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The University of Southampton

6,000 downloads combat 'phishing' frauds

Published: 17 November 2004

'Phishing' frauds have hit the headlines recently, as online fraud becomes ever more sophisticated. However, there is a way to combat this threat, and to protect consumers. The new development comes from MailScanner, the world's most widely used anti-spam computer security system, and it has already been downloaded 6,000 times since it was launched earlier this month.

According to Julian Field, from the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton, developer of the new MailScanner device, this level of interest indicates the extent of the 'phishing' frauds problem in the UK in which UK bank customers have been targeted.

What happens is that the fraudsters send emails claiming to be from banks and credit card companies which invite customers to access what appears to be a genuine and legitimate financial services home page and update their details. Customers are asked to log on by keying in their details, including access codes and passwords; in many cases this has led to their accounts being emptied.

To combat this, the new MailScanner device searches for web links in email messages and compares the address provided with the real address of the organisation (most typically banks or building societies). If the two addresses do not match, MailScanner places a large red warning message in the email by the link, alerting users and flagging the real location of the website as well as the bogus version.

Julian comments: "These attacks are proving highly effective at stealing people's credit card numbers, PIN numbers and just about any other confidential personal information the thieves want. The copy of the bank's website is an extremely good imitation and quite plausible enough to fool 99.9 per cent of people into thinking that it is the real thing. Our device, the first of its kind, will alert people and hopefully stamp out this crime. It needs no frequent updates and will identify these attacks before they hit anyone's inbox."

Notes for editors

  1. An example of how the anti-spam device works can be provided by Joyce Lewis on 023 8059 5453; .
  2. Julian Field is based in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. He has wide experience of email systems and as author of MailScanner, he has been combating attacks on computer systems for many years.
  3. MailScanner is the world's most widely-used email security and anti-spam system, protecting around 40,000 sites around the world, and blocking 500 million spam messages daily. The MailScanner web site serves over 700,000 hits per month, and the software is downloaded 20,000 times per month. There have been over 1/3 million downloads to date.
  4. MailScanner: A User Guide and Training Manual is available to order from the Mailscanner web site:
  5. The School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton carries out world-leading research into electronics, computer science, and electrical engineering.
  6. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has around 20,000 students and nearly 5000 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £270 million.
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