No sooner had the news of the untimely death of Michael Jackson hit the Internet than the vultures started circling. For once it was not the gossip columnists and tabloid journalists digging up the dirt, but rather spammers and hackers looking to exploit a golden opportunity to distribute their wares and expose a very sick sense of humour.

The very fact that there has been so much media coverage of the Michael Jackson death, and at around the same time Charlie's Angels actress Farrah Fawcett lost her battle for life, pretty much paved the way for the spammers to be honest. Any campaign could be guaranteed a boost in click-throughs just by linking it with those deaths, especially Michael Jackson of course. But a more sinister trend also started to emerge over the last week, with emails arriving in my inbox which claimed to link to news stories and videos carrying exclusive breaking news of other celebrity deaths. Of course, the celebs in question were alive and well - and the links were the usual malware infested crap, but people would still be clicking through, bet your bottom dollar.

Perhaps the sickest twist has hit Twitter though, not least because there is no malware payload and no spam to shift. In the past I have put forward the theory that celebrities might be killing Twitter but now it seems that the reverse is true. Some folk have been hacking into celebrity accounts and announcing their deaths apparently for no other reason than to 'have a laugh' which is about as sick as you can get.

According to security expert Graham Cluley from Sophos "The fake story of Britney's death was posted to her Twitter followers via the TwitPic service, which automatically forwards messages to the associated Twitter account. There are a number of ways in which messages can be posted on TwitPic, including sending a picture to a unique email address. It is thought that hackers used this method to post the fake message, which would have involved cracking a four digit PIN code."

Certainly this would appear to be the case as far as Britney Spears is concerned, as her hugely popular Twitter account with two million followers announced "Britney has passed today. It is a sad day for everyone. More news to come." This is not the first time the Britney has come under Twitter attack. At the start of the year her hacked account posted a message, which appeared to come from the singer herself, which announced that she wanted to update her fans about "the size of my vagina" which was "about 4 feet wide with razor sharp teeth."

Twitter and TwitPic are said to have got the current death hoax situation under control, with messages withdrawn and security holes patched, but not before reports of the deaths of other celebrities such as P. Diddy, Ellen Degeneres and Jeff Goldblum were posted on Twitter.

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About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to Forbes.com, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...

I'm now waiting for the first 'RIP Johnny Depp' malware link scam to hit, it's surely only a matter of time :(