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Can I get a virus from watching a YouTube Video?

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on November 9, 2007 4:09 PM

Question

Can I get a virus from watching a YouTube video?

-Cassandra

Answer

This question was answered on November 9, 2007. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The methods used by the various malicious elements that are lurking on the Internet continue to evolve and some security experts are warning that the next target will be to exploit online video (not just YouTube videos).

As of this writing, there is no current exploit that is known to infect users that simply click on a YouTube video, but that does not mean that there is no danger.

The popularity of YouTube has extended to millions of web sites that post images that link to the YouTube website and run the video when clicked (referred to as an embedded video). As long as the link is actually pulling the video from YouTube, you would be safe, but a recent scam illuminates how attentive you must be when clicking on what appears to be a YouTube video.

Last year, fake YouTube videos started to appear on approximately 1,400 MySpace pages that tried to lure users into installing a pop-up adware program.

The fake player appears to be a YouTube video, but the link took users to a completely different website: Yootube.info (a site hosted in Amsterdam that has since been taken down).

Once there, users were presented with a Windows Media Player video and a prompt to install software to view the clip. Those that agreed to the license ended up installing a program that generates pop-up ads from a company called Zango Cash.

Zango Cash, oddly enough, agreed to pay a 3 million dollar Federal Trade Commission fine for deceptive and unfair adware installations, so we already know that this company does not play by the rules.

The lessons to be learned by the latest attempts to infiltrate your computer are that the incredible popularity of social networking sites like MySpace have made them the latest target of those that have malicious intent and that you must make absolutely sure that you are working with an actual YouTube video when you click it.

YouTube videos can be embedded into any website (a very common practice) which will allow you to view the video without leaving the host site. An embedded YouTube video and a scam YouTube video will look the same (with the logo, the play button, etc.) so the big tip off will be what happens when you click on the link (remember, as of this writing, simply clicking on the video poses not danger, it’s what happens after you click on the link).

Most legit links will simply play the video within that same space, while others will take you directly to the www.YouTube.com site to view the video. If you click on the video and it takes you to a new page, make sure you look very closely at the actual address http://www....) of the new page, as the scammers can create a page that looks exactly like a YouTube page.

You should not be asked to install anything to view the video, especially if you have played YouTube videos in the past, so that is another red flag.

This also speaks to the importance of trusted sources on the Internet. If you are familiar with the resource and trust it (CNN.com, DataDoctors.com, etc.) you can trust the videos.

If you are not sure about the host site, but you really want to see the video, you can always go to YouTube.com yourself and search for the video manually (search using the description on the posting). If you can’t find it by searching for it at YouTube.com, it’s likely a scam video.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on November 9, 2007

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