Feeds

Over-feeding phishers struggle to make ends meet

Microsoft duo question easy money 'myth'

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Contrary to popular belief, phishers make little or no money, according to a study by two Microsoft researchers.

Cormac Herley and Dinei Florencio dispute the conventional wisdom that phishing represents an easy way to make money by analysing the crime in economic terms. They argue that, since each phishing fraudster seeks to maximise returns, "over-grazing" is inevitable. More are tempted into the criminal activity by the promise of easy returns, which may be illusory. Worse still, the more phishing attacks happen the more likely it is that prospective marks will get wise.

"Phishing appears to be a low-skill low-reward business. The enormous amount of phishing activity is evidence of its failure to deliver riches rather than its success. Repetition of easy money stories without scrutiny makes things worse by ensuring a steady supply of new entrants," the researchers argue.

"Far from being an easy money proposition we claim that phishing is a low-skill, low-reward business, where the average phisher makes about as much as if he did something legal with his time."

<

p>They question surveys on phishing losses, pointing out that the "phishing rate in most surveys is significantly smaller than the margin of error", and that dollar losses might be overestimated by taking the average (mean) losses over a very small number of reporting victims. Better results might be obtained by looking at the median loss, they argue.

The researchers defend their thesis against potential criticisms that their economic model is wrong and anecdotal evidence that there's a lot of money to be made in phishing before sticking out their necks and making their own estimate of phishing losses.

Based on other studies, they reckon that 0.37 per cent of web users hand over their identity credentials in response to phishing frauds. Not all those - perhaps less than half - suffer financial fraud as a result, because attempts at fraud might be blocked or detected, phishing servers might be seized before credentials are used or online accounts may simply have no funds to loot, among other reasons.

Assuming all those that do lose out suffer median losses gives an estimated loss of $61m a year in the US - 50 times lower than that suggested by other studies.

The Microsoft study does not look in detail at how money is divided up. It's probable that those orchestrating a large number of scams are making a great deal, even as small time fraudsters and phishing mules are making little or nothing. Based on estimates of 113,000 unique phishers in other studies the researchers take a leap of faith and suggest the average phisher earns hundreds rather than thousands of dollars.

The economic analysis of cybercrime activity by Herley and Florencio contributes to the debate, but we think they may be on rocky ground by coming at an estimate from this angle. Tracing financial losses by following the money is surely a better route to the truth.

Their study, A Profitless Endeavour - Phishing as a Tragedy of the Commons, compares to a study of the economics of spam more generally, published by a team from two Californian Universities. After subverting part of the control mechanism of the Storm botnet to divert traffic to dummy domains the academic found that response rates to pharmaceutical spam were as little at one in 12 million, far lower than previously estimated. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Fiendishly complex password app extension ships for iOS 8
Just slip it in, won't hurt a bit, 1Password makers urge devs
Tor attack nodes RIPPED MASKS off users for 6 MONTHS
Traffic confirmation attack bared users' privates - but to whom?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.