Britney Spears has become the top celebrity virus namesake, edging out uber-geek Bill Gates.

Researchers combed through seven years' worth of virus-laden messages to determine which celebrities most often had their names involuntarily used in association with malicious spam.

Rounding out the top five were Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Osama Bin Laden.

Virus writers will use the names of well-known people in order to entice users into clicking on Web links or open up files that then infect their computers, said Patrick Hinojosa, CTO at Panda Software's US subsidiary. "It's a method of social engineering. A lot of the time it has to do with the timeliness of a current news event."

That has come to light more recently when a virus reportedly providing information of Michael Jackson's suicide came while jurors were deciding on his fate in a child abuse court case. Jackson has subsequently been cleared of all charges.

Virus writers have two ways of spreading their code: finding an exploit within a piece of widely used software, or tricking users into launching malicious code on their own computers. The latter method is the simplest.

Below then is Panda's top ten, although Techworld remains convinced that an e-mail pertaining to Kylie's bottom would still outreach even Ms Spears.

  1. Britney Spears
  2. Bill Gates
  3. Jennifer Lopez
  4. Shakira
  5. Osama Bin Laden
  6. Michael Jackson
  7. Bill Clinton
  8. Anna Kournikova
  9. Paris Hilton
  10. Pamela Anderson