Pop singer Britney Spears has edged out Bill Gates as the celebrity most commonly associated with malicious software distributed via e-mail, according to data released Monday from security software company Panda Software.
Researchers combed through the seven years of virus-laden messages stored in Panda's malware database to determine which celebrities most often had their names involuntarily used in association with malicious spam. Rounding out the top five in Panda's "celebrity virus ranking," 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, chief technical officer at Panda Software's U.S. subsidiary. "It's a method of social engineering," he said. "A lot of the time it has to do with the timeliness of a current news event."
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, Hinojosa said. Often the latter method is the simplest, he said.
Panda has seen celebrity viruses since it began compiling data in 1998, and the technique has remained essentially unchanged, Hinojosa said.
Examples include well known viruses such as the "ILoveYou" and the "Anna Kournikova" virus, as well as an e-mail that began circulating last week which claims that pop singer Michael Jackson has attempted suicide.
Users who click on the Web link provided with the Michael Jackson e-mail run the risk of having their computers infected by a combination of malicious software, because of a flaw in Internet Explorer, Hinojosa said.
Panda's top ten celebrity virus rankings are as follows:
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.