheimer
* Jennifer Lopez, pop culture icon, critically acclaimed singer, actress and producer
* Zendaya, critically acclaimed actress and singer
* Kevin Costner, critically acclaimed actor and director, and star of the hit series, Yellowstone
* Elon Musk, business magnate and tech entrepreneur
* Al Roker, TODAY's weather man, author, and journalist
* Margot Robbie, critically acclaimed actress and star of this summer's hit film, Barbie
* Bad Bunny, critically acclaimed singer, and the first non-English language singer to be named as Spotify's most streamed artist of the year
* America Ferrera, critically acclaimed actress and noted supporting star of this summer's hit film, Barbie

Artificial Intelligence: Hackers' Latest Tool for Celebrity-Related Scams

McAfee's 2023 Hacker Celebrity Hot List is an updated take on McAfee's 15-year tradition of revealing the big-name celebrity searches that most frequently link to malware and risky sites. The refreshed list reflects the changing cybersecurity landscape and types of scams we're seeing today, thanks in part to the rise in artificial intelligence. Leveraging advanced AI, cybercriminals are increasing the sophistication, amount, and variety of online scams and frauds, including those that use a celebrity name with malintent.

One such AI-driven trend on the rise, according to McAfee researchers, is deepfakes. The use of AI to create deepfake content, along with an uptick in cryptocurrency scams, is a significant portion of the malicious content. For example, our No.6 celebrity on the list, Elon Musk, has been subject to a series of deepfake content.

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 fraudulent endorsements use cases right now. However, there is growing evidence and concern for how celebrity deepfakes will be used in the future to deceive consumers. As AI technology becomes more accessible, McAfee researchers expect to see an increase in celebrity deepfakes used for misinformation and disinformation, the downloading of malware, fraudulent endorsements, and cryptocurrency scams.

"In today's culture, where celebrity news and entertainment are part of many people's daily lives, people are putting speed and convenience over their own online protection by clicking on pop ups and other suspicious links that promise celebrity-filled content," commented McAfee's Chief Technology Officer, Steve Grobman. "We also 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 deserves a closer look."

"Consumers also need greater awareness of the world we're living in, thanks to the advancements in artificial intelligence. AI has changed the game, and cybercriminals can now create very sophisticated scams at scale using the latest AI tools, and what better hook for them than celebrity news and information. To keep people safe online and help protect their privacy and identity, consumers need to stay vigilant and think twice before clicking," said Grobman.

Consumers can do their part by being vigilant in practicing safe online behavior with the following tips:

* Be careful what you click. Users looking for the must-see movies or updates on their favorite celebrities should be cautious and only click on links to reliable sources. The safest thing to do is to wait for official releases and leverage legitimate movie streaming platforms, instead of visiting third-party websites that could contain malware.

* Refrain from illegal streaming and downloading suspicious mp3s. Whether consumers are seeking Bad Bunny's (No.9), latest hits, or rushing to stream Taylor Swift's (No. 25) latest album (Taylor's version, of course) - it is important to only use legitimate music streaming platforms, even if they come at a cost. Many illegal downloads are riddled with malware or adware disguised as mp3 files.

* Only download videos from well-known, legitimate sites. Don't download anything from a website you don't trust -- especially video - _even_ if it looks like a personal message that Ryan Gosling wants to send you, take a step back and make sure it's a reputable site.

* Don't "log in" or provide other information. If you receive a message, text or email, or visit a third-party website that asks for your information -- including your credit card, email, home address, or social media login -- to grant access to an exclusive story, don't give it out. Such requests are a common tactic for phishing that could lead to identity theft.

* Invest in holistic online protection. Use products that provides maximum identity, privacy, and device protection. Help keep yourself and your family safe online with protection that detects and protects against suspicious links and sites (even those that promise to bring the latest in celebrity news!), so you can browse online with greater confidence.

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