Hackers are using the tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson as a way to spread malicious software.

Security firm Sophos has already identified a number of websites that claim to offer details of the skiing accident that led to the death of the award-winning English actress.

However, Sophos says these hoax sites in fact contain a malicious code known as Troj/Reffor that will infect PCs, running a fake antivirus product designed to scare users into purchasing a security solution from the very people that installed the malicious code on their PC in the first place.

"Cybercriminals don't waste any time jumping on the coat-tails of breaking news stories in their attempt to infect as many computer users as possible," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

"Speed is everything for these hackers - they know that more people will be searching for information about Natasha Richardson today than, say, in two weeks time. All computer users need to be on their guard against these attacks. One way to avoid falling into this trap is to visit an established news website rather than using a search engine which might take you to a keyword-stuffed site harbouring malware."

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See also : 'Dirty bomb' emails infecting PCs with malicious code