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by: Ashish Jain
Recently I have received email from my bank/credit Card Company, eBay & pay pal saying that my account has possibly been compromised and I need to confirm my details and password in order to get continued access.

Spam email now has a new and more frightening variant, it's called phishing and it has been made by criminals and hackers who aim at getting unwitting consumers to reveal account numbers and passwords.

Usually after getting an email like the ones mentioned above from reputable companies, most of us would race to respond as quickly as possible. However, in most cases you will find that you won't be helping anyone other then the criminal who wrote that email and who has nothing to do with the actual organizations.

What is Phishing?

It is when someone creates false email that pretends to be from a bank or other authority, but which is actually designed to collect sensitive information such as passwords. This process of stealing information used for fraudulent purposes is the latest problem to plague Internet users. It is a phenomenon know as phishing i.e. emails 'fishing' for important information.

Just like Spam, phishing mails are sent to the widest possible audience so it's not unusual to receive a message asking you to confirm account details from an organization you do not actually deal with. You may be asked to fix up your eBay account when you haven't even got one!

In addition to collecting sensitive information many phishing messages try to install spy ware, Trojans etc. allowing hackers to gain backdoor entry into computers.

Types of Phishing Emails:

Some phishing emails ask for a response by email.
Some emails include a form for collecting details that you are told to fill out.
Some even include a link to a web site that resembles the actual site you expect to visit, but is actually a clone of the original site.

Number of active phishing sites reported in March, 2005: 2870
Number of brands hijacked by phishing campaigns: 78
Contains some form of target name in URL: 31%
Country hosting the most number of phishing sites: United States of America

Phishing attacks can be really sophisticated. Some time ago a flaw in Internet Explorer allowed hackers to display a false address while redirecting the user to an entirely different site making it almost impossible to distinguish a phishing attack from a legitimate email.

Possible solutions:

New technologies can provide a better means of countering phishers. One option being explored by a lot of banks is the use of a secure token, a small electronic gadget that generates a unique password to be entered each time a user logs onto the web site. This would make a phishing attack useless because without the physical possession of a token it is impossible to access the account. This approach is somewhat similar to what is used at Automated Teller Machines around the world where you need to have both the card and the Pin number in order to use the machine.

One option is to use a technology popularly knows as PassMarks that effectively acts as a second password. After entering the user name a unique image pre selected by the user is displayed before s/he is asked for the password. If the proper image is not displayed the user will come to know that s/he is not on the authentic site. Another option that a lot of organizations are exploring is using text messages instead of email messages. Text messages cost money to send, so Spammers are less likely to partake in the process making it easier to distinguish between legitimate messages and fakes.

About the author:
Ashish Jain
M6.Net Web Helpers
Ashish works for M6.Net and assists in making Internet technology work for People.

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