Home / Blogs

Phish or Fair?

John Levine

It shouldn't be a big surprise to hear that phishing is a big problem for banks. Criminals send email pretending to be a bank, and set up web sites that look a lot like a bank. One reason that phishing is possible is that e-mail has no built in security, so that if a mail message comes in purporting to be from, say, accounts@bankofamerica.com, there's no easy way to tell whether the message is really from bankofamerica.com, or from a crook.

Mail authentication schemes like DKIM and the new dmarc.org group use cryptographic signatures to help authenticate mail and prove that it really is from who it purports to be from. So, if the mail can authenticate the sender, the phishing problem goes away, right?

Unfortunately not. One huge problem is that even if you have all the crypto stuff so you can be 100% sure that a message really is from, say, BANK-AMERICA.COM, you don't know whether BANK-AMERICA.COM is actually your bank or not.

I've made a little game called Phish or Fair. It shows you a domain name, you guess whether it belongs to Bank of America. Try it out and see how you do.

Then see if you can figure out why a bank would use over a thousand different domains. My example here is Bank of America, but they're no worse than other big banks; I picked them because their name is easy to search for.

If banks were serious about phishing, they'd pick one name, one domain, and use that consistently. But they don't.

PS: BANK-AMERICA.COM belongs to some guy in France.

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker. More blog posts from John Levine can also be read here.

Related topics: Cybercrime, Domain Names, Email, Security

WEEKLY WRAP — Get CircleID's Weekly Summary Report by Email:

Comments

Not "little". The Famous Brett Watson  –  Feb 07, 2012 8:19 AM PST

That's not a "little" game: I called it quits with 105 right, 0 wrong.

For all its untrustworthiness, WHOIS is still great for cheating on tests like this — and this is one of the few tests on which I recommend cheating as much as possible.

Really "great"? Alessandro Vesely  –  Feb 08, 2012 12:51 AM PST

If WHOIS is such a great tool, why don't registrars like MarkMonitor put it somewhat more prominently on their web site, possibly explaining what can it be useful for?

Stupid Unnecessary Domain Names Daniel R. Tobias  –  Feb 07, 2012 6:03 PM PST

It's all those idiot marketing types, at banks just like other businesses, that insist on using a zillion different domains for every marketing gimmick.  Line the marketing people against a wall and execute them by firing squad, then change the bank's web structure to use logical subdomains of their one main domain.

Maybe The Famous Brett Watson  –  Feb 08, 2012 1:54 AM PST

It's hard to tell in this case, just by looking at the domains, as to whether they were registered with marketing intent, or registered by others then seized with the force of law (and held in perpetuity so it won't happen again). Some of them are clearly the latter kind; others, not so much.

It's also not clear whether "using a zillion different domains" is intrinsically a bad idea, particularly for a large organisation. This can be used to produce an illusion of choice. There may be so many brands in a given market that the consumer limits his evaluation to a small number of prominent ones. Under those conditions, a seller is at an advantage if he floods the market with brands, none of which are obviously related to each other. In this way, a consumer may decide to evaluate five "separate" brands, not realising that three of them are just different entrances to the same shop.

Marketing deals with people's perceptions and desires, and is thus far removed from structure and logic.

To post comments, please login or create an account.

Related Blogs

Related News

Topics

Industry Updates – Sponsored Posts

Q3 2014 DDoS Trends: Attacks Exceeding 10 Gbps on the Rise

LogicBoxes Announces Automation Solutions for ccTLD

TLD Registry Wins Best Marketing Award at China New gTLD Roadshow

Update on Minds + Machines' Top-Level Domain Launches

ICANN Los Angeles Recap Webinar

TLD Registry Appoints First China General Manager, Mr Jin Wang

TLD Registry Opens China Headquarters in "China's Silicon Valley"

.nyc Goes Public to Brand the Big Apple

pink.host: Breast Cancer Awareness by Bluehost

3 Questions to Ask Your DNS Host About DDoS

Afilias Partners With Internet Society to Sponsor Deploy360 ION Conference Series Through 2016

Infographic: Where in the World Do Chinese People Live?

Neustar to Build Multiple Tbps DDoS Mitigation Platform

Auctions Update: MMX Wins .law and .vip

The Latest Internet Plague: Random Subdomain Attacks

Digging Deep Into DNS Data Discloses Damaging Domains

New .ORGANIC Top-Level Domain Welcomes Leading Brands As .ORGANIC Pioneers

Dot Chinese Online and Dot Chinese Website Featured in EURid's World Report on IDNs 2014

New .ORGANIC Top-Level Domain Opens to Serve the Organic Community

Independent Endorsement of Dot Chinese Online & Dot Chinese Website by by FiarWinds Partners

Sponsored Topics

Afilias

DNS Security

Sponsored by
Afilias
dotMobi

Mobile

Sponsored by
dotMobi
Verisign

Security

Sponsored by
Verisign
Minds + Machines

Top-Level Domains

Sponsored by
Minds + Machines