US talkshow host Jay Leno, singer Madonna, actress Cameron Diaz and President Barack Obama share an unpleasant secret their publicists are powerless to do anything about.
A new analysis by security company BitDefender has identified these celebrities as the most commonly-used lures in US spam campaigns, usually combined with bogus and sensational headlines designed to pique the interest of naive Internet users.
These four names were connected to a large proportion of a sample 25 million spam messages looked at by the company, most of which were pushing pharmaceutical products. Other less commonly used famous people included author Stephen King, film director George Lucas, and Anglo-Australian rock act, AC/DC.
The use of celebrities might sound trivial and indeed the majority of these messages will never even reach users’ inboxes having been filtered by hard-working gateways. The underlying issue is serious however. In the US at least, enough of these messages get through to enough people to make sending them on a vast scale worthwhile to the spammers.
“Cyber criminals follow the latest trends just as consumers do and they use these and the names of popular celebrities in their campaigns in order to lure people to websites that are full of malicious software,” said BitDefender Online Threats Lab head, Catalin Cosoi.
Internet users would also find that the same few names used to poison search results, he added.
The use of famous people to promote malware and spam is firmly entrenched in Internet culture. In 2009, what one security later described as a ‘Twitter crimewave’ erupted on the service after a large number of celebrities joined the service to tweet to fans.
Criminals followed the celebrities to the service, sensing a new population of easy-to-fool users, using a range of techniques including impersonation and simple link spamming to draw people to malware-infested websites. Twitter tightened its security but to this day the problem rumbles on as a low-level problem. The same issue of celebrity abuse has plagued Facebook.