The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

July 13, 2010
Computer software scams target whatever it hot in the news

It's an Internet scam that really sucks. At least that's how computer security officials describe a new online threat tied to the latest "Twilight" vampire movie.

It's what's known as "headline malware" - malicious computer software that pounces on current hot topics circulating on Internet search engines, whether it's World Cup matches, Michael Jackson's death or scandalous celebrity news.

"There's no end to the number of scams," said Stephanie Edwards,of PC Tools, a computer security software company. She called the recent Twilight scam "vampire bytes."

"When you go online to search for the latest gossip of your vampire heartthrob, underneath that search is a very nasty fake anti-virus threat that tells you to download a fake fix - and pay for it, no less," said Edwards.

Headline malware is typically a ruse to infect your computer, steal passwords or dupe you into buying phony anti-virus software. Sometimes it infects Facebook accounts, using malicious software known as "koobface" that sends out phony messages to your Facebook friends.

David Marcus, director of security and research for McAfee, said the massively popular appeal of the "Twilight" movie makes it "a very attractive lure" that attracts cybercriminals.

He advises being cautious of any unsolicited e-mails, such as invitations to download movie clips or vote for your favorite Twilight actor.

Make sure your computer's security software is updated and scans daily for viruses, he said.

- Claudia Buck

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