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Old Banks New Crime

April wasn’t a great month for the banks from a security perspective. Netcraft reports that attackers appeared to be actively scanning for Windows servers running Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) that remained unpatched against the Microsoft PCT (Private Communication Technology) security hole with the most active efforts apparently targeting Australian banks



Designed to support secure and spontaneous commercial transactions, PCT is similar to SSL in many ways. Like SSL, PCT operates on the transport level, making it independent of application protocols. PCT also incorporates RSA's asymmetric public/private key algorithm to authenticate both server and client, and is backward-compatible with SSL.

Ironically, Webdeveloper.com claims that PCT corrects an earlier security hole in the design of SSL's handshake phase, a flaw through which potential attackers could gain access to session keys, which they could then use to authenticate a bogus client in a high-security environment and gain access to sensitive functions.

With an increase in scanning of port 443; used by SSL, to encrypt e-commerce transactions, The SANS Institute, urged administrators running Windows servers to immediately patch their systems. SANS warns that several published exploits allow attackers to gain control of unpatched Windows SSL servers and any customer data stored on them.

The previous month, March, with 402 unique phishing attacks, set a new record for another exploit which targets financial services and it was revealed that not only has email fraud cost British banks more than £1m over the last eighteen months but that one in twenty emails (five per cent) were connected with phishing scams according to Brightmail and with eBay the most popular target company.

A million pounds may only be a tiny fraction of the total amount lost over the year to the old favourite, credit card fraud, which cost £402.4 million but my own suspicion is that the cost of computer crime in the financial services sector is significantly under-reported to avoid the risk of a decline in confidence from the public and shareholders.

How much then is computer crime really costing the global financial services industry you might ask and the answer has to be “Your guess is as good as mine” but it has to be growing and having just returned from the banking hub of the Middle East, my own sources suggest that even international banking systems are only as good as their weakest link or branch in the chain.

That said, I was caught by a very low-tech but original scam last week from a long and drawn out eBay dispute. I received an envelope from 'Newcastleno9', by recorded delivery. Inside was a note, saying, “Dear Simon, Sorry I’m out of cheques so here is your £310 pounds in cash”. I then opened the second sealed white envelope and it was empty. Tough luck said the police, “It’s your word against his in court now because you’ve opened the envelope and signed for it”.

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