A starry problem: Searching news about celebrities online can put users’ data at risk

October 18, 2020 3:00 AM

From Cristiano Ronaldo to Shah Rukh Khan, searching news about some celebrities online can put your data into the hands of cyber criminals

Other celebrities on the list include Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sara Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu and Arijit Singh.Other celebrities on the list include Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sara Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu and Arijit Singh.

By Shriya Roy

It’s a common phenomenon today to do a quick search online for news about a celebrity. When we want to know the latest news about them, we don’t hesitate before typing their name in the search box and hitting enter. But what many people don’t know is that such a search can put a user’s data at risk.

Research by American global computer security software company McAfee has identified the top 10 popular celebrities generating the riskiest search results online due to the various malicious sites and viruses linked to their names. Global football sensation Cristiano Ronaldo has topped McAfee’s Most Dangerous Celebrity list for 2020 in India. Other celebrities on the list include Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sara Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu and Arijit Singh.

In 2020, as a result of the lockdown, people have been particularly very active online, increasing their usage across many devices. From free movies and TV shows to the latest celebrity news and gossip, consumers have been turning to the digital to entertain themselves. Hackers have grasped this opportunity with both hands and have honed in on the trend, following consumer behaviour to execute their scam strategies. These search results very often trigger consumers to unknowingly install malware on their devices.

“Cyber criminals use consumers’ fascination with the celebrity culture to drive unsuspecting fans to malicious websites that install malware on their devices, potentially putting personal information and log-in details in the wrong hands,” said Baker Nanduru, the vice-president of McAfee’s consumer endpoint segment. “Consumers are searching the web for free online entertainment now more than ever, and as cybercriminals continue to implement deceptive practices such as fake sites claiming to offer free content, it is crucial that fans stay vigilant about protecting their digital lives and think twice before clicking.”

For the study, McAfee researched famous individuals to reveal which celebrities generate the most “dangerous” results, whose search results bring potentially malicious content, exposing a user’s personal sensitive information and data. Ronaldo is strongly associated with malicious search terms because his fans are constantly seeking information and news about his life, as well as searching for news on his latest football deals. In addition to that, many users are also streaming live football matches through illegal streaming platforms to avoid paying subscription fees. If such a user clicks on a malicious link, their device could suddenly become plagued with adware or malware and their data will be at potential risk for hackers to take control of.

Searching for what may seem to be free content can lead you in a deep pit of scam. Some of the most common risks include identity theft, banking, credit card and online shopping frauds, installation of skimming malware, tracking and monitoring software, installation of ransomware, trojans and viruses.

McAfee had released a list of celeb names in 2019 as well who were considered to be the riskiest. The names included Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, PV Sindhu and Radhika Apte, among others.

While it is almost impossible to be completely secure from any malware or risks, users can definitely be cautious on their part. While looking for information on their favourite celebrities, they should be extremely cautious and click only on reliable links for downloads. The safest thing to do, of course, is wait for official releases on official platforms instead of visiting third-party websites.

Furthermore, when it comes to online streaming, using illegal streaming sites could wreak havoc on the device. Many illegal streaming sites are riddled with malware disguised as video files and streaming links. One must avoid these to protect their data and system. Another important thing to remember is to have a well-established security setup in the device that is being used.

As people slowly turn into digital natives and continue to spend more and more time online, they will continue to remain targets for cyber criminals. The only way out is to be better equipped with all the necessary information because it is always better to be safe than sorry.

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