Pope-Themed Emails Lead Readers to Malware
Pope Francis during a meeting in Rome with President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, March 18, 2013.
CREDIT: Presidency of the Republic of Argentina/Creative Commons
Do you hunger for news about the new pope's involvement in clerical child-abuse cases? Or about how he'll deal with other ongoing problems in the Roman Catholic Church?
Then you might be ripe for the latest round of email scams, which exploit public interest in the sudden retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the rapid installment of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as his replacement Francis.
"New Pope, Vatican officials sued over alleged sexual abuse," reads the subject line of one email spotted by the malware hunters at Symantec.
"Can New Pope Benedict be Sued for the Sex Abuse Cases?" reads another, its author apparently forgetting that Benedict was the old pope.
Our favorite is "New Pope Sued For Not Wearing Seat Belt In Popemobile."
All three messages pretend to come from a "breaking news" email account at a well-known cable news network and invite the recipient to click on a link to read the story.
Don't do it. If you do, you'll be taken to a Russian website in which is embedded the Blackhole exploit kit, a particularly nasty bundle of browser-busting malware designed to infect your machine the instant you first load the page.
In other words, you can be infected just be looking at the Web page. That's how the sneakiest drive-by downloads work.
There are several ways to avoid being snared by such scams. First, don't click on links in emails you don't expect, even if they seem to come from trusted sources or friends.
Second, run a good package of anti-virus software on your PC. The same goes for Macs, which now get malware too. Symantec's blog points out that its products protect customers against Blackhole.
Third, remind yourself at all times that using the Internet is like walking through an open-air market in a foreign city. It's fun and interesting, but you need to be wary and to keep your wits about you without being overly fearful.
If someone tries to entice you with bogus come-ons, sensational news stories or deals that sound too good to be true, laugh, ignore the pitch and move on.