The "Hunger Games" heroine Katniss is apparently catnip for hackers.
Cyber criminals have been dangling the lure of of free online copies of the blockbuster film to trick young fans into downloading malicious software onto their computers.
In the two weeks preceding the movie's March 23 premiere, experts identified some 37 instances of offers for illegal movie downloads that were "poisoned."
"It's not actually the 'Hunger Games' footage, it pretends to be that," said Marian Merritt,
internet safety advocate for Norton, industry giant Symantec's brand of anti-virus software. "It's posted merely for the purpose of tricking fans."
Merritt said cyber criminals often use big cultural events -- such as the royal wedding or the release of the "Twilight" movies -- to dupe the unwitting into downloading a bit of malicious software onto their computers.
Such programs allow hackers to gain access to the information stored on that computer, infect other computers on the home network and beyond, Merritt said, or use the computer as a "bot" (short for robot) to launch a variety of attacks, such as sending out spam or being part of a coordinated "denial-of-service” attack.
"The 'Hunger Games' in part is of appeal to the youngest kids," Merritt said. "We find that kids are particularly vulnerable to this kind of threat, the poisoned search result threat."
Merritt urges parents to talk to their kids about steering clear of such online promises of sensational content, such as leaked videos. Norton and other companies, of course, make software that's designed to prevent this problem.
A free version of Norton Safe Web Lite can be found here.
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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski
Photo: Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from "The Hunger Games." Credit: Murray Close / Lionsgate