Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How to Spot a Phishing Site

I just got an e-mail from Bank of America:

During our regularly scheduled account maintenance and verification procedures, we have detected a slight error in your billing information. This might be due to either of the following reasons:

1. A recent change in your personal information (i.e.change of address).
2. Submiting invalid information during the initial sign up process.
3. The services look that was changed recently:

[Banking Log-In]

Security Advisory,
Bank Of America .


failure to update your account at least 24hrs of notice might lead to account
being locked and access will be restricted.

I'll ignore the fact that I do not have a Bank of America account for the sake of this post, as that's just too easy.

So let's review the signs thus far:

Sign #1: "Either" of the following reasons, followed by three, not two, reasons.
Sign #2: Poor grammar: The services look that was changed recently
Sign #3: Poor punctuation: failure to update your account at least 24hrs of notice might lead to account being locked and access will be restricted.
Sign #4: The fact that the URL in the e-mail resolved to this site in Poland, which is hardly where I believe the Bank of America is located:

So I clicked on it (having a Mac gives you little fear when it comes to checking out phishing sites) and got a relatively legit looking Bank of America login page. Not running in SSL.

Sign #5: No SSL for username & password.

I "signed on" with a bogus name and password, and lo and behind, it accepted it!

Sign #6: A completely made up username and password somehow work.

Now that I'm authenticated, the URL has changed to include both the username and password which I provided:


Sign #7: Your password shows up - in clear text - in the URL

Now I am presented with a form that is asking for all kinds of personal information - checking account number, SSN, online ID (which I just provided), ATM card number and PIN, and bank routing number.

Sign #8: Your bank asks YOU for its routing number.

At this point, if I just submit the page without providing any information, it goes on to the next step.

Sign #9: Not a lick of validation is included anywhere in the site.

Finally - the inspiration for this post - is one of the last pieces of information that the site asked me for:

Third from the bottom, I am asked to provide my Father's Maiden Name - a piece of information so secure, that not even he knows what it is!


Tim said...

Hey Scott
Great post! Its scary to think that folks still blindly fill out forms providing all sorts of great info. I was reading, an admittedly old article (Nov 2006) stating that 1 in 10 people get suckered in by these sites. Come on people get educated!

Scott said...

I agree that people need to be a bit more cautious, but I think that there's a generation/education gap at work here in the phishers' favor.

Every time I go back home, I spend at least 10 minutes deleting a wide array of .exe files from my dad's Mac Mini. Apparently, he clicks on any link that offers to remove spyware and viruses, even after my repeated warnings not to. At least MacOS harmlessly lines them up on the desktop.

- Scott -

Oyvind Isene said...

Cool. I figured I could contribute with some personal information of my own, but Firefox warns me of "Suspected web forgery" when I try to open the url. Maybe I will fool around later at home.

ebrian said...

"Father's Maiden Name" that is classic. But don't forget to fill out ALL of your mother's and father's "Middles" names !!