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The prevalence of some phishing attacks are beginning to rival even high-level viral outbreaks, according to email filtering firm MessageLabs.

For example, MessageLabs recently identified a new phishing attack directed at a well-known US bank and its customers. Within the first five hours of its appearance, MessageLabs had already intercepted over 125,000 phishing emails containing URLs to a replica of the bank's website. During the recent high profile MyDoom-O outbreak MessageLabs intercepted approximately 23,000 copies within the first five hours.

Scam emails that form the basis of phishing attacks often pose as 'security check' emails from well-known businesses. These messages attempt to trick users into handing over their account details and passwords to bogus sites. The collected details are used for credit card fraud and identity theft. First seen more than a year ago, phishing emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated, directing users to bogus websites which accurately reproduce the look and feel of legitimate sites.

Paul Wood, chief information security analyst at MessageLabs, said: "Phishing has literally burst on to the scene, a year ago it was practically unheard of, now we're intercepting around 250,000 phishing-related emails or more every month. In many ways a phishing attack is designed in a similar way to a virus outbreak - as many emails as possible are spammed out as quickly as possible."

In some cases the lines between phishing attacks and computer viruses have disappeared. Mimail-I, for example, for an all-in-one phishing attack and computer virus. But this remains the exception rather than the rule, at least for now.

MessageLabs Wood commented: "While the number of phishing emails has remained relatively consistent over the past few months, there is already evidence to suggest that phishing will follow a similar pattern to viruses – with periods of steady activity punctuated by significant outbreaks. Whether we’ll see anything on the scale of the SoBig-F and MyDoom-A virus outbreaks remains to be seen." ®

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Phishermen net bumper catch of Americans
Sloppy banks open the door to phishermen
Bush to sign anti-phishing bill
Anti-phishing group backs email authentication
UK police arrest 12 phishing mule suspects
Phishing attacks on the rise
Phishing and viral tech combines in new menace
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