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You Can Bank on It

If you’re a little worried about eating Scottish Salmon, then you’ve probably more reason to be concerned by another other type of ‘Phishing’ story which is on the increase, that of trying to hook bank account details from the unwary.



Last year saw a dramatic rise in the number of phishing attacks against banks and it’s increasingly hard to find a financial institution which hasn’t been targeted at least once. Phishing is of course an attempt to steal a user’s account information and this normally involves a redirection to a bogus website and frequently, an attempt to install some kind of spyware or key logger on the victim’s personal computer

My own bank, Barclays, has even taken the sensible step of changing its security to incorporate ‘drop down’ dialogue boxes, so rather than typing in my favourite password, I have to select the letters, one by one, to defeat the risk of someone in Riga or Romania capturing my keystrokes.

Most of us reading Computer Weekly are sufficiently ‘security-savvy’ not to be deceived by most email frauds. However, a well-publicised weakness in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer allows a fraudster, through URL encoding, to obscure the name of a bogus website and make it appear to be legitimate, that is unless you bother to take a good close look at the source code link, which very few people would think of doing. This is of course URL spoofing and this month’s attempt to deceive Citibank customers arrives with a beautifully crafted message in perfect business English and a credible URL https//Citibank.com/signin/citify/scripts/login3/login.htm – I have made a small change to avoid anyone following the link and downloading something unpleasant.

The same attention to detail can be seen in the latest bogus Barclays email, which asks, “As part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website, we are undertaking a period review of our member accounts. You are requested to visit our site by following the link given below”.

This resolves to http://www.newyersm.com:80/1,,logon,00.php but the phishers have encoded the email in hexadecimal so that it appears as http://ibank.barclays.co.uk%01%01%01%01%01%01%......... and would deceive any but the most expert of suspicious customers.

It’s a huge problem and there’s no easy solution in sight. Regardless of assurances from his bank, the average person really can’t be sure that what he is reading in his inbox actually comes from his bank anymore. Even the expression, “Safe as the Bank of England” no longer applies following the well-publicised Bank of England email scam before Christmas.

I doubt it will be long before some bright criminal tries to URL spoof the Inland Revenue. I suspect that if people receive a convincing enough message from that quarter, particularly around the January tax deadline, many would do exactly as instructed and I am only surprised that it hasn’t been tried yet.

Welcome to 2004 the year of living dangerously.

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