Users need to get wiser to phishers

Phishing is hardly a regional phenomenon of course, it is a global problem, one which banks and other institutions everywhere are trying to fight

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By  Published  December 3, 2006

Sadly, this week’s issue shows that phishing has not gone away, with a number of banks here in the Middle East again having been targeted. Phishing is hardly a regional phenomenon of course, it is a global problem, one which banks and other institutions everywhere are trying to fight. While the region’s banks should be applauded for instituting stronger security measures to attempt to defeat this most recent spate of phishing attacks, it should not be forgotten where the real danger lies — with us, their customers.

The simple truth is that it is always going to be easier to trick a human being than it is a computer system. Online criminals are well aware of this, which is why they spend so much of their efforts not in defeating high-tech security systems but in fooling the (sometimes all too) low-tech customers that are meant to use them.

Phishing, while it falls under the category of cybercrime when it involves e-mails and online banking, is really just a good old-fashioned con game. The phisher is sending out e-mails, which are spoofed to appear as if they come from a reputable outlet, such as an e-commerce firm or, as seems depressingly common here in the region, a bank. An unwary customer who responds to a mail can be tricked into handing over information he or she really shouldn’t — such as bank account details and passwords. The phisher then doesn't have to worry about breaking complex security systems; he’s effectively been given the key to unlock them.

Who’s to blame here? Clearly, the phisher is the criminal, he or she is committing a crime and taking advantage of peoples’ trust to do so.

But does the customer not also share some of the blame in such a scenario? After all, it equally clearly wouldn’t be possible for the phisher to commit said crime if the customer had not helped — albeit unwittingly.

By not taking enough action to guard against phishers — indeed by positively making life easy for them — many online banking customers could be said to be just contributing to the problem.

A harsh view? Well, perhaps. Most of us want to live our lives as free of crime as possible, and barring a handful of us, we can't really be expected to understand all of the tricks of the trade that determined criminals use. However, we also have to accept that the world is not a perfect place, that such criminals do operate in it and that we all have to play our part if we want to defeat them.

When they discuss their security companies like to boost that their systems are foolproof. Make sure that you are not the fool that proves them wrong.

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