If youre an Internet consumer, you need to be aware of and concerned about “phishing” and other attempts at fraud. Typically, such fraud impersonates an e-mail or Web page from a real, respectable company, in an attempt to get you to provide account information that they can use to steal money from you. If youre a large company, you really need to be concerned about such fraud too, since it could easily be an effort to use your good name to defraud users out there.
Take the newest variant of the MiMail worm, the worm that cleverly incorporates a standard PayPal phishing scam. (Poor PayPal. Why do so many of these people pick on them?) Anti-spam software will probably catch some number of these messages, and MiMail in particular would be stopped by updated anti-virus software, since it involves an attachment.
Other fraudulent messages arent so easily identified, such as those selling pirated or otherwise unauthorized versions of programs like Norton Systemworks or Adobe Photoshop. According to Internet filtering company SurfControl, “by December , the OEM software spam represented 5 percent of all spam, or 1 in every 20 spam e-mails.“
But now services have arrived to protect the companies being impersonated. The first one I heard of was Brightmail Anti-Fraud, from one of the top enterprise anti-spam companies. Earlier this week, Netcraft announced a similar service. The two come at the problem in interesting ways, each leveraging a different respected service from a respected company, but to the same end.
Brightmail Anti-Fraud, of course, has the great advantage of the companys “probe network” of over 2 million honeypot accounts, decoys to draw in spam, and as well to reports from genuine accounts of their customers. In addition to looking for spam, if youre a customer they will look for spoofed attempts at using your brands and other frauds involving your name.
Because Brightmail is not just a monitoring service, but an active protection service for e-mail, once it identifies a message as fraudulent, it can add it to its list of messages to block and push that identification out to clients. That identification right there stops a significant number of the potential messages with the scam, and prevents Brightmail customers from spreading them further. Brightmail also virus-checks, which would likely stop a worm like MiMail quickly.
Internet Services and Catching
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.
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