For ParentsFor Teachers

Brittany Murphy, Curiosity, and You

By Lynette T. Owens

As the end of 2009 draws near, many of us are consumed by the preparations needed to close out one year and open another.  Kids are excited by an impending lengthy school break (some parents less so!); shopping, cooking, cleaning, hosting, and shoveling for some of us, take all of our attention and energy.  But every so often, something happens to interrupt that flow and for a brief moment, we pause to look at what has just happened.

This week saw another tragic celebrity story unfold before us in the news.  The death of actor Brittany Murphy at age 32 reminds us that life can bring unexpected turns, and some of us are saddened when a young person leaves this world, particularly this time of year.

As a young star in movies that were highly popular with a younger audience, Brittany may currently be the search engine topic of choice among your own children.  Regardless of whether or not you knew who she was or how much talent you thought she had, many people are crowding on the internet to find out more about her and what lead to her death.

The time between a public event and the availability of complete information surrounding that event becomes ever wider as publishing a thought to a mass audience is almost instantaneous.  And in that gap, a curious public fills it with theories, accusations, predictions, and facts – all of which become difficult to separate and recognize.  The public, your kids, and even you want to know: what happened?   Tiger Woods’ personal life, a hotly contested presidential election, a major sporting event – no matter the topic, we need to know.

We also need to say what we think.  When you search for information on Brittany Murphy’s death the results will show you related stories from news sites as well as opinions on blogs, condolence messages on social networking profiles, tweets on Twitter accounts, and video tributes on YouTube.

In that mass and that mess, what we don’t see and don’t look for is anything that can hurt us.  But very often, there are unseen criminals who take advantage of our curiosity.

This week, alongside the stories about Brittany in a Google search, researchers at Trend Micro found links to hoax websites purporting to offer information about her death.  Instead, for the unaware, if you clicked on these links you would see a pop-up message telling you that your computer has been infected with a virus and you need to scan it immediately.  (See Figure 1)


If you selected ‘ok’ you would then be lead to a screen telling you that your system is being scanned (which looks very legitimate), when in fact it is not. (See Figure 2.) 

And after the fake scanning session, you are then prompted to download fake security software to protect your system. (See Figure 3.)

This is a common tactic used by cybercriminals to get people to download malicious software that is designed to open up a door to their systems so they can access personal information or use your system for other purposes (such as delivering spam or secretly storing files).

You, your kids, your family and friends don’t have to be fooled by this.  

1. Only visit well-known, reputable websites for news/information.

2. Use security software from a reputable company and keep it updated.

3. Supplement this with a free website reputation service like TrendProtect.  This service will highlight links in search results and tell you if they are safe to click on or not.  Download it here.

4. Do not click on links in emails from anyone you do not know (Or if someone you know has forwarded an email from someone you don’t know.)

5. Teach your kids to think critically about what they see online.  Not everything they see on the screen is as it seems. 

The New Year will certainly bring its share of highly publicized events.  As we rush online to satisfy our curiosity about them, consider making a resolution to remind ourselves and our kids to use the Internet wisely.

For more information on surfing safely, go to

You might also like