By Brian Krebs | February 13, 2006
Phishing is a difficult enough form of fraud to avoid for most computer users, but when some of the biggest names in the financial industry fail to do their part to detect and eliminate these online scams, consumers often are placed in an untenable situation.
Case in point: A source recently forwarded a link to one of the "best" phishing attacks I've ever seen. This one -- targeting the tiny Mountain America credit union in Salt Lake City, Utah -- arrives in an HTML-based e-mail telling recipients that their Mountain America credit union card was automatically enrolled in the Verified by Visa program, a legitimate security program offered by Visa that is supposed to provide "reassurance that only you can use your Visa card online."
The e-mail includes the first five digits of the "enrolled card," but those five digits are found on all Mountain America bank cards, so that portion of the scam is likely to be highly convincing for some recipients. The message directs readers to click on a link and activate their new Verified by Visa membership.
Now here's where it gets really interesting. The phishing site, which is still up at the time of this writing, is protected by a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption certificate issued by a division of the credit reporting bureau Equifax that is now part of a company called Geotrust. SSL is a technology designed to ensure that sensitive information transmitted online cannot be read by a third-party who may have access to the data stream while it is being transmitted. All legitimate banking sites use them, but it's pretty rare to see them on fraudulent sites.