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Stop Phisihers &
Phishing, Fraudulent and Malicious
Websites by Alexandra G.
Whether we like it or not, we are all
living in the Information Age. We have nothing left but adapt to rapidly
developing information technology, no matter who we are and what we do
The Internet, in
particular, means for us boundless opportunities in
life and business - but also lots of dangers unheard
of just a decade ago. We should be aware of these
dangers if we want to use the huge potential of the
Internet and to avoid the hazards it brings us.
Warning: There are Websites You'd Better Not
Thanks to authors of numerous articles on this
topic, "classic" phishing technique is relatively
well known. This scam involves setting bogus
websites and luring people to visit them, as a rule,
by links in emails. Phishing website is disguised to
look like a legitimate one -- of a bank or a credit
card company, and users are invited to provide their
identifying information. Sites of this kind are used
solely to steal users' passwords, PIN numbers, SSNs
and other confidential information.
At first phishing consisted only of a social
engineering scam in which phishers spammed consumer
e-mail accounts with letters ostensibly from banks.
The more people got aware of the scam, the less
spelling mistakes these messages contained, and the
more these fraudulent websites resembled legitimate
ones. Phishers are getting smarter. They eagerly
learn; there is enough money involved here to turn
criminals into earnest students.
Keyloggers and Trojans
Since about November 2004 there has been a lot of
publications of a scheme which at first was seen as
a new kind of phishing. This technique includes
contaminating a PC with a Trojan horse program. The
problem is that this Trojan contains a keylogger
which lurks at the background until the user of the
infected PC visits one of the specified websites.
Then the keylogger comes to life to do what it was
created for -- to steal information.
It seems that this technique is actually a separate
scam aimed at stealing personal information and such
attacks are on the rise. Security vendor Symantec
warns about commercialisation of malware --
cybercriminals prefer cash to fun, so various kinds
of information-stealing software are used more
Fraudulent websites are on the rise
Websense Security Labs -- a well-known authority in
information security -- noticed a dramatic rise in
the number of fraudulent websites as far back as in
the second half of 2004. These sites pose as ones
for e-commerce; they encourage users to apply for a
reward or purchase something, of course never
delivering the product or paying money. The most
popular areas for such fraud are online pharmacies,
lottery scams, and loan / mortgage sites. Experts
predict there will be more fake merchants in future
and their scams will become more sophisticated.
A Hybrid Scam
In April Panda Software warned Internet users of a
new particularly brazen scam aimed at stealing
confidential information. The technique used here
looks like a hybrid between phishing and a
Panda Software identified several websites offering
cheap airline tickets which in fact weren't selling
anything; the aim was to cheat users out of credit
This scam is very simple; the thieves simply wait
until some unsuspecting user who is searching for,
say, airline ticket offers, finds their site
offering dirt-cheap airline tickets. Really pleased
with himself and looking forward to the trip, the
user fills in the form, entering his credit card
number, expiry date and verification value (CVV).
As soon as these details have been entered, an error
page appears; it tells the user that the transaction
has been unsuccessful, and offers instructions on
how to pay for the ticket by postal money order. So
the user may well be fooled twice. He loses his
credit card details, putting them right into the
hands of cyber-crooks, and then loses money, if
decides to buy the ticket by money order.
Of course, these sites have already been disabled,
but who knows whether (or better to say when) other
ones will appear again, this time offering all kinds
Malicious websites are especially dangerous.
Cybercriminals create them exclusively to execute
malicious code on the visitors' computers. Sometimes
hackers infect legitimate sites with malicious code.
Bad news for blog readers: blogs can be
contaminated, too. Since January, Websense Security
Labs has discovered hundreds of these "toxic" blogs
set by hackers.
When unsuspecting users visit malicious sites,
various nasty applications are downloaded and
executed on their computers. Unfortunately, more and
more often these applications contain keyloggers--software
programs for intercepting data.
Keyloggers, as it is clear from the name of the
program, log keystrokes --but that's not all. They
capture everything the user is doing -- keystrokes,
mouse clicks, files opened and closed, sites
visited. A little more sophisticated programs of
this kind also capture text from windows and make
screenshots (record everything displayed on the
screen) - so the information is captured even if the
user doesn't type anything, just opens the views the
In February and March 2005, Websense Security Labs
researched and identified about 8-10 new keylogger
variants and more than 100 malicious websites which
are hosting these keyloggers EACH WEEK. From
November of 2004 through December 2004 these figures
were much smaller: 1-2 new keylogger variants and
10-15 new malicious websites per week. There is by
all means a disturbing tendency--the number of
brand-new keyloggers and malicious website is
growing, and growing rapidly.
What a user can do to avoid these sites?
As for phishing, the best advice is not to click any
links in any email, especially if it claims to be
from a bank.
Opening an attachment of a spam message can also
trigger the execution of malicious program, for
example a keylogger or a keylogger-containing Trojan
As for fraudulent websites, maybe buying goods only
from trusted vendors will help -- even if it is a
bit more expensive.
As for malicious websites... "Malicious websites
that host adult entertainment and shopping content
can exploit Internet Explorer vulnerabilities to run
code remotely without user interaction."(a quote
from Websense's report). What can a user do about
it? Not much, but avoiding adult sites and buying
only from known and trusted online stores will
reduce the risk.
Hackers also attract traffic to malicious websites
by sending a link through spam or spim (the analog
of spam for instant messaging (IM). So a good advice
never follow links in spam is worth remembering once
About the Author
Alexandra Gamanenko currently works at Raytown
Corporation, LLC -- an independent software
developing company that provides various solutions
for information security.