John Howard the new Paris Hilton?

At what point does one achieve the status of cultural icon?
Written by Scott Mckenzie, Contributor

commentary At what point does one achieve the status of cultural icon? Let's be honest: socialite Paris Hilton is an icon, Larry Ellison isn't -- although techies and geeks might disagree about the Oracle honcho.

A good benchmark of your "public status" is a guest appearance on the Simpsons. If you haven't appeared with Homer and Bart then you really are a public nobody.

Scott Mckenzie, News Editor

Looking at a list of celebrities who have appeared as themselves or played other characters over 19 seasons reads like a who's who of the rich and famous. In no particular order U2, the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Elizabeth Taylor, Danny DeVito, Dustin Hoffman, Tony Blair, Michael Jackson ... the list goes on and on.

A name you won't find on the Simpsons' Honour Roll, however, is our very own Prime Minister John Howard. Yet, this week Howard achieved a cultural status of sorts -- one which puts him at least on the same level as (the notorious) Miss Hilton.

All jokes about scandalous "home movies" and attending the opening of an envelope aside, this rise to the top of the cultural heap is one which Howard is not likely to be pleased with. And it's not because it puts him on par with Hilton.

Some readers may remember back in 2005 an e-mail which promised erotic photos of hotel heiress Hilton, doing the rounds of cyberspace. The e-mail was found to have contained two worms -- Sober-K and Ahker-C -- that destroyed security settings on PCs.

Over the last seven days Howard has been the subject of a similar e-mail that also contained a (potentially) nasty surprise.

As reported on ZDNet Australia, the e-mail was titled "John Howard, the current Prime Minister of Australia has survived a heart attack." The e-mail claims Howard suffered the heart attack while at his residence Kirribilli House and is fighting for his life in hospital.

The e-mail then provides a link purporting to be an online news report. Users that click the link, however, are directed to a standard "404 error" page which downloads a trojan to their computer.

As a result hackers may have captured the login details of around 750 Australian banking customers, according to security firm Websense. It went on to claim that up to 2,500 people around the world have been infected by the trojan, which monitors Internet activity, including logging key strokes.

The reality is miscreants know that the promise of porn -- such as the Paris Hilton virus -- or an e-mail that tugs at the heartstrings (PM suffering a heart attack, perhaps) mean that some computer users will throw all caution out the window and download attachments or click links to Web sites.

Having a strict security policy in place, even one that is policed, is no guarantee that a firm will not become infected with an e-mail virus. And hackers know that, they understand that it is human nature to be curious about celebrities or personalities.

Cybercrooks prey on our interest in popular culture and can profit from even the smallest percentage of users either taking the bait and clicking on a link to a Web site or despite the years of warnings downloading attachments.

Have you been tempted to download with a subject about a cultural icon? Does your company have a security policy? Has your firm ever been infected by an e-mail virus? How would you police human nature? E-mail me at scott.mckenzie@zdnet.com.au and give me your feedback.

Editorial standards