Internet Services and Catching

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-01-07 Print this article Print

Phish"> Netcrafts Phishing, Identity Theft and Banking Fraud Detection service leverages the companys famous survey of Web server usage. In fact, Netcraft has always captured more data from this survey than the public survey discloses, using the database for consulting and analysis opportunities. For example, they capture the home page data from each page in the survey and link data. Netcraft combines its Web data with some number of spam honeypot accounts of their own. I dont have the actual number, but its surely dwarfed by Brightmails coverage.

Matador, maker of client- and server-based anti-spam products, has a client-based anti-fraud product in public beta. The product identifies and segregates scam messages, notifies you when new scams are out in order to alert you, and lets you report suspected new ones.

Scanning for a fraud is trickier than it may at first seem. Clearly technology such as Brightmails spam scanning is well-suited to adaptation to the task, but you cant make such a judgment based on the words in the message. Its more a matter of looking at the links in the message and the servers through which the message was sent. Both Brightmail and Netcraft use automated facilities to narrow down scam candidates to the point where a human being can examine them and confirm their nature.

The usual mode of operation for these scams is a spammed e-mail message that brings the user to a Web page. Some of them dont even bother with the Web page. Some old-fashioned ones will use an HTML mail message with a mailto: form, meaning that the users mail client is used to send data directly. Some are even simpler, asking the user to print out and fax a form with the information on it. That takes nerve, since phone numbers are easier to trace.

But since most of them are publicized through e-mail, its hard not to conclude that Brightmails advantages are more relevant than Netcrafts. The important thing with these scammers is to stop them quickly before a lot of people have the chance to fall for them, and Brightmails millions of accounts are more likely to do that more quickly.

This is not to diminish the early intelligence that Netcrafts database can provide, perhaps well in advance of the e-mails even going out. In fact, the ideal service would combine the facilities of both companies. No doubt youre free to do this by paying both companies, but maybe one day it will get more convenient and affordable.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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