Maggie Shiels

The Michael Jackson spammers

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 30 Jun 09, 08:53 GMT

As millions upon millions of people rush to the internet to find out the latest on Michael Jackson, the underground network of spammers have sensed a business opportunity too good to miss.

Spam e-mail about Michael JacksonThey figure that at such a time, people have their guard down in their eagerness to substantiate rumours and half-truths. That has meant, for the legion of internet swindlers, this has been the ideal moment to trot out spam e-mails and throw up malicious websites to infect victims' computers.

As news of Michael Jackson's death was coming through, the scams started appearing almost instantaneously. As the days have passed, the guys behind these nefarious operations have stepped up their game.

Mr Jackson's death "took a lot of people by surprise - the spammers too," Dermott Harnett of anti-spam engineering at Symantec Corp told the Associated Press.

"It might take them some time to really pounce on this issue. They are catching up pretty quickly, though."

Spam is the most common way for fraudsters to find victims after these types of events. The easiest way to lure people into the trap is to trick users to click on e-mail attachments so that the online crooks can infect computers and take command of them for more underhand activities.

Spam e-mail about Michael JacksonSymantec says the spam about Mr Jackson gets more convincing every day. One message promises a YouTube video showing the exclusive "last work of Michael Jackson." Unfortunately all users get is a malicious programme that steals their passwords.

Another example is that of a promise to show the "latest unpublished photos" of the so-called Prince of Pop if people click on a link which actually installs a password-stealing programme on users' machines.

Dodgy solicitations are even coming in the guise of legitimate news organisations that seem like the real deal because they contain accurate enough information to persuade people to click on the link. Others promise access to secret songs.

E-mail of fake Michael Jackson videoIn an e-mail I received from Websense Security Labs ThreatSeeker Network, they warned about spam e-mails offering recipients links to unpublished videos and pictures of the late pop star. All of course fabulously enticing to see in this frenzied atmosphere.

In some cases the spam may force a pop-up message asking users to update their copy of Adobe's Flash. This is seen as a standard hacker tactic notes as a way to install spyware.

One of the newer scams that Sophos has noticed is a malware-free scam that tries to get people to send money to the bogus "Michael Jackson Organisation."

Symantec has drawn up a list of scams that will soon become commonplace as a result of Mr Jackson's surprise death and that of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon.

These include things like spam with subject lines trying to peddle fake medicines, Twitter tweets about these deaths with links to all sorts of malicious websites and sites claiming to host videos of the last moments of these individuals lives. The purpose is to actually peddle fake goods or malware or even collect and validate live e-mail addresses to sell to the highest bidder for spamming.

The age old advice is to only visit sites you are familiar with and trust... yes, that would be the BBC. Added to that, the security community also recommends users do not click on every link that pops up related to the story, don't open e-mails from people you don't know and of course keep security solutions up to date.

In a blog, Sophos reckons naturally enough things will get worse before they get better.

"It is likely that more Michael Jackson-themed malware and spam is on its way however. It is advised that users be especially vigilant when they receive messages or links related to this news."

Such are the times we live in!


  • Comment number 1.

    This information would be a useful heads-up for many people.
    Why isnt this a headline article in tech news or even on the main news front page?

  • Comment number 2.

    SheffTim - But the irony is that the market for this malware exists precisely because the 'headline articles' on the main news front page have been over-loaded with over-hyped and over-emphasised 'stories' [speculation..] about Michael Jackson.

    When even the BBC official blogs are linking to TMZ, how can one expect anything else than febrile speculation leading to scam emails ?

    'physician heal thyself..' ?

  • Comment number 3.

    "This information would be a useful heads-up for many people.
    Why isnt this a headline article in tech news or even on the main news front page?"

    Because if you have half a brain such scam emails and sites don't even get looked at.

    The problem is though many computer users don't have half a brain when it comes to technology.

    More education is needed to prevent people accessing "dodgy" websites and being so gullible they reply to emails saying they've won x amount of money, etc.

    And why is it when anything like a "celeb" dying that everything else is in some way connected to their death?!

    I suppose the heatwave we have in the UK at the moment is because of wacko jacko dying, isn't it?

  • Comment number 4.

    while you have to give credit to these malware authors for pouncing on a hot topic, this is just about as low as it gets. I think that as long as people are running some basic antivirus or anti-malware they will be protected, but the problem is that so many people just choose to run without any. Regardless, RIP the King of Pop!

  • Comment number 5.

    The Michael Jackson had been doing work, when he was just 7 year old He never sit lazy in his life. This is 21st century. People do not want to sit lazy. If people have time, they want to spend their time in a good place, where they can learn something. They can earn money, make relationship etc. So I am introducing you a wonderful website. You just visit; I hope you will find great things. Thanks


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