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Internet threats: Phishing, pharming and porn
Ankur Jain
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August 07, 2007

Apart from virus attacks, there are a number of other dangers lurking around in cyberspace.


As the utility of internet grows, more and more companies are taking their operations online. You can now pay your credit card bills, buy electronics and book air tickets online -- but beware, these conveniences might come at a price.

Phishing and pharming

Phishing (also called spoofing) is the act of fraudulently acquiring sensitive information from a user, such as passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy person or business with real need for such information in a seemingly official electronic notification or message.


The e-mail directs the user to visit a website where they are asked to update personal information such as their credit card number, password and bank account number, details that the legitimate organisation already has.


Such attacks are classified as social engineering attacks because perpetrators acquire the details by gaining the victim's trust. The term phishing comes from the fact that these internet scammers use sophisticated lures as they fish for users' financial information and passwords.


Another variant of fraudulent attack is pharming. Here, instead of setting up a similar website, the DNS server software is exploited and the hacker acquires the domain name of a site and redirects traffic from that site to another site. (The DNS server is one that converts the website name into an IP address. The IP address is the unique set of numbers that identifies a website on the internet.) The rest of the mechanism is similar to phishing.


Such attacks are only possible if the site is not SSL protected (security socket later). To be on the safe side, it is advisable not to ignore the security certificate warnings attached with a website.


Many experts feel that pharming is far more potent than phishing, since the agency can collect many more IDs and personal details in one go.


Viruses that are e-mailed can also conduct pharming attacks on a smaller scale. These viruses rewrite the local host files on individual computers. Host files convert the normal URLs into numeric strings that a computer understands. A computer with a rewritten host file will go to the wrong website even if the user types in the correct URL.


The easiest way to avoid being a victim of such attacks is to be cautious as to where you divulge your personal details such as credit card numbers, passwords and other payment or billing information such as bank account number etc.



Even with rough estimates, at least 17 per cent of all websites are dedicated to pornography. Pornography constitutes not only images but also videos and text. Not surprisingly, pornographic material is also one of the most searched for on the internet.


So why is porn regarded as a threat? It is not pornography per se that is harmful to the user. It's not a virus or a worm that could destroy or corrupt an important file on your computer, neither is it a software that would phish out your personal details. The reason why pornography is vilified is the fact that it becomes highly addictive -- with numerous studies and cases stating that excessive viewing of pornography has a detrimental effect on an individual's personal and social life.


Most of the successful internet entrepreneurs are those who own pornographic sites. So much so, that post the dot com bust, of all the start-ups that actually made profits a large percentage were pornography providers.

Pornographic websites are also some of the biggest spammers on the internet today. If you do not believe this statistic, a quick glance at your junk mail folder will change your mind. The other major issue raised against pornography is child pornography and bestiality. Doctored pictures of celebrities also abound on the internet, and with tools such as digital video cameras and camera phones, anybody's picture can be morphed into a pornographic image. You can imagine the implications.


Another major gripe against pornography is the usurping of domain names. Sites such as attracted a lot of unsuspecting surfers hoping to get some information about the US government. They were, however, treated to some explicit nude images. Thankfully the site has been blocked, but such threats can be very worrisome.


These dangers are avoidable if you are vigilant while surfing online and aware of where and with whom you share your personal and financial details.



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