Latest phishing scams use clever text and character tactics: Internet Scambusters #765
Phishing provides a direct line to identify theft -- by fooling victims into giving away their account sign-on details.
Now, crooks have found new ways to conceal the fake websites they use to steal that information.
We'll give you the details, along with info about other latest phishing scams, in this week's issue.
Now, here we go...
New Phishing Trick That's Almost "Impossible to Spot"
Spoofing well-known websites is among the favorite phishing tricks scammers use to steal sign-on information.
They use links in emails to lure victims to websites that look almost identical to the genuine version and then invite them to enter their username and password.
Or they rely on people mistyping the name of a site they want to visit, perhaps getting just one letter wrong, ending up on a cloned site, which again seeks sign-on information.
In the past, we've warned about both dangers and stressed the need to check the address line in your web browser to be sure you're at the right place.
But now it turns out that you can't always be sure the address line is giving you the confirmation or information you're looking for.
A clever trick, recently demonstrated by security experts, exploits the fact that there are all sorts of unusual characters available on a computer -- in addition to the 1-9 or A - Z and a handful of symbols you'll find on your keyboard.
For instance, the letter "o" is used in some other languages with dots, squiggles, accents and other marks above it.
In fact, there are even different versions of the letter "o" -- for different alphabets like Greek or Cyrillic -- which look identical to each other on screen but are treated differently by web browsers.
These can be used to create fake websites whose addresses look identical to the genuine article.
The way the trick works is a little more complicated than that but, suffice it to say, the result is a web address entry that, according to a recent article in Fortune magazine, is "virtually impossible to spot."
In fact, without a level of technical knowledge that most of us don't have, you likely wouldn't pick up on the fakery.
Security experts have reported the weakness to the makers of the most popular web browsers, but, in case they don't act fast enough, the best safety measures you can take are not to click on web address links but instead retype them yourself -- and to make sure your own typing is accurate.
Cell Phone Trickery
Another problem with checking a website location in a browser address bar affects everyone who uses cell phones.
When you visit a website on your cell, the screen is so small that it's impossible to see the whole address, or URL, at the top of the browser, unless you take the time to scroll through it.
Phishing crooks exploit this using a trick known as URL padding.
The scammers add a number of hyphens to a legitimate web address so you never get to see the full fake version.
For example, they might set up a fake site for Scambusters That looks like this:
All you'd see is the first part and maybe a few hyphens but not the "phonysite.com" bit, which is the real website address.
Of course, you don't have to sign on at Scambusters, but security experts have shown how URL padding is being used to trick people into believing they've visited a genuine Facebook page where their sign-on details are requested.
One of the problems is that, unlike with a PC, you don't have a mouse for your cell phone so you can't hover over the address bar to read out the full address. If you put your cursor in the address, it's still awkward to try to scroll through it.
That's another reason for being cautious about clicking on links that seem to come to you from friends on Facebook or via SMS text messages.
Warning of this trick, security researcher and tech blogger Crane Hassold explains: "The trouble with mobile devices is that even people who are normally security conscious treat them differently. As a population, we've been conditioned to check our phones constantly and to browse or follow links in a far more lackadaisical manner than we would on a desktop or laptop.
"As a result, we're generally paying far less attention to any warning signs that might crop up."
Meanwhile, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), has issued a security advisory about the use of airline names in phishing scams.
CERT, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, says it has recently received reports of email-based phishing campaigns claiming to be from airlines aimed at consumers.
People who click links are asked to sign on to a fake version of their airline account, disclosing their confidential information that enables the crooks to access the genuine account and steal information including, potentially, credit card details.
CERT signposts a warning published online by one airline, Delta, about scammers' use of emails, social media websites, postcards and gift card promotional websites.
Read Delta's warning: Protect Your Data.
CERT's advice is to never reveal personal financial information in response to an email request or by clicking on an emailed link.
That's sound guidance for all types of messages and email requests. Unlike with real fish, there's no such thing as a "phishing season" -- it's with us all the time and identity thieves are obsessive anglers!
Alert of the Week
Did you fall victim to a tech support scam, allowing crooks remote access to your PC and maybe paying them a fee for supposed repairs?
If so, watch out for a call from another scammer, this time pretending he wants to return your fee -- under FTC instructions -- but needs access to your machine and bank details again first.
It's another fake, so just hang up.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.