Hacked by Superman? The most toxic superheroes to watch out for online

McAfee published its second annual study of toxic superheroes. McAfee, Inc.

Superman may be vulnerable to something besides kryptonite. It turns out he's also a magnet for cybercriminals.

The security firm McAfee released its second annual survey of Most Toxic Superheroes today, and Superman tops the list. The lists ranks the characters that result in the greatest number of 'infected' Web sites when users search for them online. A McAfee representative explained in an email to CBS News that their researchers look for "bad links, including viruses, malware and sites laden with malicious software designed to steal passwords and personal information."

Search for Superman, and there's a 16.5 percent chance you'll land on an unsafe site, according to McAfee. The second-most toxic superhero on the list is Thor, at 16.35 percent, followed by Wonder Woman and Aquaman, tied for third place at 15.7 percent. Aquaman dropped from the number one spot last year.

Check out the complete list in the slideshow at left.

Superheroes, while always popular online, are especially high-interest right now with San Diego Comic-Con International opening next week and excitement mounting for the upcoming film, "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice." Millions of people are searching the Internet for superhero-related movie trailers, official Web sites, games and fan sites, inadvertently putting themselves at risk.

According to Robert Siciliano, a McAfee online security expert and spokesperson for the McAfee group publishing the list, "It is a fact of life - technology has permeated every aspect of our lives and criminals have been paying attention and capitalizing on the technologies that are with us all the time."

Siciliano explains that "criminals use 'black hat' - bad guy - techniques to game their web site into the first page of your search results." They then try to implant malicious code into your computer or mobile device, often by enticing you to download a file.

Siciliano warns that "if a site asks you to download a player in order to watch a video - that is an outright lie. They are trying to get you to download an executable file to infect your device with a virus, to spy on you, or to force you to download spam ads."

Though law enforcement and others hunt down and close dangerous sites regularly, Siciliano notes that "if a bad guy gets his sites up for one to three weeks, he can get several thousand hits, and access to hundreds of devices. That can earn them a lot of money."

Siciliano pointed out that two female superheroes made the list this year: Wonder Woman and the Black Widow. He thinks it is because of "the Disneyfication of strong female characters. Girls are excited and more interested in female superheroes now."

So before you search for your favorite superhero online, keep these tips in mind for safer Web browsing:

  • Be suspicious. Bad guys often use tricks to get their Web sites onto the first page of a search, so be careful if your find a link to free content or an offer that is too good to be true.
  • Don't download "video players" or executable (.exe) files from third party, unknown Web sites. You may want to opt to watch streaming videos or download content only from established sites, such as Hulu, Netflix, CBS, etc.
  • Avoid free downloads; they often harbor malware.
  • Double-check the Web address, looking for misspellings or other clues that you may be on an unsafe site, and not the site you were seeking.
  • Screen sites before you enter them. There are free products (like McAfee's SiteAdvisor) that can tell you when a Web site is known to be bad, good, or risky.
  • Parents, look out for your kids' searches and devices. Siciliano notes that children are especially vulnerable: "You need to understand your children's devices, and be sure that every device is protected by both a firewall and up to date anti-malware software."

And of course, remember that superheroes are not the only targets. Cybercriminals plant their Web sites wherever people are likely to search. This week, comic book character Archie is trending online as the character dies taking a bullet for a gay friend in Wednesday's installment of "Life with Archie," so he could be a potential target. Recently, as the World Cup grew to become one of the hottest topics worldwide, Siciliano warned World Cup soccer fans that searches for free videos and screensavers of their favorite footballers could be dangerous.

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