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US consumer group bemoans lack of phishing net

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Surfers should steer clear of Safari until it introduces better anti-phishing protection, a US consumer rights magazine has advised.

Consumer Reports lists "thinking your Mac shields you from all risks" as one of the seven biggest online blunders that expose surfers to risk online. It advises Apple fans to consider using either Firefox or Opera in preference to the Safari web browser bundled with Macs which contains no phishing protection, unlike the competition. It also suggests using free anti-phishing toolbars such as McAfee Site Advisor or FirePhish.

"Mac users fall prey to phishing scams at about the same rate as Windows users, yet far fewer of them protect themselves with an anti-phishing toolbar. To make matters worse, the browser of choice for most Mac users, Apple’s Safari, has no phishing protection. We think it should," Consumer Reports said.

The organisation's annual internet security survey cites recent figures from the Anti-Phishing Working Group that one in 94 have lost money to phishing scams, resulting in losses estimated at $2bn. Phishing scams commonly pose as security checks, randomly distributed via spam, that attempt to trick users into logging into fake sites run by cybercrooks. Anti-phishing toolbars rely on an index of dodgy sites to give users warnings about known phishing sites. The latest Firefox 3.0 and Opera 9.5 browsers include anti-phishing technology, while Safari does not.

Consumer Reports has become the latest in a growing string of organisations to take Apple to task over its handling of security issues. For example, the consumer electronics giant has been lambasted for its slow response to a cross-industry DNS spoofing flaw, force-feeding Windows users its Safari browser under the guise of a security update and mismanaging the noteworthy Safari carpet-bombing flaw over recent weeks. A planned security talk by Apple's security team at the Black Hat conference this week was cancelled at short notice after its marketing department objected.

Unpatched security holes have occasionally prompted security watchers, such as US CERT, to advise against using IE. Consumer Reports is one of the first organisations to advise against using Safari, but is unlikely to be the last unless security, rather than simply great design and being cool, becomes more entrenched at Apple. ®

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