I’ve long believed that phishing emails are just the beginning of a new kind of fraud which is likely to be sophisticated and fast moving. Here’s an example of what they might look like, courtesty of a British computer scientist called Jim Ley, written up at the security website Netcraft. Ley, Netcraft says, “has demonstrated that opportunities exist for fraudsters to launch phishing attacks using cross site scripting bugs on the very widely used Google sites.”
I’m not quite clear from either account whether this is one vulnerability or more, and whether it applies only since Google extended their desktop search to include files on your computer (rather than on the Internet).
As far as I can figure it out, it works like this. A bad guy, rather than try to lure a victim to his dodgy website using a socially engineered email or a virus, would ‘inject’ content into Google to do the same thing. So, say, a user would visit Google to find a credit card submission form which explains that Google is soon to become a subscription-only service at $5 per month, but that users could take advantage of an earlybird special offer to obtain lifetime free searches for just $10. (This is Ley’s example, cited by Netcraft.)
Another vulnerability included in the Google Desktop would, Netcraft says, have “allowed an attacker to search a user’s local machine for passwords and report the results directly back to the attacker’s own web site.” Both vulnerabilities have been fixed, but Netcraft and Ley say incompletely.
I don’t claim to understand the technical aspects of this, and it may be somewhat obscure. But what is worrying is that (a) Ley reports Google as being less than interested in addressing the issues he raised (two years ago, according to his website) and, (b) that if such tricks are occurring to diligent folk like Ley, they must be occurring to hackers and the Internet underground. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Phishing is not just misleading emails, it’s a multifaceted effort to part us ordinary folk from our online money. And it’s not going to go away. Indeed, like most things technological, it’s a fast escalating arms race, and I don’t think we’ve even started to get it figured out.