Spoofed & Spoofing

Alright, we all know that there’s a strong possibility of becoming a victim of conventional credit card fraud but as a booming Internet economy, with over four million broadband users, we’re increasingly worried that Mafia gangsters are going to steal our bank and credit card details from right under our noses; victims of a cunning, well-crafted phishing scam.

"Don't tell him your name Pike, that's an order"!

Today, I went to the cash point in my local village. The first thing I did was look to see if it was actually working. It runs, like many others on Windows NT and stuffed into the wall of a local estate agent, it crashes with monotonous regularity. My second action was to run my fingers around the edges of the till and check the card slot. I get funny looks from the people behind me but they aren’t as friendly with the Police as I am and its become almost second nature for me to take a long hard look at any cash point to make sure that it hasn’t picked-up any unusual and well-disguised peripherals that might surrender my card and pin-number to a Romanian émigré in a car nearby. A staggering third of the population has been hit by credit card losses at one time or another, according to APACS, a cost to the card companies of £400 million each year and there’s a whole black industry devoted to finding new ways of stealing the details from our little plastic friends, with hardly a month passing without some new scheme, invention or idea being used against a vulnerable and frequently naïve general public.

When it comes to “Phishing” for our more sensitive financial details over the Internet, we are, it appears rather less gullible than our American cousins, which hardly comes as a surprise. Where phishing cost British banks more than £4.5m over the last twelve months a survey of over one thousand Internet users conducted by the Ponemon Institute, concluded that losses in the US have reached approximately $500 million, with a many as 15% of those questioned, admitting that they had provided sensitive information including “credit card numbers, checking account information and Social Security numbers” to “spoofed” websites, thinking they were the real thing. Symantec now estimates that U.S. banks and credit card issuers have lost almost $1.2 billion as a consequence of phishing exploits in a single year.

So worried are the UK banks by the rising scale of online threats and scams, that they have collectively launched a new Web site, banksafeonline to warn the public of the risks of online fraud; a move which is hardly likely to inspire confidence in the Internet as the secure and safe transactional medium, so imaginatively presented in the latest television advert from BT?

How long, I wonder before the bad guys “spoof”, www banksafeonline.org.uk with some clever email-driven phishing scheme which will invite you or I to enter credit card details or possibly download a piece of software to “secure” our PCs from what looks like the authentic site but is in fact a Server running out of a small office in Lagos or Leningrad?

Government and the Opposition are now taking the threat of online fraud more seriously than they were twelve months ago, which is encouraging if nothing more. The big challenge however remains in catching the bad guys and successfully bringing them to justice. Frequently, fraud of this kind is committed somewhere beyond the immediate reach of the Police and in places you would be hard pressed to find in any tourist brochure. Once the local Police have arrested the suspect, a conviction may prove to be an uphill forensic and evidential struggle, followed by an effort to convince the local court that breaching the Council of Europe Cyber-crime Convention is a more serious offense than wearing a loud beard in a built-up area.

While we should give Government and the finance industry credit for every effort to reverse the tide of fraud which increasingly floods across our Personal Computers there is a sense that we are all bit-part actors in an episode of “Dad’s Army” and the only sensible warning comes from Private Frazer. “We’re doomed Captain Mainwaring, doomed.”


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