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Internet bankers beware!

October 7, 2007 

South African email users are coming under unprecedented attack by organised crime syndicates masquerading as banks, in an attempt to trick them into divulging their confidential banking details.

And the bad news is that there isn't much the police can do to arrest the fraudsters since they open their websites, using fake identities, often through overseas-based Internet service providers.

The con artists have developed new technology that has enabled their "phishing" emails to evade sophisticated anti-spam software, said an executive of a leading anti-virus software company.

The crime syndicates, which are mostly based overseas, are sending millions of phishing e-mails to South Africa, according to Justin Stanford, the chief executive officer of Eset Southern Africa, which markets the NOD32 antivirus system. The number of phishing e-mails aimed at South Africans and evading all sophisticated filters had increased dramatically over the past few weeks.

The mails, purporting to be from most of South Africa's major banks, generally had very good copies of the banks' actual websites and included genuine phone, fax and email details.

While some of the phishing syndicates were based in South Africa, most operated from countries like the Philippines, Russia, Indonesia and the US, and are posing a major challenge to anti-virus and anti-spam software developers.

"They (the syndicates) always try hard to come up with new technology to beat existing anti-virus software," Stanford said.

He said phishing messages did not contain malicious software (viruses) in themselves, as their sole purpose was to defraud by illicitly obtaining PIN numbers and passwords.

One of South Africa's leading Internet service providers, M-web has said while phishing emails have been around for some time, they have become very sophisticated of late.

"M-Web's spam filtering software is constantly adapted to detect new types of phishing e-mails, but adaptations made by the crime syndicates are devised specifically to fool our filters and the unsuspecting customers that may end up receiving them," said M-Web product manager Nathier Kasu.

Kasu said M-Web belongs to South Africa's anti-phishing group who work together with major financial institutions to identify new phishing techniques and fine-tune spam filtering settings to minimise the number of customers receiving and reacting to the phishing e-mails.

"M-Web is actively involved with reporting phoney sites to the authorities," Kasu said on Friday.

A spokesperson for Symantec, which produces the Norton Anti-virus software, said that in most cases spam messages were able to pass through anti-virus software when computer owners used software which was not compatible with their operating systems.

Author:  Babington Maravanyika

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