The wild, wild web is like any major metropolitan city. There are high-class neighborhoods, retail districts, theater districts, business centers, popular social areas, seedy red-light districts (in Boston we called this the Combat Zone), and bad, bad, BAD neighborhoods.

Depending on where you go, you may pick up a virus or get bonked on the head.

The Internet is the same.

As more consumers seek out more free entertainment online, cybercriminals are shifting their attacks accordingly. McAfee recently conducted a series of studies determining that searching for celebrities like Cameron Diaz can increase your chances of infecting your PC. McAfee’s new “Digital Music & Movies Report: The True Cost of Free Entertainment” also confirmed that your PC is equally vulnerable when searching the word “free.” This report reveals the significantly increased risk of fraud when including “free” and “MP3” in the same search query. And when you add the word “free” to a search for ringtones, your risk increases by 300%.

Cybercriminals lure users with words like “free” in order to infect their PCs with malicious software, which is designed to take over the infected computer and allow hackers full access to private files, usernames, and passwords.

To stay safe, avoid searching for “free content.” Stick to legitimate, paid sites when downloading music and movies.

If a website is not well established, avoid clicking links in banner ads.

Use comprehensive security software to protect against the latest threats.

Use common sense: don’t click on links posted in forums or on fan pages.

Use a safe search plug-in, such as McAfee® SiteAdvisor® software that displays a red, yellow, or green annotation in search results, warning users about potential risky sites ahead of time, and highlighting safe results.

Be aware that the more popular a topic, movie or artist is, the more risky the search results will be.

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses scammers and thieves on The Big Idea with Donnie Deutsch. Disclosures

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