Growing dangers of digital music and movies

A growing number of cyber threats are associated with the popularity of online music and videos, according to a McAfee report. Researchers found that adding the word “free” to searches increases the risk of landing on a malicious site.

McAfee also revealed that cybercriminals hide malicious content in music and movie-related sites, and even fan clubs sites.

In recent years, as consumers have increasingly watched video or downloaded music online, cybercriminals have shifted their attacks to include more dangerous websites, malicious ads and video viewing tools. According to comScore, more than 177 million U.S. Internet users watched online video in June, up from 157 million a year ago. As downloading of digital content has increased, so have the dangers associated with it.

The research found that adding the word “free” to a search for music ringtones resulted in a 300 percent increase in the riskiness of sites returned by major search engines in English. The word “free” in other languages yielded similar results.

Searching for “MP3s” added risk to music search results, while searching for “free MP3s” made those searches even riskier. Even when a consumer indicated that they wanted to pay for the MP3 in their search, results still sent them to pirated content.

McAfee also discovered thousands of malicious and highly suspicious URLs associated with fan clubs or comments made on social media sites, such as YouTube and Twitter. Malicious advertising or “malvertising,” where an ad is used to distribute malware or exploit the user’s browser, is a common means of infection. For instance, McAfee identified “malvertising” on as recently as June that redirected users to a domain that delivered malicious software.

“Consumers are visiting fan sites, downloading movies and reading celebrity news, but generally aren’t aware of the risks,” said Paula Greve, director of web security research for McAfee. “They can access “free’ content quickly and easily, but it comes at a price. Consumers must stay aware of the risks and be on the lookout for potential new dangers.”

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