Hollywood actor Brad Pitt has bumped Paris Hilton off the top of the list as the most dangerous celebrity to search for on the Web, according to McAfee researchers.
Altogether, fans surfing the Web for "Brad Pitt," "Brad Pitt downloads," and Brad Pitt wallpaper for items like screen savers and images have an 18 percent chance of becoming infected with online security threats such as spyware, spam, phishing, adware and viruses.
McAfee researchers found that when a search was conducted for "Brad Pitt screensavers," more than half the resulting Websites were identified as malicious, containing spyware, adware and viruses.
"Brad Pitt" Web pages were followed by those of singer Justin Timberlake for riskiest male celebrity search subject on the Internet. Some eager fans who searched for "Justin Timberlake downloads" were taken to one Website that advertised free music downloads which McAfee flagged as leading to spam, spyware and adware sites.
Meanwhile, Beyonce and Heidi Montag topped the list for most dangerous female celebrity. Visitors entering Beyonce ringtones into a search engine often are directed to risky Web sites that promote fake offers to gather users' personal data. A search for "The Hills" star Heidi Montag elicits numerous Web sites offering wallpaper downloads infused with malware.
In order to reel in Web traffic, cyber attackers often create Web pages featuring A-list movie actors or rock stars, such as Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. News or videos of celebrities often entice unsuspecting victims to click on malicious links or open pages infused with malicious code in search of the latest celebrity gossip, screen saver or ring tone, researchers say.
"Cybercriminals employ numerous methods, yet one of the simplest but most effective ways is to trick consumers into infecting themselves by capitalizing on Americans' interest in celebrity gossip," said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee's product development and Avert Labs in a written statement. "Tapping into current events, pop culture or commonly browsed sites is an easy way to achieve this. And because of Americans' obsession with following celebrities' lifestyles, they are an obvious target."
Among McAfee's top list of celebrities exploited by malware authors include Mariah Carey, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Cameron Diaz, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Fergie, David Beckham, Katie Holmes, and Katherine Heigl.
Malicious sites with Brad Pitt replaced those featuring Hollywood socialite Paris Hilton, who headed McAfee's 2007 list of most dangerous celebrities. Neither Hilton nor pop singer Britney Spears -- ranked fourth last year -- made the 2008 most risky celebrity to search for on the Web.
Malware generally encompasses any malicious code, including viruses, worms, spyware and Trojans, which are often silently installed on users' PCs unbeknownst to them. Reasons for planting malware with celebrity lures range from promoting a spam product to more insidious objectives such as stealing passwords or financial and personally identifying information.
The findings were based on research provided by McAfee's SiteAdvisor technology to reveal Hollywood celebrity names that produce the largest number of malicious Websites.