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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 11:31 GMT
Hi-tech tools fuel phishing boom
Phishing messages in e-mail inbox, BBC
Phishing e-mail messages are growing in numbers
October was a bumper month for phishing attacks that try to prise confidential information out of web users.

In October the number of websites staging such attacks doubled, reports the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

The group suspects that new tools which automate attacks are behind this huge increase.

Many of the sites trying to con people into handing over personal information are being hosted on hijacked home computers.

Home invasion

The last 12 months has seen a huge rise in phishing scams in which conmen send e-mail messages that look like they come from financial institutions.

The messages try to fool people into handing over details of bank account login details or other confidential information.

Data gathered this way is used by the criminals to plunder accounts or to steal someone's identity.

While warnings about such e-mails are issued regularly, it is thought that up to 5% of people fall victim to the con.

Banks and financial institutions - 73%
Net service firms - 14%
Shops and retailers - 7%
Miscellaneous - 7%
In October the Anti-Phishing Working Group reported that it saw 6,597 new phishing e-mail messages. The monthly growth rate for phishing e-mail messages is 36%.

In total these messages targeted 46 different brands. In the last four months phishing gangs have exploited the names of 72 different brands, most of which (73%) were banks and other financial institutions.

The biggest growth was seen in the number of websites supporting the e-mail messages.

The Working Group reports that it has found 1,142 phishing sites online, more than double the number seen in September.

Statistics on sites were gathered from all over the world. The majority of phishing sites are located in the US.

Many of these sites look almost indistinguishable from the website they are posing as and use hi-tech tricks, such as fake toolbars, to hide their real location.

The group theorises that tools are now available to phishing gangs that automate the process of setting up sites and sending out phishing spam.

It also suspects that most of these sites are on hijacked home computers that have been infected by a virus or worm.

This theory is lent weight by the fact that the sites tend to launch attacks against different targets on different days and typically only last a few days before being shut down.

This month also saw a change in tactic by some phishing groups.

One report suggests that fake job adverts are being used to catch new victims.

Like other phishing attacks, the fake ads look like they come from a legimate firm but anyone filling in the form attached to the e-mail messages could fall victim to identity theft.

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05 Nov 04 |  Business

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