One of the great ironies of phishing is that, these days, identity theft via the web tends to work by preying on people’s fear of identity theft. It doesn’t help that most people don’t really understand the technology. The typical phishing message looks something like this:

Dear so-and-so. In order for us to protect your account from identity theft, we need you to give us all the critical information that we already have. Otherwise, your account will be locked.

These typically use actual bank logos and link to a website that imitates the bank’s real site as closely as possible. The days of “Pease entr yore acccccount infomation hear KTHXBYE” are long gone.

But the one I saw in the spamtraps today was just astonishing in its brazen use of buzzwords to add authenticity:

Dear Wilmington Trust Banking Member,

Due to the high number of fraud attempts and phishing scams, it has been decided to implement EV SSL Certification on this Internet Banking website.

First we have the scare tactic (always ironic in a “there are treacherous people about” sense). Throwing in EV SSL certificates makes it seem a bit more authoritative, since it’s something a lot of companies have started doing, and people may have heard about it in the news.

The use of EV SSL certification works with high security Web browsers to clearly identify whether the site belongs to the company or is another site imitating that company’s site.

It has been introduced to protect our clients against phishing and other online fraudulent activities. Since most Internet related crimes rely on false identity, WTDirect went through a rigorous validation process that meets the Extended Validation guidelines.

And here they talk about EV certs and how much safer they’ll make your account!

Please Update your account to the new EV SSL certification by Clicking here.

And here’s where they demonstrate that they figure the typical mark doesn’t actually have a clue what EV SSL certificates are. Various real businesses have converted from standard SSL to Extended Validation SSL, and the users didn’t have to do a thing.

Now, you might need to upgrade your web browser or switch to one that will show you a green bar (Firefox 3, IE7, Opera 9, etc.), but you’d still be able to access your account even if you didn’t. Unless the site started blocking other browsers like PayPal briefly discussed back in April. Even then, there would still be nothing that would require you to log into your account and make a change.

Anyway, let’s continue:

Please enter your User ID and Password and then click Go.

This one’s presumably a simple phish, just obtaining login credentials to give the thief access to the account through the web.

(Failure to verify account details correctly will lead to account suspension)

And of course the implied threat: Do this or you won’t be able to get at your money. Again, a typical phishing tactic.

On a side note: My favorite spam topic of the last week is “Refinance your ARM today.”. Yeah, I know what ARM stands for, but I keep imagining Cyborg, or perhaps the Six Million-Dollar Man, trying to refi a loan that covers the gadgets in his arm.

Following up on the PayPal anti-phishing discussion of a few weeks ago, I see that PayPal is promoting a service called Iconix. You install the program on your system, and it looks at your inbox for messages that claim to be from one of its customers. It tries to verify them “using industry-standard authentication technologies such as Sender ID and DomainKeys.” Messages that pass get a lock-and-checkbox icon attached to the sender’s name, and in some cases the name is replaced by the sender’s logo.

On the tech side, it’s similar to SpamAssassin’s whitelist_from_spf and whitelist_from_dkim features. Both allow you to specify a sender to whitelist, and it will only give a message special treatment if it can verify the sender.

On the user-interface side, it’s similar to EC certificates, in that it tries to highlight a “good” class of messages rather than flag or filter out a “bad” class.

It’s not a bad idea, actually, and now that I’m surprised I haven’t seen something similar in other email clients. It’s sort of like setting up custom rings or images for images on your cell phone address book

They seem to be focused on webmail and Outlook so far, and only on Windows, but it looks like the perfect candidate for a Thunderbird extension. They do have a sign-up form to notify you when they add support for various programs and OSes, and I was pleased to see not only Thunderbird and Mac OS listed, but Linux as well. Too often, Linux gets forgotten in the shuffle to ensure compatibility with every Windows variation.

Someone I know encountered a really sneaky eBay phish this weekend. It arrived through eBay’s official “Ask seller a question” system, and consisted of a simple request: Was his auction the same as the auction at the following About Me page?

The URL was a normal eBay URL of the form Pasting the link into another browser brought up the user’s About Me page… which consisted of a spoofed eBay login form that would submit the username and password to a page hosted at Yahoo.

So it not only came through eBay’s official messaging system, but the form appeared on eBay’s own website, meaning it bypasses many of the usual cues. It’s not a secured page, but use of SSL for login pages is still spotty enough that a user could easily miss that. And how many people have noticed that eBay only puts login forms on You have a slightly better chance if you have a browser like Opera, which shows you the target* of a form when you hover over a button. If you think to look at it. Continue reading