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Cybercrims target Xmas shoppers

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'Tis the Christmas season and while consumers are surfing the net looking for the perfect gift, fraudsters are lying in wait to trip them up. This year's holiday season is widely expected to generate more online sales than ever before, with consumers flocking to the internet looking for that elusive gift. Although using the internet can take the headache out of Christmas shopping, security firm CyberGuard warns that cyber criminals are using phishing and pharming to steal consumers' identities and cash.

"Consumers need to be more careful than ever when they shop online," according to Paul Henry, a security expert from CyberGuard, who explained that organised criminal gangs are targeting online consumers with ever-more-sophisticated blended phishing attacks, which combine two or more attack strategies. An example is when attackers find out details of the intended victims' interests through the use of spyware and then generate phishing e-mails tailored to lure them into giving away their identities.

Phishing, which is a relatively new phenomenon, has evolved over the past year; in 2004 phishers relied on socially engineered e-mails, with trademark spelling and grammar mistakes, urging consumers to "click here" on an embedded link in an email. As awareness of phishing has grown, fraudsters have had to develop more sophisticated tactics in order to trick consumers into parting with their personal information. To that end, the use of embedded Java script and Active X applets is becoming more common in phishing emails. These scripts and applets can automatically place a graphic image of the expected legitimate URL on top of the address bar within the browser to hide the actual address that the browser is really being directed to.

Henry explained that consumers now need to validate websites before inputting their personal data. To do that consumers can right click on a web page within a browser and view the properties of the page, which should reveal the actual URL.

While phishing is one of the more recognisable online threats, perhaps a more serious risk is pharming, according to Henry.

Rather then relying on social engineering and lack of awareness, pharmers rely more on their technical skills. By exploiting un-patched software using malware, they can compromise internet DNS servers on personal computers to redirect consumers to illegitimate websites where they can harvest their personal financial information. These methods eliminate any of the telltale signs that the surfer has been directed to a fraudulent website.

To avoid being caught off guard this Christmas, CyberGuard has released a series of security tips, urging consumers to never click on an embedded link in an email; to never fill in personal information via email; to register with a credit card security system that requires a password to authorise a transaction; and, perhaps most pertinently, to use common sense - if an offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

Copyright © 2005, ENN

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