It took a mere eight hours for cybercriminals to take advantage of the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson.Many people were probably first only just learning about the King of Pop's passing when analysts at SophosLabs intercepted the first criminal attempt to exploit his name.
A wave of email messages, claiming to be from a secret correspondent who alleged he had "vital informations after the death of Michael Jackson's," were seen in spam traps worldwide
OK, so it's not the most grammatically convincing spam message ever sent, but in the whirlwind of interest in Jackson's demise, probably more than a few had their interest piqued.
What's the purpose of this campaign? It's hard to say, but possibly the cybercriminals are hoping you reply, confirming your address is live, which, in turn, might result in you receiving more spam in future. Or maybe once they've won your confidence, they'll send you a link or attachment designed to infect your computer.
Either way, responding doesn't make sense.
In a related incident, the folks at WebSense have intercepted a Trojan horse that is being advertised via spam as a supposed link to a Michael Jackson YouTube video. In reality, it's designed to infect your Windows PC.
Cybercriminals have a long history of exploiting breaking news stories for their own financial gain. Attacks have varied from 419 scams claiming to offer inheritances from victims of the Concorde air crash or Western Virginia mining disaster, to the death of the Pope, and the recent demise of actresses Natasha Richardson and Farrah Fawcett.
Speed is everything for these hackers. They realize more people will be searching for information about Michael Jackson, and clicking on more links to news stories today than, say, in two weeks' time.
It's understandable that you may want to follow breaking news stories on the Internet -- but make sure you are not falling into a trap. Visit established news Websites rather than clicking on unknown links or using a search engine that might take you to a keyword-stuffed Website harboring malware.
Graham Cluley is senior technology consultant at Sophos, and has been working in the computer security field since the early 1990s. When he's not updating his other blog on the Sophos website you can find him on Twitter at @gcluley. Special to Dark Reading.