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Huge growth in malware connected to popular musicians - Kaspersky

Kaspersky detected a 39% rise in attacks (attempts to download or run malicious files) under the guise of nominees’ work in 2019, compared to 2018. Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Post Malone were attackers’ favourites, with these nominees’ names used most often in 2019 as a disguise for malware.

The popularity and widespread availability of modern music is a powerful lure for malicious activity: criminals use popular artists’ names to spread malware hidden in music tracks or video clips.

Kaspersky researchers analysed Grammy 2020 nominated artists’ names and song titles for malware. As a result, Kaspersky found 30,982 malicious files that used the names of artists or their tracks in order to spread malware, with 41,096 Kaspersky product users having encountered them.

Analysis of the nominated artists showed that the names of Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Post Malone were used most to disguise malicious files, with over half (55%) of detected malicious files named after one of the trio.

The number of attempts to download or run the files containing names of these pop stars also grew significantly for almost all artists in the research.

The connection between the rise in popularity and malicious activity is very evident in the case of newer artists such as Billie Eilish.

The number of users who downloaded malicious files with her name has risen almost tenfold compared to 2018 – from 254 to 2171. In addition, the number of unique distributed malicious files rose from 221 to 1,556 during the same period.

A nomination for a prestigious award affects seems to correlate with an increase in malicious activity connected to the artist’s name. However, this is not necessarily the case for more established artists such as Lady Gaga, whose name use also experienced a rise in attacks in the past year.

Kaspersky also analysed which records and songs received the most attention from cybercriminals. Post Malone’s ‘Sunflower’, Khalid’s ‘Talk’ and Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’, led the way for songs with the most malware attacks.

“Cybercriminals understand what is popular and always strive to capitalize on that,” says Kaspersky security analyst Anton Ivanov.

“Music, alongside TV shows, is one of the most popular types of entertainment and, as a result, an attractive means to spread malware, which criminals readily use.

“However, as we see more and more users subscribe to streaming platforms, which do not require file download in order to listen to music, we expect that malicious activity related to this type of content will decrease,” says Ivanov.