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Analysis: Phishing arrests highlight massive problem

Jaikumar Vijayan | Oct. 12, 2009
Operation Phish Phry is just the tip of the iceberg

Many phishers use what are known as fast-flux networks to make tracking them down even harder, Jevans added. A fast-flux network allows an attacker to move a counterfeit Web site to new servers in rapid succession. The rogue sites themselves are torn down, sometimes in a matter of hours, often before they are even noticed. And more than 70% of the time, the servers hosting a phishing Web site have themselves been compromised and belong to legitimate companies, Jevans said.

The APWG and others are working with organizations such as ICANN to see whether processes can be developed that allow domain registrars to quickly remove rogue domain names from the Internet. But that is an effort that could take years to materialize.

Chet Wisniewski, senior security advisor at security vendor Sophos, said that while there is a heightened awareness about phishing scams, many people continue to fall victim because of the increasingly sophisticated tactics used.

Tools are available that allow attackers to develop remarkably authentic-looking sites that can fool even the most aware users, he said. And many phishing attacks these days don't even use e-mails to trick users into parting with their credentials. Malware programs such as the QHost Trojan horse are capable of stealing account names and passwords directly from an online session, and can even redirect the browser to a fake Web site -- all without the user's knowledge or participation, he said.

Other techniques to get usernames and passwords involve the use of phone mail, instant messaging and even pop-up screens right in the middle of a banking session.

Contributing to the problem is the continuing failure by many U.S. banks to implement two-factor authentication for controlling access to customer accounts, Wisniewski said. Stronger authentication measures, such as requiring users to enter a one-time token generated password, in addition to their usernames and password would make it all but impossible for attackers to break in using just a customer's login credentials, he said.

"It can be done from the convenience of anybody's home, from [an] Internet cafe from abroad and at all hours," Southwell said. "It can be done to maximum effect by taking advantage of technology to send out millions of e-mails and getting just a few to respond."

"...It is easy to do and hard to get caught," he said.


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