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Opera beefs up browser to thwart phishers

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Opera is trying to close the net on phishers with the release last Friday (February 25) of a second beta of its forthcoming Opera 8 browser. The Beta 2 release is designed to display the name of an organisation that owns the certificate of a site inside an address bar, located next to the padlock icon that indicates the security of a site. By clicking on the bar, surfers can find out who issued a certificate.

Carsten Fischer, VP Desktop Products at Opera Software, explained that the approach helps users decide about the validity of a site. "Before digital certificate information wasn't presented, now at least we're giving users some information to make a decision. Users need to be a bit more educated," he said.

An unintended result of the IDN (International Domain Name) standard means domain names can be registered with certain international characters - which look like other commonly-used characters - in order to hoodwink users into believing they are on a different, trusted site. As such, the feature creates a new wheeze for phishing attacks. Microsoft doesn't support IDN in IE but every other browser manufacturer does, obliging them to act after security firms highlighted the issue last month.

Opera's answer to this challenge is to only display localized domain names from certain top level domains (TLD) in its second beta. "Opera selects TLDs that have established strict policies on the domain names they allow to be registered. This ensures that users who depend on IDN, for example when accessing sites under .jp or .kr, will have a favourable user experience," it said. Outside of trusted domain, Beta 2 will display IDN domains in punycode, which transcribes international characters into ASCII.

Fischer said restricting the use of IDNs is a sensible approach in Western Europe but fails to work well in the rest of the world. He added that Opera is talking to other browser manufacturers, digital certificate firms such as VeriSign and Comodo and registration bodies with the aim of thrashing out a unified approach to the IDN problem.

Beta 2 is available for download here, with modifications from earlier releases noted here. ®

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