Music and movie fans should be on their guard when searching the web as the amount of malware hidden within video and music-related sites and services has surged, says McAfee.
According to the security firm's '2010 Digital Music & Movies Report: The True Cost of Free Entertainment' report, the number one risk when looking for digital entertainment online used to be that of poisoned search results. However, as web users have become more aware of this, cybercriminals have shifted their lines of attack to malicious ads and video viewing tools.
McAfee identified more than 700,000 malware-infected web pages that were designed to look 'identical' to YouTube, as cybercriminals attempt to fool web users into downloading malicious software.
It's hardly surprising cybercriminals are switching to this method of distributing malware, as the number of videos viewed online has surged by 37 percent since February 2009, to more than 5.5 billion, according to comScore.
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. The security firm said that in June it identified 'malvertising' on perezhilton.com, the website of a popuar celebrity blogger.
When it comes to music, the security firm said adding the word 'free' to a search for music ringtones offered 300 percent more malicious search results than searching for just 'ringtones'. Furthermore, searching for an artist's lyrics is twice as likely to result in poisoned links than simply searching for ringtones.
Searching for paid-for MP3s also resulted in a large number of links directing web users to websites offering pirated content. Between 2009 and 2010, there was a 40 percent increase in the websites delivering infected MP3 files. McAfee said the US is home to a third of pirated music, movies and software available on the web, while Russia hosts 13 percent and Germany was responsible for 10 percent.
"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 actually comes at a price. Consumers must stay aware of the risks and be on the lookout for potential new dangers."
Greve urged web users to avoid searching for the term 'free' or clicking on banner ads on music and movie download sites that are not well established.
"Although this news isn't a surprise, it does highlight that, in an age where many PCs are connected to the internet 24 hours a day, protecting the browser itself is absolutely critical. It’s not just about protecting individual websites from cybercriminal," said Mel Morris, CEO of internet security firm Prevx.
"PCs must be protected on all websites at all times. There is no reason why the internet should be synonymous with crime – consumers should be able to browse safe in the knowledge that their personal information is still private"
Morris suggested web users install two or three in-the-browser security solutions to offer a multi-layered form of protection, which is vital because "it ensures that, should one vendor's software not detect a piece of malware, another one will".
"It's all about defence in numbers. The more protection your browser has, the harder it will be for cybercriminals to get through. Of course, when it comes to illegal downloads, the most effective defence to to steer clear!"