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Phishing emails dry up as fraudsters switch tactic

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Phishing email volumes fell during the first half of 2009, according to a variety of security reports out this week.

Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab reports a decline of phishing emails from 0.78 per cent of email traffic in 1Q2009 to 0.49 per cent in 2H09.

The trend of gradual decline in phishing emails observed by Kaspersky continued into August, according to other security firms. One in 341.2 emails (0.29 percent) comprised some form of phishing attack, a decrease of 0.01 percentage points since July, according to the latest monthly report from MessageLabs, Symantec's web security division.

Looked at from another perspective, the proportion of phishing emails in all email-borne malware threats intercepted in August - a count that also includes viruses and Trojans - decreased by 6.0 percentage points to 86.9 per cent, according to MessageLabs.

Kaspersky reckons that improvements in anti-phishing technology are responsible for the decline.

"Anti-phishing systems now offer users better protection than ever against this type of fraud. Consequently, cybercriminals now find phishing a less profitable and less attractive tactic," Kaspersky notes.

The latest versions of browsers including IE, Firefox and Opera all include improved anti-phishing technology. Spam filters and security suites are also getting better at detecting and blocking phishing sites. Enforcement efforts against rogue cybercrime-friendly hosts and user awareness may also be playing a role.

Online banking fraud losses continue to be high and for this reason it's tempting to suspect that fraudsters have simply switched tactics. Instead of trying to trick users into handing over their login credentials in response to spam email "security alerts" - the basis of vanilla phishing scams - it could be that cybercrooks are making greater use of banking Trojans. This growing class of malware is programmed to record the keystrokes users enter into a compromised machine before uploading the information onto systems controlled by crackers.

Six in 10 of the phishing emails are aimed at tricking either PayPal (43.7 per cent) or eBay (13.1 per cent) customers into handing over their login credentials to dodgy sites, according to Kasperky. It adds that a major slice of the remaining attacks are targeted at online banks, especially in the US and Europe. ®

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