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Malware found hiding behind BRIT nominee songs

February 2020 by Kaspersky

Cybercriminals are actively abusing the names of popular artists and songs in order to spread malware. Kaspersky protection technologies detected a 39% rise in attacks (attempts to download or run malicious files) related to 2019 Grammy-nominated artists’ work – some of whom are also BRIT nominees. Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Post Malone were attackers’ favorites, with these names used most often in 2019 as a disguise for malware – showing a need for consumers to be more conscious of online music threats

Music has universal appeal – it is not just entertainment, but a form of therapy and education, as well as providing an atmosphere and message platform. Its popularity and widespread availability is the reason why, even in the age of streaming services, music is not free from malicious activity: criminals use popular artists’ names to spread malware hidden in music tracks or video clips. In light of the biggest music awards of the year, to show the extent of the problem, Kaspersky researchers have analysed top artists’ names and song titles for malware[1] - some of whom are BRIT nominees. 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.

Artists Song title
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Bon Iver Hey, ma
H.E.R. Hard Place
Lady Gaga Always Remember Us This Way
Lana Del Rey Norman F*cking Rockwell
Lewis Capaldi Someone you loved
LIL NAS X Old Town Road
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Post Malone Sunflower
Tanya Tucker Bring my flowers now
Taylor Swift Lover

Artists and singles analysed for malware

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 them.

Unique malicious files using selected artists’ names detected by Kaspersky products 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.

Attacks on Kaspersky product users using files with selected Grammy nominees’ names

The connection between the rise in popularity and malicious activity is very evident in the case of newer artists such as Billie Eilish, who has been nominated for the International Female BRIT award. The teenage singer became hugely popular in 2019, and the number of users who downloaded malicious files with her name has risen almost tenfold compared to 2018 – from 254 to 2171, the number of unique distributed malicious files – from 221 to 1,556. However, while nomination for a prestigious award and recognition connected to it affects users’ interest in specific artists and, as a result, a growth in malicious activity, this is not necessarily the case for more established artists such as Lady Gaga, whose name also experienced a rise in attacks in the past year.

Malicious activity related to Billie Eilish

Kaspersky also analyzed some of The Grammy’s top 2019 records and songs received most attention from cybercriminals. BRIT nominee 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 capitalise on that. 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,” – comments Anton Ivanov, Kaspersky security analyst.

To avoid falling victim to malicious programs pretending to be popular music files, Kaspersky recommends taking the following steps:
• If you want to listen or download famous artists’ songs, use reputable services like Apple Music, Spotify Premium, and Amazon Music. Or try to find a recognised free music site that allows you to download songs legally.
• Try to avoid suspicious links, promising exclusive music content. Check musicians’ official social media accounts or read reputable music blogs like Pitchfork, to make sure that such content exists.
• Look at the downloaded file extension. Even if you are going to download an audio or video file from a source you consider trusted and legitimate, the file should have an mp3, .avi, .mkv or .mp4 extension among other music and video formats, definitely not .exe or .lnk.
• Use a reliable security solution, such as Kaspersky Security Cloud, for comprehensive protection from a wide range of threats.

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