While “dangerous” is not the word that would come to mind when you think of Anna Kendrick, the actor best known for her work in the Pitch Perfect movies and voicing Princess Poppy in Trolls World Tour, she finds herself at the top of the McAfee’s “most dangerous celebrities” online list this year. McAfee keeps track of the celebrity search terms most likely to result in a malicious link or phishing content. As the coronavirus resulted in shelter-at-home order and social distancing was encouraged, internet usage in 2020 has skyrocketed – and bad actors have taken advantage.
According the Wall Street Journal, internet usage increased 25% in March, just as the shelter-at-home orders had taken place. While the sudden early rise in internet use slowly decreased throughout the summer, remote school, work from home and the lack of movie theaters continue to keep internet use higher than previous years.
Kendrick’s most recent film, Trolls World Tour happened to coincide with the sudden shift to films streamed online on their release date. Universal’s decision to stream Trolls on-demand in April was met with some hesitance as the move might hurt the theatre industry, but did result in record-breaking sales amid the pandemic response. The success moved Kendrick from the fourth spot on the McAfee list in 2019 to number one in 2020.
Anna Kendrick is among several other actors and musicians in the top ten of the McAfee list that includes Sean Combs, Blake Lively, Taylor Swift and Julia Roberts. These names evoke a timelessness in a year that seems to feel like an eternity. This was reflected in the shifts in search online with more users seeking nostalgia and comfort in an uncertain year. According to a study in late 2019, people shift to “nostalgic consumption” when there is a “collective sense of uncertainty and anxiety.”
But these searches have consequences to vulnerable users who may interact with malicious sites that phish for clicks. A search for Anna Kendrick (with terms like “torrent” or “free”) may result in links that are dangerous. According to cybersecurity expert Lisa Toth at Baringa Partners, by clicking these links, the site can “try and take over your computer and install unwanted malicious programs (called malware). If your computer isn’t up to date and well protected then those malicious programs can record you typing your passwords, copy all of your personal emails and pictures, or lock you out of your computer and hold you to ransom.”
With more people online, ransomware has seen a sevenfold increase in 2020. Ransomware is a piece of software that locks your machine until you pay the cybercriminal something to release your computer. Cybercriminals are getting savvier, but they’re taking advantage of our emotional connection to these actors as well. Dean Kelshall at Baringa Partners explains: “The most vulnerable are those who are too trusting or who react emotionally” to links or to emails.
Sean Combs, who has been in our nostalgic emotional space for over two decades from Puff Daddy to Diddy, ranks as number two on the McAfee list. Combs hosted a livestream town hall event called “Black America & Coronavirus” early in the pandemic and he also increased excitement by announcing a possible reboot of the MTV classic “Making the Band.” The combination of nostalgia, comfort and emotions potentially lowers our guard against digital threats.
Aside from playing Princess Poppy in Trolls, Anna Kendrick also debuted her series “Love Life” on HBO Max in May. The combination of her lasting popularity and range of audiences from children to adults results in her “dangerous” status on the McAfee list. Cybersecurity expert Baker Nanduru, VP of McAfee’s Consumer Endpoint Segment, recommends that “fans stay vigilant about protecting their digital lives and think twice before clicking.”
You may think it is easy to remain safe online, but a search for “Anna Kendrick free” or “Anna Kendrick torrent” provides a series of suspicious links. Cybersecurity experts agree that you should avoid all these sites, but specifically sites with web addresses that contain made up words and extensions like .ru (Russia) or .icu (the shady “I see you”). If you end up on these sites, they’re sometimes overloaded with download buttons, many of which contain ads or direct downloads to viruses rather than content.
Baringa Partners’ Kelshall stresses that a simple click on a malicious site gives access to “use your personal information to defraud you, rack up debt in your name or even try and use your information to expose your friends and family” which could result in “personal embarrassment and associated repercussions.”
The bad actors online may using good actors to lure their victims, but it’s more important than ever to take the time to increase our internet literacies and be aware of how we interact with digital media.