Cyber crooks ready for Hurricane Gustav

Rise in domain name registrations related to US storm as scammers prepare bogus charity sites

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By  Mark Sutton Published  September 1, 2008

Cyber-scammers are already preparing to profit from Hurricane Gustav, according to security organization SANS Institute.

The institute reported over 100 domain names related to Hurricane Gustav had been registered by Sunday, with many expected to be used to host bogus websites seeking donations for relief work.

The category three storm is currently approaching the US state of Louisiana, with wind speeds of up to 115 mph, and is expected to cause widespread damage to the city of New Orleans. A FEMA computer model says that Gustav could cause up to $32.8 billion of damage.

Three years ago, when New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of fake charity sites appeared attempting to scam people into donating to relief charities. The situation became so severe that US authorities established an anti-fraud task force to combat the problem.

Marcus Sachs, director of the SANS Internet Storm Center said that while there was no indication at present that all of the ‘Gustav’ domains, including gustavvolunteers.com, gustavdonations.org, victimsofgustav.com, were going to be used for illicit purposes, most were newly registered and listed as for sale, suggesting that they aren’t held by genuine charitable organizations.

“On the day Katrina hit New Orleans hundreds of donation sites appeared online, many if not most were scam sites. Well this time around it looks like the people who like to register domain names in anticipation of a storm’s arrival have already started registering them for Gustav and Hanna. I'm not suggesting that they are up to no good, but simply pointing out that the rush has started and we need to make sure our users are aware of the potential for scam sites appearing online in the next few days,” Sachs wrote in a blog post.

Other organizations have also learnt the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, with many businesses implementing off-site disaster recovery solutions to enable business continuity.

ISPs and phone operators including Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, have also improved their readiness, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in improved communications infrastructure, particularly added power generators for mobile phone masts to ensure service continuity.

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