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eBay aims to thwart phishing

My Messages heading for the UK

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eBay is rolling out a private messaging service to customers to make it easier to distinguish official announcements from fraudulent 'phishing' emails.

The service - dubbed My Messages - offers a read-only inbox for logged-in users. Sending trading and account information to this location rather than via conventional email should give users greater confidence that messages are genuine rather than attempts to trick them into divulging sensitive information to fraudulent sites. My Messages was launched in the US late last month and will roll out to the UK later this quarter, an eBay UK spokesman told El Reg.

In a statement to users, eBay explained its plans for the service: "eBay will use My Messages to keep you updated with useful information about buying, selling, and other activities and events on eBay. In coming phases, we will also use My Messages to alert you to important information about your account. At launch in December 2004, My Messages will be a read-only inbox where you can be assured that ALL messages received come directly from eBay. No third parties can send messages to My Messages."

Users can delete messages sent through the service or retain them for up to 60 days when they will be automatically removed. Observers reckon the service could be replicated by other online firms concerned about the growing prevalence of phishing attacks. According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, 1,518 bogus sites impersonated 51 brands in November 2004, an increase of 28 per cent from October 2004 alone.

eBay's approach to the problem is elegant, but it would be foolhardy to assume its widespread replication elsewhere would do away with phishing entirely. Some consumers might still be duped into visiting bogus message portals, so warnings are still necessary. ®

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