If you are like me, the whole Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce romance isn’t keeping you up at night. Taylor Swift can be an economic boom to cities where she tours, but she can also be an unintentional cyber risk to her legions of fans.
The Daily Mail – not necessarily in the same league as the New York Times in its newsgathering – warned this week of Swift-related cyber-scams. The recently published article claims that 79 percent of websites that appear on search engines when someone searches for Taylor Swift contain potential malware.
“Whether that statistic has legs or not is unclear. What we do know is that any popular search term – not just Taylor Swift – is going to be co-opted by cybercriminals hoping to capitalize, so I am not surprised at all that Taylor Swift is proving to be catnip to cybercriminals,” states Greg Robinson, a cybercrime expert in Salt Lake City. “I would say right now that Travis Kelce would contain similar dangers.”
Education of cyber best practices is key
Malware that rides on celebrity coattails is nothing new; it’s been around for decades, but super-celebrities that go into the stratosphere of known names like Taylor Swift and Beyonce give the threat a new urgency and currency among cybercriminals.
Like so many threats, Robinson explains that education is the most effective weapon for MSPs to combat celebrity malware. “I have seen workplace networks breached because someone has searched for a celebrity name, and the results can be really costly if they click on the wrong thing. MSPs have done an excellent job educating about the dangers of suspicious emails, but more needs to be done about the risks of searching and clicking on the wrong links,” Robinson notes. “So, this is more than a Taylor Swift story; this comes down to smart searching and following best practices.”
Robinson says part of the problem is that the aura of celebrities draws people in. “Taylor Swift is a great example of a search that seems so innocent, fun, and carefree. I don’t even think it would occur to most people that a simple search for their favorite singer could lead to a workplace cyber meltdown, but it absolutely could,” he warns.
Increase in remote work, increase in clicks
Robinson goes on to say that the pandemic changed the nature of the problem. “When everyone worked at the office, there was better self-policing of frivolous searches, but with so many people working remotely, people feel freer at home, but that doesn’t mean a network with improper security can’t be breached.”
Credential and password theft, data pilfering, and ransomware viruses can all be payloads of celebrity-associated malware. But plenty of other threats could be associated with your favorite celebrity. “Adware displays those pesky unwanted ads, and while many people think it is just, it can also lead to privacy concerns since adware often tracks users’ online activity,” Robinson advises.
Spyware is another threat, Robinson added, because of its ability to stealthily collect data. “All that information harvested is then sold on the dark web, and that can be quite a payday for a cybercriminal,” Robinson reveals.
Guarding against celebrity-infused ransomware
However, the most significant threat often associated with celebrity-infused malware is ransomware. MSPs that already have to navigate constantly changing laws, regulations, software options, and cybercriminal tactics should also stay on top of the latest entertainment trends. “Yes, MSPs should educate clients about Taylor Swift malware. MSPs should educate their clients about the prevalence and modus operandi of Taylor Swift malware scams,” Robinson says.
“Such education should focus on informing workers about phishing emails, fake websites, and social media posts that exploit Swift’s popularity to trick victims into revealing personal information or downloading malicious software.”
McAfee recently released a list of celebrity searches most associated with malware, which include:
- Ryan Gosling
- Emily Blunt
- Jennifer Lopez
- Kevin Costner
- Elon Musk
- Al Roker
- Margot Robbie
- Bad Bunny
- America Ferrera
Over the summer, Ryan Gosling topped the list with his starring role in the mega-blockbuster Barbie. Cybercriminals follow the same celebrities everyone else does, but that can be subjective, Robinson warns. “One person’s celebrity is another person’s also-ran, so that list is suspect. Instead, I’d be careful of any name from Martha Stewart to Miley Cyrus.”
Photo: ROSA RAFAEL / Unsplash